What the heck is Mind Muscle Connection?

In the digital age we live in, we all have what seems like endless access to information about all things health and fitness. Fit and strong people on social media platforms giving us an insight into what worked for them and when it comes to increasing the size and shape of our muscles, there is one phenomenon that reigns supreme above all others. It is the ultimate secret that will guarantee a rippling six back and the sculpted arms of Chris Hemsworth, the one thing you’re not currently doing – utilising the mind muscle connection (MCC). But what the heck is it..?

MMC is what many believe to be the one true secret to success when it comes to growing your muscles and it suggests the lifter use an internal focus of attention to ensure their brain can fully activate and stimulate that specific muscle to grow… face palm Intentional focus is what researchers look at here, of which there are two types; 1. Internal or 2. External. Let’s have a look at what they mean exactly.

 

External focus

 

As its name suggest means the lifter will place their attention on the external environment around them – within the topic of exercise this could be the dumbbell/barbell/weight you hold, the ground/surface you’re on, the room itself (eg. ceiling, floor etc). Interestingly, having an external focus of attention allows for a whole host of benefits that will give you those prominent calf muscles you’ve always wanted… things like;

  • Greater maximum force production (strength)
  • Greater performance on tests of athletic ability
  • More reps in tests of muscular endurance
  • Greater movement efficiency
  • And perhaps most importantly, superior gains in motor learning in the long-term.

    So basically, if we use an external focus of attention, say think about pushing as hard as we can into the floor to stand up from a squat – we can; lift a heavier weight, for more reps all whilst using less energy. That’s like triple Yahtzee!.

 

Internal Focus



On the other hand we have an Internal Focus which as you can probably guess means to focus your attention and efforts internally, within the body, the moving body part, the working muscle. Interestingly, this leads to greater muscle activation.. we also see superior gains in muscle size over a long-term training period… HUH? Okay so I know it seems like I have fully mucked this up and proven the wrong point here – however it’s important you keep reading to clear things up because this is exactly where everyone goes wrong and loses the plot

 

Keep Reading

 

The reason many of these #fitspo models and aspiring body-builders say the secret is in the MCC is because they are mistakenly under the impression that more activation of the working muscle means that muscle is more likely to grow and get stronger – but this isn’t exactly right. Okay so what about those superior gains in muscle size over a long-term training period I mentioned? Well generally this can be explained by greater activation of the working (agonist) muscles. 

How do we have greater activation of the working muscle when using an internal focus? It could be for three reasons; 1. An increase in antagonist muscle force (opposite muscle) – you turn the breaks on more, 2. Altered synergist (supporting muscles) force, and/or 3. Activating regions of the muscle that are less effective for the movement being performed (ie. trying to get the whole muscle working when it doesn’t need to [this explains why external focus is more efficient – less of the muscle used means energy used). Ultimately, think about a car driving with the hand break on… its much harder to accelerate to move the car and you’d likely have to use more petrol (energy) to drive a given distance (lift a given weight). 

Grgic, Mikulic & Mikulic 2021: Acute and Long-Term Effects on attentional Focus Strategies on Muscular Strength – A Meta-Analysis – ie. a really good quality study that studied and summarised other studies, that was done recently, “In summary, our findings indicate an acute increase in muscular strength when utilizing an external focus of attention. When applied over the long term, using an external focus of attention may also enhance resistance training-induced gains in lower-body muscular strength.” 

 

What to make of it all…


What’s the takeaway here; people CAN benefit from focusing internally on the muscle that is working and this CAN lead to greater muscle growth (it will also lead to more energy required for a given weight/number of reps). However, an external focus of attention will lead to more efficient movement, more weight lifted and for more reps and ultimately it is these things that lead to more muscle growth. As for those influencers on TikTok who are clearly in good shape and claim it’s the Mind Muscle Connection that’s the key to their physique… well I’d argue it’s the enormous volume of training they do and the outrageous diets they are on that got them to where they are – not closing their eyes and squeezing their glutes every squat.


For more on this topic and where this information came from:


(2018) Strength is Specific, Chris Beardsley. https://www.amazon.com/Str ngth-Specific-optimal strength-training-ebook/dp/B07FGG4LNC

Grgic, J., Mikulic, I., & Mikulic, P. (2021). Acute and long-term effects of attentional focus strategies on muscular strength: A meta-analysis. Sports, 9(11), 153.

By Aden O'Sullivan
TFS Co-Owner & Trainer

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