Relying solely on a basic anatomy book cannot teach you how to strengthen the mind/muscle connection which is important for making good progress at the gym. With my experience at the gym, I have learnt that while form, intensity, training volume and load can lead to hypertrophy, the mental aspect is just as important. Here are two ways to combat the mindlessness (or going through the motions) that can happen when lifting weights. More importantly, these queues can actually engage your muscles for more success.
I find that by taking time to strengthen the mind muscle connection through slow contraction, visualization and mindfully squeezing my muscles in contraction, I get stronger and better at the gym. For instance, controlling the tempo and mentally making use of verbal cues helps me get stronger and gain more from my lifts. Here is a great article on T-Nation that also discusses the importance of mind-muscle connection for lifts: https://www.t-nation.com/training/tip-3-ways-to-master-the-mind-muscle-connection
Here are two tips that I would highly recommend based off of my experience: this particular cue works wonderfully for glute activation:
Technique Number One: Reciting Mental Cues
Imagine you are doing a hip thrust, for instance. You would direct your attention to your glutes first of all. You would mentally focus on: “cork[ing] your feet to the floor (first cue)”. Then you would “imagine a piece of paper in between your feet” (second cue) in order to “fully extend your hips” (third cue). You would actually be reciting these cues mentally as you are doing the hip thrust, you’ll be surprised at just how much of a difference it will make in giving you results.
Technique Number Two: Squeezing a Pea with your muscles:
Try it next time you are at the gym, this mental exercise works wonderfully for full engagement with any muscle-building exercise.
All you have to do is visualize a very tiny pea or coin in between your muscles (ie: lats, glutes, biceps and even triceps). Mental cue: “Squeeze this tiny pea with my lats”
I hope that after sharing these mental cues with you, you can find ways of combining them to strengthen your mind/muscle engagement when lifting weights to make you stronger.
For an ideal use of these techniques, you can combine all of them in a single workout session. Back to the hip thrust scenario, imagine that you are aiming for getting full contraction from the hip thrust for the obvious glute growth:
I would set myself up on a bench, place the barbell on my hips and visualize myself “cork[ing] my feet to the floor, with a piece of paper in between my feet (my mind is now engaged with my muscles), extending my hips all the way through” in order to “squeeze the pea with my glutes” for one second (or more) and then lower the bar back to the floor.
It may sound like a lot of mental work, it actually is super effective. You can even add your own personalized cues, the point is that by engaging with the process of building muscle through your mind, you’ll really notice a difference in your lifts.
I hope that you enjoyed this blog post on the Two Tips for a Stronger Mind/Muscle Connection, please let me know what you thought about it in the comments below!