Ask any bodybuilder the secret to getting major gains, and they’ll probably tell you one of a few things: eat a ton, lift heavy, and focus on…
In other words, if you’re doing a biceps curl, you want to feel the work being done in your biceps, not your shoulder or forearm. Any personal trainer worth their salt can help teach you to find that connection, and in the beginning when you are learning proper technique it can be incredibly important for proper proprioception and preventing injury.
But when it comes to athletic performance over hypertrophy, new research out of Griffith University in Australia suggests that the mind-muscle connection might not be the optimal choice 1.
Instead, the studies suggest that focusing on the movement of the weight itself rather than the muscle results in the athlete expending less effort overall by recruiting other muscles to help perform the exercise 2. In other words, it takes more energy to focus on isolating a muscle group, so employing the mind-muscle connection actually requires more effort to lift the same amount of weight.
And since athletic conditioning typically focuses on compound movements that recruit several muscle groups at a time, this concept would theoretically improve overall functionality in terms of muscle recruitment patterns rather than targeting one main muscle group for a movement.
This is not to say that the mind-muscle connection isn’t important; in fact, it’s possible that trained athletes already tend to have a better relationship with their muscles leading to reduced need to focus on specific recruitment patterns 3. But when it comes to peak performance, the studies say athletes will be able to go harder for longer when they simply pay attention to the movement itself.
Here’s the bottom line: acquiring a solid mind-muscle connection is an integral part of hypertrophy training and establishing proper movement patterns during exercise, but when it comes to athletics, spending your energy on completing the movement will lead to better overall performance gains.