By: Tim Rigby (courtesy if Inside Fitness)
You’ve no doubt heard the term “feel” many times, in reference to the execution of a weightlifting exercise. This pertains to the ease at which you can perform a rep exactly as it was intended, and how well you can isolate a muscle when lifting, simply by focusing on it with your brain. Over time, after numerous reps and lots of nights of sleep, the basal ganglia region of your brain becomes so accustomed to the exercise that performing it becomes second nature. This phenomenon, particularly effective in your brain after a duration of 21 days, ultimately leads to what’s known as “muscle memory”, a very formidable tool to have in your training arsenal. Think of it as though you were putting a golf ball on a carpet, aiming for a hole. With repetition after repetition, an eventual groove would take shape within the carpet. This clear path to the hole makes it very easy for you to get the ball to its target.
So how to you develop feel in weightlifting? There are four essential keys which could require multiple pages on which to elaborate, but for our purposes herein we’ll try to break them down in basic terms.
USE SOUND TECHNIQUE
This may be obvious, but it’s the number one principle here for a reason. The importance of good form in developing mind-muscle connection cannot be overstated. If you’re ever not sure of the most fundamentally sound way to perform an exercise, simply consult previous issues of Inside Fitness for the latest and best training information; we’re sure to have you covered.
Sound technique requires a bit of patience and it must be consistent. This can lead to bouts of boredom, when you’re more inclined to use savage-like form because you’re all amped up to perform some killer lifts. Resist the temptation, because any deviation from solid form will lead to inconsistencies in execution and your capacity to establish the mind-muscle connection will be zero. Don’t be afraid to drop the weight in order to perform reps without cheating – after all, the pros and elite of fitness have all been in the same boat, yet they consistently used proper technique.
VISUALIZE THE ACTION
In the same way that pro athletes run through a physical action in their mind prior to performing it, you also can make a lift easier with a little mental rehearsal. Think of a basketball player at the free throw line who takes a fraction of a second to run through the shooting action in his mind before actually throwing the ball. Soccer players who have the opportunity to fire a penalty kick will take quite a lot of time visualizing how and where they want to kick the ball. Such a habit really helps with the execution of a physical action since your brain acts in a way as though it’s “seen” the action already and the body is simply replicating it.
FOCUS ON THE ACTIVE MUSCLES
Developing the mind-muscle connection is a “heckuva lot” easier with isolation moves compared to compound ones. If you literally watch your biceps, for example, as you’re performing a concentration curl, you can focus your attention strictly on it to preserve the isolation. People often describe how maintaining all of their mental concentration on a specific muscle actually seems to make them stronger and more capable to complete a lift. This may be something of a placebo effect in reality, but nonetheless anything positive is a good psychological boost. The reverse is that if you do not focus on the active muscles, you’re more apt to use auxiliary muscles and negatively alter the emphasis of the lift.
WORK WITHIN YOUR MEANS
Finally, the last key to mind-muscle connection is to use some common sense. Using a weight which you can only complete three or four reps will not do much for your muscle memory, and if you go any heavier than that, you’re most likely to sacrifice proper technique altogether. Don’t be embarrassed to lift a weight that is only 50-60 per cent of your one-rep maximum in order to perform a higher volume of reps and establish a better mental connection. Be patient, for over time you’ll get stronger and will be able to lift that heavy weight. Don’t rush through your workouts and make use of the time to perform a few warm-up sets before you begin using conventional resistance.
Put all four of these keys together and in short order you’ll have superb mind-muscle connection that you can apply for many years to come.