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Leg day. Pain. Legs quivering from a brutal set of inverted presses. 'Water - give me water,' my brain screams. As I stagger uncertainly toward the drinking fountain like a
desperate desert traveler approaching an oasis, I'm distracted by a guy doing lat pull-downs in a most unorthodox manner while his partner yells words of encouragement from
behind. The reps are so fast that the weight stack rockets skyward with enough momentum to slacken the cable during what is supposed to be the concentric portion of the rep.
Upon completion of this spastic display the obviously inexperienced trainee exclaims to the other, "Whew! That was a good one!" Failing to resist the temptation of butting
in, I ask, "Dude, what muscle group does that work?"
"Back" was the confident reply.
"You were really pumping those out. I bet your back is screaming."
"What do you mean?" he asked, puzzled.
"I mean, your back muscles must have really felt that set."
"Well actually, I didn't feel it in my back very much at all."
"Where did you feel it?" I quickly inquired.
"In my arms."
The response did not surprise me, for I see far too many people working out in this manner. They go through the motions of the exercise without the slightest clue as to what they are doing or what they are trying to achieve. They merely mimic the movements of others, and are sadly on the fast track to failure as a result. Can they turn this speeding train called "No progress" around? Yes, they can, by getting their mind into the muscle they're attempting to work. It's easier said than done, but it is achievable with practice.
I teach this practice to my clients. They often ask me to watch them to see if they're doing it correctly, but it's not a skill one can see. Only the trainee can feel it, and it takes practice to master. Fortunately 1 have found some techniques that help me to accomplish this mind/muscle connection. I'd like to share them with you.
Since my legs are still agonizing over that set of leg presses, I'll start with them. When you're doing a leg press or squat-type movement, I believe the key to establishing a mind-muscle connection lies in where you place the stress while driving up the weight. For example, if you drive the weight up from the balls of your feet, you place the stress on your lower quads just above your knees. However, if you concentrate on driving up from your heels, you move the stress into the mid quad area. By concentrating on driving the weight up from one of these points, you can get your mind into your quads, but you must concentrate on one or the other. If you don't, or if you just do it haphazardly, you won't be able to achieve that full mind-muscle connection.
Another trick I use to get my mind into my quads while I'm doing hack squats, leg presses and at times leg extensions is to place my hands, with fingers outstretched, over my upper quads during my slow, controlled reps. This technique allows me to feel the muscles as they work and mentally connect with them. Not only that, but actually feeling the muscles contracting with my fingers shoots my intensity level into outer space. Try it. I think you'll like it.
Warning: Use of this technique while squatting can be hazardous to your health.
I have also successfully used this technique of feeling the working muscles in abdominal crunches, standing leg curls and seated calf raises. For hamstrings I picture them contracting as my biceps do during curls. This visualization helps me feel the movement.
My finger trick doesn't work for all body-parts however. You can't place your hands on your chest to feel your pecs work while you do bench presses or cable crossovers, but that doesn't mean you can't mentally connect with your pecs. You just need to focus on them. Many people focus on locking out with their elbows in a pressing movement. That takes the focus and stress off the pecs ... or the delts for that matter. 1 too was guilty of this mistake, but here's what I do now. For chest 1 first concentrate on pulling my arms toward each other with my pecs rather than pushing the weight with my triceps. Then when I reach the top of the movement, I stay just shy of total lockout by keeping a slight bend in my elbows. Thus my pecs remain in a state of total contraction. I lower the weight
slowly, striving for a good, full stretch at the bottom. Then I explosively begin my next repetition. This method never fails to set my pecs on fire. The same basic principle also works wonders for delts. I love it!
To get my mind into biceps, I keep curling movements slow and controlled. I don't use momentum to curl up the weight. Moreover, I don't bend my wrist during the exercise. I curl the weight until my wrist is approximately six inches from my shoulder. Squeezing extremely hard at this point really capitalizes the "P" in Peak Contraction. For triceps the same basic principle applies, slow and controlled; however, I do lock out during these movements, for that is the point of peak muscle contraction.
Now moving to the bodypart our misguided trainee was attempting to work - the back. Many people, especially newcomers to the iron game, fail to work their back properly. They place too much emphasis on pulling the weight with their arms rather than with their back. Lacking the fundamental knowledge of kinesiology, many of them don't even realize they're doing it wrong. They don't know their arms should be used only as hooks to hold the weight while the back does the work. To fully get my mind into my back-training, 1 concentrate on pulling with my back from the very beginning of the exercise. For example, during
pulldowns my shoulder blades and shoulder girdle begin to pull the weight down before my arms ever pull and bend at the elbow. In this way I can fully incorporate my back. In the concentric portion of the movement I squeeze my shoulder blades together as though attempting to make them touch. Although impossible, trying to do so really isolates my back muscles, allowing me to get my mind totally into the muscle. I also make sure not to allow my elbows to come too far forward. Doing this would not only cause me to cheat, but it would also take the stress off my back, causing me to lose that all-important mind-muscle connection. This technique works for rowing movements too, but instead of pulling my shoulders down, I pull them backward. Then I attempt to squeeze my shoulder blades together while my arms pull my hands into my midsection. Establishing a mind-muscle link with the back muscles is probably the most difficult of any muscle group, but you can do it with practice. Once you get it, you'll find it most gratifying.
Hey, I've been focusing so much on this mind-muscle connection that I almost forgot about my mouth-thirst connection. I'm going to get that drink of water now. Stay connected!