The ‘mind-muscle connection’ has been the go-to strategy for lifters for years, where you focus your attention on a particular muscle when lifting to promote its activation and therefore its development. But when the goal is muscle performance rather than growth alone, does this long-held notion still carry any weight?

Published in Frontiers in Sports and Active Living, new analysis suggests that to lift heavier, or longer, it is better to focus on moving the weight itself — not your muscles.

 

Think outside the bod

Supporters of the mind-muscle connection believe that increased muscle activity when focusing on specific muscles while lifting is evidence that increased activity might just translate to increased muscle hypertrophy. Or, that a mind-muscle connection makes you expend more effort to lift the same weight.

“The higher overall muscle activity with an internal ‘muscle focus’ is not specific to the muscles mentally isolated during lifting,” says review author Professor David Neumann, of Griffith University, Australia. “Rather, it seems to represent increased activity of non-target muscles, too.”

But studies show that when lifters focus their attention on the external effects of their lifts, such as moving the barbell, lifts are done more economically and with less effort.

“It appears that this external focus allows automatic control processes to operate, removing the attentional demands and mechanical inefficiency of conscious muscular control,” poses Neumann.

In any case, as the load increases — at 80% of maximum effort in one bench press study — the muscle activity advantage of a muscle focus (internal focus), over an external focus, seems to disappear altogether.

 

Journal Reference for ‘Lift heavier by changing your focus’:

  1. David L. Neumann. A Systematic Review of Attentional Focus Strategies in WeightliftingFrontiers in Sports and Active Living, 2019; 1 DOI: 10.3389/fspor.2019.00007