The connection between what you tell your body to do and just how well that directive is carried out has quite a number of factors. We are mostly oblivious to these because many are in the realm of our subconscious. What we are really attempting to do when we wish to strengthen the mind-muscle connection is to bring our awareness from the things that most often go unnoticed into the fullness of our awareness and conscious attention. The last article I wrote was very remedial, but it is in complete accord with my insistence on the basics. Let’s take another step in the direction of linking our bodies to our brains.

But as a quick refresher, I will again remind you to slow down the speed of every rep. I tried to stress this unequivocally in the first article. But most people will still go much too fast. Perhaps a video is in order to accompany these articles. I will try to accommodate that soon. But for now, please take the speed down to a snail’s pace.

RECENT: The Mind-Muscle Link

As you perform each rep, I asked that you pay attention to muscle tension in two different ways. The first was the tension produced along the length of the muscle. This is the resistance or weight that you feel; the pull on your muscle. The second was the internal pressure that develops as the muscle shortens and relaxes. This is the tension from inside that accrues and can be felt as the hardness or turgor or fullness of the muscle. It is not so end-to-end in nature as it is a feeling of pushing outward in the belly of the muscle; the squeeze that balls up and firms up in the middle. I proposed a new term to describe these sensations and the overall sense of the contraction as the flavor of the contraction.

One has many hours of work and attention to put in to develop a good awareness of these things, but you should look at every workout as a potential breakthrough. Let that motivate you. You never know when you might experience a huge jump forward in this. The very next rep might hold tremendous payoffs for you. Keep at it. Expect it. It is coming. Maybe the next workout, the next set, or the next rep. Stay vigilant and know that your work will pay off.

hack squat dudgale

To take our next step, I’m going to expose my reliance on education. Experience is like building a house. Education determines the foundation that house is built upon. You can build brick after brick with years of experience, but without a solid foundation of knowledge, it may or may not stand. Years of just experiencing things are like going on a trip without directions or maps or a clue for that matter. Some people get somewhere. But it was mostly by accident. And conversely, all the planning in the world never got anybody down the road.

But it is a false choice to think for one second that you must choose one or the other. You can, and should, have BOTH. Educate yourself and then garner experience. Demand both from your training time. So let’s get to it.

I am going to insist that you look up and learn the muscle attachments. These are called the origin and insertion. I had a long rant about the lack of understanding that most people have about this. But I do not want to goad anyone into excellence. This is all I will say: if you are serious about the lifting thing, and you talk about your passion and how into it you are and how much it means to you, then it only makes sense to me and anyone else who is passionate about such things that you can give a reasonable account of the way your body is put together and how it functions. If you cannot at this moment, you are free to reevaluate your commitment to the whole thing.

It only stands to reason that someone who uses muscles to accomplish their goals would want to understand the things they are dealing with in fine detail. If you are all about muscles, then you should know what they are, where they are, and how they work. Wouldn’t you agree?

It only takes a one-time effort to learn this stuff, and then you have a lifetime of understanding at your fingertips each and every workout. Hell, skip today’s workout and learn some attachments. One workout is a tiny bit of progress. But knowledge is always yours. If you only have one free hour today, don’t waste it on a pump. Learn how you are put together. The great news is that you NEVER have to re-learn it. Once you know it, you know it forever. Get it behind you, and you can use it every day.

If you haven’t done this already in your journey, it’s OK. Don’t offer me some lame excuse about it. In fact, get really excited.

The good news is that you have gotten this far with one hand tied behind your back educationally. You are about to make giant strides in your training. So let’s not cry about your piss-poor effort in the past when it comes to self-education. That’s in the past. Look forward to amazing gains when you teach yourself how the body actually works! Expect big things now. Whatever you thought your best was, let’s get jacked about a whole new reality.

Begin today. Look up the bones. You only need a few. The skull, the spine, the pelvis, and the limbs. It is easy. Then look up one muscle group at a time. A good way to go about it is to learn the next muscle you are going to train. If you are hitting triceps, then find the origins of the three heads and the common insertion by the elbow.

The origins are exactly what they sound like. They’re the attachments where the muscle starts. The insertion is where it goes and hooks on. You don’t really need to remember which is which as much as where they hook on to the bones.

hack squat slow dugdale

Be very conscious of how the muscle fibers run. The muscle contracts by shortening the fibers. If you know where they start (origin) and where they end (insertion) and the direction they run, you can do a good job predicting what will happen to the bones when the muscle fires.

I recommend going online and watching videos of the muscles moving the bones. There are fabulous computer renditions of this out there. If you find one and it isn’t crystal clear to you what’s going on, find another video. Don’t settle. There are excellent ones to watch.

Learn this stuff now. Today. Every workout that you have without knowing this stuff is a workout that was something less than the best you could do. It is so easy these days with the Internet. Lots of us had to cut open a human cadaver and breathe formalin for long hours. Now, you can see awesome computer-generated videos of that on your phone. You don’t have a good excuse NOT to learn.

I have done my best to encourage you. I have tried to emphasize how important it is. I understand that some people are just lazy. I know some people are of the opinion they are entitled. But that cannot be you. Not if you want to be the best you can be.

This is important for dozens of reasons, but to give you one, it will supercharge your ability to visualize, to hold an image in your mind of the muscle you are training and how it moves. This visual reference will help you feel what the muscle is doing and to discover if it is doing what it is supposed to be doing. This is paramount. Let’s begin.

