I was in the gym the other day, and saw a guy doing dumbbell curls.
At least, I think they were supposed to be curls.
It was more of a dumbbell swing – the curling equivalent of the kipping pull-up – where momentum (rather than the biceps) played a not entirely insignificant role in moving the weight from point A to point B.
When you go to the gym, you’re not there to lift weights.
Rather, you’re there to use weights to stimulate your muscles in such a way that they adapt by growing bigger and stronger over time.
You’ll get far more out of certain exercises if you focus on what the muscle is doing, rather than just trying to get the weight up.
The Mind Muscle Connection
A good example comes from a study published earlier this year, which looked at two groups of men who trained with weights three times a week for eight weeks.
Both groups did the same exercises – the barbell curl and leg extension – but with one key difference.
Subjects in the first group were told to “squeeze the muscle” during each rep, while subjects in group two were told to “get the weight up.”
In subjects who were told to “squeeze the muscle” – dubbed an internal focus of attention – there was a 12.4% increase in the size of the biceps.
That was almost double the gains seen in the group who were told to “get the weight up,” where the average increase in biceps size was just 6.9%.
And these results weren’t down to an increase in time under tension – subjects in both groups were instructed to use the same rep tempo.
It was a different story with the quads, where there was no significant difference in muscle growth between the two groups.
The researchers think this might have been down to the fact that untrained individuals have a hard time establishing a “mind muscle connection” in the quads compared to the biceps.
In fact, several subjects said that they found it much easier to focus on their biceps than their quads.
Apart from the potential for faster muscle growth, there’s another benefit to an internal focus of attention during certain exercises.
When you focus on developing a mind muscle connection, and really squeezing the muscle you’re working (rather than simply getting the weight up) you’ll find that doing so will often require the use of a lighter weight.
And with a lighter weight, there’s less stress on the joints, which means less potential for injury.
If you’re trying to make your muscles bigger, lifting heavy weights shouldn’t be done at the expense of proper form.
Remember, you’re not in the gym to lift weights. You’re there to use weights to send the “make me bigger” signal to your muscles.
And, during certain exercises at least, you’ll get better results by focusing on the muscles you’re supposed to be working rather than just shifting a weight from one location to another.
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