Is the Mind-Muscle Connection Valuable in Strength Training?

The Glute Lab recently conducted some experiments to get to the bottom of the mind-muscle connection. We wanted to see how an internal attentional focus without changing form would alter muscle activation during various exercises. We found that focusing on the targeted muscle did indeed affect muscle activation, not only in the targeted muscle, but also in synergist muscles. HERE is the data for these experiments.

Bodybuilders have been preaching about the importance of the mind muscle connection for years. For example, here are The Hodgetwins discussing it (these guys are hilarious):

However, there is an abundance of research indicating that focusing on factors outside of the body (external attentional focus) is more beneficial to performance than focusing on factors inside of the body (internal attentional focus) during exercise.

To read about external and internal focus of attention, please click HERE and HERE

So who is right? Should you focus on the muscles or joints when lifting (internal)? Or should you focus on outside objects or factors when lifting (external)?

I think that the answer to this question depends on the goal of the lifter. Here’s a chart I made a year and a half ago, and I think it still applies.

Focus-of-Attention2

What about strength coaches, sport coaches, personal trainers, and physical therapists – what types of cues should they use? I think that this decision should be based on two primary factors, which are:

  1. The goal of the lifter (hypertrophy, strength, form improvement, etc.)
  2. The learning style of the lifter

Cues should always be explained and demonstrated beforehand so the lifter understands exactly what it means and can effectively implement the cue during the lift.

To add another exciting piece to the puzzle, last night I stumbled across THIS brand new experiment that bodybuilders were able to brace their cores to a much greater degree compared to non-athletes, indicating that posing and focusing on the muscles may be valuable depending on the situation.

To see the exciting results of The Glute Lab’s experiments, please click HERE to read today’s TNation article

mind-muscle

12 Comments

  • Valerie says:

    Hi Bret,

    may I kindly ask you to rewrite this so that it is not exclusive to “advanced lifters” and “pro bodybuilders”? I have been stuck at 185 lbs. for my hip thrusts forever because my hamstrings are always taking over, and I didn’t want to add more weight until I got it right. Every time I did them I thought “What about my hamstrings? Are they doing it again? What about now, can I still feel it in my hamstrings?” Tonight I finally changed things up and thought GLUTES, DAMMIT! and whammo, it clicked and I went from 185 lbs. to 225 to 245, and I could have probably gone up had there been another set to do. Can’t wait to see what happens next week.

    Thanks for fighting the good fight!
    Valerie (most definitely not an advanced lifter or pro bodybuilder)

    • Thihan says:

      Valerie, I was thinking just that as I read Bret’s great article. I always find it easier for my athletes to switch muscles on than to switch muscles off. And if you use the correct starting position and cues for that person, you actually end up getting the correct motor pattern and muscle recruitment you wanted anyway. It’s amazing what happens when we let the body move effectively.

      Great work on the Hip Thrust PBs!

    • Bret says:

      Awesome Val! Maybe this means you just graduated from novice to advanced 😉

  • Lynne says:

    I can activate the glutes while doing the bridge, but when I try to do the hip thrust, I’m having trouble. I feel it in my back & keep sliding on the bench. I also have issues when I do the single leg glute bridge on my right side. Hamstrings cramp up on me

    I’ll try to concentrate more

    • Valerie says:

      Hey Lynne,

      if you have access to those Reebok steps, start with just the platform (or as high as you can go without the hamstrings cramping up), then slowly add one step at a time until you can do the full bridge. They also have a non-slip surface so there is less sliding than on a bench. It took me a month to get to a normal bench height. Hope his helps, good luck!

      -V.

  • Rick says:

    Interesting post. I like to focus internally when training because my goals are generally to achieve maximum hypertrophy and perform with technical quality. However, I focus externally when going for a 1-rep-max. This aligns with your table. By the way, I love the Hodgetwins.

  • Logan patterson says:

    I don’t see how the research about bodybuilders bracing their core is so exciting. They were able to brace their core to a much greater degree than NON-athletes. Compare them to athletes or strength sport athletes specifically and then it might mean something.

  • Jason says:

    Bret –

    Thanks for the research and the ideas. I’ve been following the FMS people for awhile, who all seem to think that motor control must be an automatic thing without an internal focus, but after reading this research and working with patients differently for a few months, I think there is more than 1 way to get things done. I find there are many patients who need to get their glutes firing (back pain, patellar mal tracking, posterior tib tendinopathy) and just trying to position them in an exercise without an internal focus cue is not working. I’m seeing much better results after listening to one of you B and B podcasts about internal focus and getting people to think about glute activation. Keep up the great work! I hope you appreciate how much you’ve been able to help people in pain, especially when you influence PTs like me.

  • I like too, when i do an exercise movement to focus first on my form, technique, breathing, and then to focus on the amount of reps that i want to get in,

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