BY AMELIA RICCI PHOTOGRAPHY BY SEAN PUALIC
A few years ago, my results from weight training stalled and I couldn’t work out why. I would often train with my PT clients out of hours, and counted this as my workout. What I didn’t realise is that I had stopped giving myself focused training sessions. I then understood how important it is to stay connected to my mind when working out, and to consider the specific exercises and overload techniques that my own body needed each workout.
After completing a few solo training sessions, I was incredibly sore and must have inadvertently ‘dropped the ball’ with my training technique, whilst hitting the weights room with friends. What I had been doing was focusing so much on my friend and reminding them to connect their mind to muscle, I didn’t have my mind on my own workout.
I had to remind myself of the science behind weight training: the central nervous system and the recruitment of muscle fibres during an exercise is something that starts in the brain. The brain controls the movements of skeletal muscles via specialised nerves. In fact the combination of the nervous system and muscles, working together to permit movement, is known as the neuromuscular system.(1)
Once I started implementing Mind-to-Muscle Connection (MMC) techniques into my workouts again, I couldn’t believe the difference it made. I had always understood the concept of ‘mind-to-muscle connection’ but wanted to research and understand a more about the science behind it.
Research shows that with focused strength training, we can create changes within our nervous system that allow us to more fully activate and coordinate all relevant muscles.(1) This has the effect of greater load on the muscle which results in better strength, size and shape of our muscles.
Scientists have proven the benefit of MMC by measuring electrical activity of the muscles when someone is performing an exercise. Greater MMC = Greater Muscle Contraction = More strength = more muscle growth. More specifically, some of the studies show up to 26% greater contractions (2).
With this in mind, off I went to the gym over the next few months, where I closely monitored my technique, kept my mind on the muscle and also traded my longer rest breaks for shorter periods of rest between sets. I realised that by trying to multitask and always train with my friends, my results weren’t as good. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t train with friends, because there are benefits such as having a personal motivator, a spotter or checking your technique. However, it is important that they are not a distraction.
After the initial phase of training it’s also important to change up your training program. This is because muscle growth and strength gains can come to a halt as the central nervous system and muscle adaptions occur to the weight lifted and exercises. By adapting your program over a period of time, so that the muscles receive a different stimulus and progress will continue. Whilst it’s great to have a training partner, I realised I needed to also keep this thought process at the forefront of my own training.
Get more Gains with Tips to Bust a Strength Training Plateau
We all want to get those gains with our strength training, whether it be a rounder booty, boulder shoulders or tighter hamstring definition. Mind-to-muscle connection is a great place to start, but also adopting one of these changes at a time to see what has the most impact on your training will keep your goals on track:
- Improper form can kill your progress, so I will have someone video me on my major exercises such as deadlifts and squats to check my technique.
- I will check my mobility, for example, if I have slacked off my stretching this will affect my range of motion for shoulders, hips and knees which can make these movements less effective.
- Adequate sleep is not something I get a great deal of as a mother. This is something that can make or break results and is a huge game changer for my clients doing competition prep.
- Are you overtraining? As mentioned, it’s vital to follow a periodised program where for some phases you may train two days on and one day off, or three days a week with rest days in between. Adequate recovery and intelligent programming can dramatically improve recovery and results.
- Are you training with focus and determination and giving your workouts everything you’ve got? As I explained above, I was kidding myself thinking that I would get results when all of my focus was on someone else’s technique. When you are training you need to give every workout 100% in effort, and it all comes down to how badly you want results.
- I also use diet to break through plateaux. For example, I will look at how much I am eating, in-particular my portion sizes post-training. If I am training at night I will slightly increase carbs at my dinner meal. Many women are frightened by this, but it does not have to be huge - just a 10%-15% increase in portions for the post-workout meal, and reassess in one week.
- I also like to challenge myself and stretch the rep ranges and/or increase the weight I am lifting in smaller increments. The small increases can add up over time!
To put this all together, the nervous system and motor unit recruitment play an integral part in gaining muscle size and changing shape. As more motor units are being recruited, there is a surge in contraction of muscle fibres, producing more force, and therefore you can get better training results in terms of strength gain and muscle size. This is the magic of mind-to-muscle connection and it could be the missing link if your results have come to a halt.
Keep in mind that just because you start applying MMC during your workouts, it may not mean you build a ton of muscle. You also need to push yourself hard enough, eat according to your goals, and use proper programming from a qualified trainer for your chosen goal.
I wish you all the best on your fitness journey and don’t forget to stop by my Instagram @livingbeautyamelia where I film my daily training videos as I try to balance fitness modelling and motherhood.
- Periodization Training for Sports-3rd Edition. By Tudor Bompa, Carlo Buzzichelli (2005)
- Importance of mind-muscle connection during progressive resistance training. Calatayud, Vinstrup, Jakobsen, Sundstrup, Brandt, Jay, Colado, Anderse. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2016
- Sale, D.G 2005, ‘Neural Adaptation to Resistance Training’ Medicine and Science in Sports Science Vol.20, no.5 pp.135-145