Let’s use science to get the bottom of the mind muscle connection.

is the mind muscle connection real or fake

Written by Russ Howe PTI, and most recently updated 1 day ago.

4 min read

Is the mind muscle connection a real thing, or just an outdated bodybuilding myth?

It depends who you talk to.

Until now, that is… because today we’re gonna be breaking down the science behind the mind muscle connection and answering that question once and for all!

Table of Contents

is the mind muscle connection real

Arnold Schwarzenegger once described the mind muscle connection as:

Strength and conditioning coach Zach Evan-Esh credits this technique with transforming the physiques of many of his A-list clients, and of course, I can’t write an article about the mind muscle connection without mentioning CT Fletcher; the Compton Superman struck fame on the internet ten years ago after he began talking to his biceps during a workout (“forcing them to grow!”).

It might sound fucking crazy that just thinking about a muscle can increase the anabolic response to training, but let’s see what science says on the matter.



The mind muscle connection is 100% real.

This was first confirmed by a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research back in 2012 (some 40+ years after Arnold and co. spoke about it). (1)

Researchers from the University of South Carolina Upstate had trainees performing three sets of bench press using 50% of their max weight, and participants were instructed to perform the first set as they normally would, then on the second set they were told to focus on their chest as much as possible, and on the final set they were instructed to focus on their triceps as much as possible.

Remarkably, the trainees increased the muscle activity of their pecs by 22% when they focused on it, and increased the muscle activity of their triceps by 26% when they focused on it.

The researchers wanted to test whether this could also apply to heavier loads, so they had each participant repeat the process but this time they used 80% of their max weight on the bench press. Interestingly, they discovered that the trainees could not focus on each individual muscle quite as much, suggesting that this technique might be best served when using lighter weights.

a graph showing the results of a 2012 study on the mind muscle connection in chest and triceps

In 2016 a team of Danish researchers set out to test this theory again, and this time the results were published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology. (2)

They had trainees hitting reps with 20%, 40%, 60% and 80% of their max weight to see how heavy, or how light, we should go in order to maximize the mind muscle connection. Fuck, I love science. It turns out the trainees got the best results with the lightest weight, and then the results steadily dropped off each time they increased the weight.

And then there’s the grip strength study which came from Ohio University. (3)

This interesting study focused on participants who had their wrists wrapped in surgical casts for 4-weeks. Half of the participants were left to recover as normal, and the other half were instructed to visualize flexing their forearms for 11-minutes each day. Amazingly, at the end of the trial the second group were twice as strong!

This confirms what bodybuilders have been saying for decades; the mind muscle connection is real.

However, it comes with its own set of limitations, most notably the drop off point as we increase weights, therefore this is a technique which is going to work best during high rep phases of your training plan. I’ll finish this article with a highly relevant quote from The Rock:

References:

  1. Snyder, B. J. et al. Effect of verbal instruction on muscle activity during the bench press exercise. J Strength Cond Res (2012).
  2. Calatayud, J., et al. Importance of mind-muscle connection during progressive resistance training. Eur J Appl Physiol (2016).
  3. Clark, B. C., et al. The power of the mind: the cortex as a critical determinant of muscle strength/weakness. J Neurophysiol (2014).

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I’m Russ. I’ve been a personal trainer since 2002, and I own russhowepti.com.

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