Q and A with Oscar Mairs Part 5

Oscar Mairs Q and A 5
Question asked by a fan.

What is the mind/muscle connection? How do I develop it?

You can have the perfect diet coupled with the perfect training plan, but if you cannot connect mind and body it will all be for nought. When people speak of the mind/muscle connection, they refer to conscious muscular control. But what is that exactly? Everyone talks about it, but no one can really explain it. So I’ll offer you my humble opinion, perhaps it will help you.

It’s quite simple really, you need to get in tune with your instrument. You should be able to take a conscious walk through your entire body. You should know how each and every muscle stretches and contracts to cause each and every one of your bodily movements. When you step foot in the gym, there should be no movements left unaccounted for. Even your warmup on the elliptical should be a conversation with your quads, hamstrings and glutes. That may sound excessive, but as the legendary bodybuilder Robby Robinson said; “The more control you have over your muscle, the easier it becomes to develop it.”

To my mind this seems to be true. I can rely on every one of my workouts to be productive and efficient because I know that there was not one wasted movement. That makes dieting easier, for all the nutrients I eat are shunted into the muscle.  I can afford to be a little more relaxed with the rest of my fitness lifestyle too. Unfortunately, many guys and girls do not have this absolute faith in their work in the gym. I see many aimless workouts performed with intensity that ebbs and flows. These workouts lack conscious control and direction. I can recall workouts of my own where I was unsure whether what I was doing was actually doing anything for me. Once I learned how to put my mind in the muscle, this was no longer an issue. If you are that person left frustrated with inefficient work, don’t worry, this is easily remedied.

Many coaches just tell you to ‘feel’  the muscle working, to my mind that’s not an adequate instruction. Let’s say you are training your back for instance. You choose a t-bar row because you want to develop thicker lats. How do you work to develop that ‘feel’? In your mind you should be running through basic biomechanics, think about what I takes to contract your lats. Start off with a light weight that you can control very easily. You should slowly perform the movement in a way that allows you to consciously think of pulling your scapulae (shoulder blades) together on every rep. Conversely, you should think of them pulling apart every time you lower the weight. You should also be thinking about the angle of your torso relative to the floor, and how this angle will affect the mechanical strength of your lats. In relation to your arms, you should think of pulling from your elbows, in order to disengage the biceps from the movement. You should also think about keeping your elbows tight to the midline of your body, in order to ensure maximal control and power output. As you can see, there are a number of considerations to take into account, but when they are all executed in symphony the results are nothing short of phenomenal. Control is everything, this is how you learn to put your mind in the muscle.

The easiest way to cultivate this connection, is to start with the muscle you have the best neurological connection with already. For most people, that is their bicep. Everyone knows how to flex and make a little mountain. This is all you do when you are training. You are flexing under resistance. Let’s say you choose a preacher curl, an isolation movement for the biceps. Start with a light weight and just think about forcefully flexing your little mountain at the peak of every rep. It is that simple. This is where intention comes into play. As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, control is everything. Once you have absolute mastery of control, you can treble the efficiency of the movement with focused intention. This entails squeezing the life out of the muscle on every rep. In a sense, you are mentally adding weight to the bar. Arnold spoke of this in his articles on chest training. It’s no surprise to me that his pecs were so incredible, he was a master of the discipline. I’ll let his results speak volumes on the efficacy of learning this little trick.

To go one step further, into a slightly more abstract realm, I will speak of one last mental tool you can employ. I’m going to call it prescience. You need to be able to envision the end result, the way you want the muscle to look when all the work is done. That image should be clear as day in your mind. Every rep should be a conscious step towards that image. In your own mind, you have to know that each set is bringing you closer to your ultimate goal. When you are doing an incline dumbbell press, you know that wider, thicker and more shapely pecs will grow from the seeds that you have planted. You have to imagine the muscle swelling and growing as you perform each rep, you have to trick the body into doing what it really doesn’t want to do. You aren’t merely just bludgeoning the muscle into submission, you are gently encouraging and persuading it. This is an advanced tip, one which I haven’t fully mastered myself yet, but it is coming.

This may all seem a little daunting at first glance, but it is very enjoyable once you get the hang of it. You need to be absorbed in the activity absolutely, cultivating Dorian Yate’s style tunnel vision is essential. It becomes rewarding in its own right, that constant internal dialogue. Your mind is so focused, so in tune with your senses you actually begin to relax. Even though you are working yourself to physical exhaustion. This is what I call the paradox of lifting. This is the most addictive aspect of the exercise. Forget the attention, forget the fame, forget the glory. True joy is found in the process. This is why I love to lift, this is why I train every single day of my life. Perhaps once you learn these tools for yourself, you will come to love it just as much as I do.

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One Response

  1. Robert

    Hello Oscar,
    I really appreciate your article but it still leaves me with a question. I have practiced the Martial Arts, Tai Chi specifically, for the past 30 years (ya, I’m old :-)) so I’ve got pretty good internal body awareness and “feel”. I’m interested in bodybuilding and someday even competing in a Masters competition. Speaking of the “perfect” or most productive rep method for growth and trying to understand Kai Green’s explanations, I’ve got the following question. Should I be consciously contracting the intended muscles all the way through the rep, or only at the max contraction point, at the “top” of the rep?….could one say that the optimum way to train is to flex a muscle like you would while posing, just add some weight to the movement? If I do this for biceps for example, I can only curl 10lbs! ….”normal” strict form curls I can do 40lbs….It’s very hard to constantly consciously flex (contract like posing) the muscle as you curl it up and also on the way down, never letting up on the contraction, but is THIS the way that I should be training and understand that the weight will slowly increase as I get used to it?….???? This also really limits my range of motion because the muscles tire so quickly.

    Much appreciation!



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