You must start to visualize in your mind’s eye what you have learned about the muscle you are training and where it is anchored or attached to the bones that it moves.

Remember the videos you watched and how as the muscle contracts, the fibers shorten in a straight line. They will pull the attachments toward one another. This will cause the bones to move. As you picture what is supposed to happen from the video you saw, FEEL for it to occur in your body. If you can see the muscle on your body, then watch it as it does.

Mirrors are not just for the narcissistic among us. They can give valuable feedback to the process of inhabiting the muscle. See it in your mind, watch it in real life, and feel it happening in your body. You must link these three things simultaneously. Visualize in the mind, see in the mirror, and feel in the body.

In the beginning, you may only be able to concentrate on one at a time. That’s fine. Rotate from one set to the next. Do a set of 10 reps simply focused on visualizing the muscle contracting in your mind from the videos. Then for the next set, move on to watching in a mirror. Then go to feeling it in your body.

As time goes by, you will be able to expand your awareness to include all three. With practice, you will seamlessly shift from one to another so quickly it will appear to you that you are doing all three at the same time. The brain can think unimaginably quickly. You may even set aside whole workouts dedicated to each aspect. But at some time you need to coordinate them together. The goal is integration.

Keep practicing and NEVER get discouraged or frustrated. That is only judgment and it is not helpful. Only effort is helpful. Don’t judge yourself and you won’t get frustrated. Focus on learning, not mastery. When you learn enough, mastery appears as if from nowhere. Wait on it and be persistent in your work.

At this point, you can go back to what I wrote about in the first article. As you make the contraction, shift your focus to longitudinal stress on the long axis of the muscle as it contracts, and in addition, to the awareness of the intramuscular pressure inside the muscle belly. Sense both kinds of tension developing and subsiding with the intensity of the contraction. Do this while visualizing and watching and feeling. VISUALIZE. SEE. FEEL.

posing dugdale

Shift your focus around and be able to stick or move it from one aspect to another on command. Then add in the changes that occur on shortening versus lengthening.

Recall my first admonition to go very slowly. You need to send the signal (your intention) and also hear the return signal (attention) that comes from the muscle. One goes out, and the next returns. If you move too fast, you will miss lots of information and lose the necessary feedback.

I know that I’ve given you quite a few things to concern yourself with as you flex the muscle. Don’t worry if you struggle at first. Everybody does. You are not special. We all had to go through it. You’re not alone. But lots of people quit. Not you. Be determined. The truth is that even if you only develop a portion of the awareness I’ve spoken about so far (oh, yes, there is much more), you are ahead of where you used to be.

There is no deadline to meet. You are not pressed for time. Hell, if you were, you should have started this two years ago! But you’re on it now. That’s what matters. Don’t slack off, and don’t give up. You can see progress all the time if you build awareness. You will be more aware of everything including the progress you are making.

There are many great books about how to visualize. But it can be as simple as daydreaming. We can ALL do that. Visualizing is just a more focused and directed version. Golfing great Jack Nicklaus said when he did it, it was like “going to the movies in my head.” It can be that simple. Find a system that you like, and above all, makes things clearer in your mind.

I will share two things that almost all visualizing experts seem to agree on. First, you must never see a mistake. You have to erase mistakes and start over. Otherwise, you are practicing the error!

Second, they all say that the more details you can imagine the more success you can expect. You should try to include all the senses. Don’t just see the picture. Imagine the sounds that might occur, the tastes, and the smells — and, of course, for our purposes, the feelings. But the point is to find some method for yourself and stick with it. Practice a lot. Then practice some more!

Moving the awareness around and bringing your vision to bear will electrify and intensify your training in ways you are unable to guess about now. You must uncover and discover them for yourself.

This is so time-consuming and mentally draining that few seem to be willing to put in the required effort and commitment. DON’T LET THAT BE YOU! Get off the lazy train and get busy. You will not regret the one minute you spent doing this. This will never cheat you or let you down. You will get paid well.

READ MORE: The Geology of Power

Learn muscle origins and insertions. Understand how they move. Create a strong vision of it in your mind that you begin to relate to your body. Work harder at this than you think is necessary. You still won’t overdo it. That’s impossible. The clearer it gets, the more success you’ll get.

But if you are content with how it’s all going for you now, you can just skip all this stuff. In fact, if you are big and strong enough, you don’t even have to go to the gym anymore. Stay home and binge-watch some TV. You won’t be missed. Those pursuing excellence will be OK with your absence. You will be out of our way.

But if you give two shits, then crack a book and watch some videos. Learn your body from the inside. You will learn to feel it by just asking yourself to and putting in the work. When you do, you will be pissed at yourself for not having done it sooner! I’m pretty sure I can promise that. Everyone I’ve introduced this to this tells me it’s worth it. Not everything you put time into can offer that!

In review, learn muscle attachments and function. While you are at it, why not look up some muscle physiology? Wouldn’t it be helpful if you understood how muscles work? Don’t bother answering. I’ll answer for you...YES, IT WOULD!

Watch the muscles and how they affect the bones when you flex and move. Feel this in your body. Imagine it in your mind as it is happening. Sense the different types or flavors of contractions in both shortening and lengthening of the muscle. At some point, you’ll begin to integrate all of it together. Become skilled at the intention/attention loop. Yeah, it’s no easy task. I know. I did it.

By the way, nobody told me any of this. I did it the hard way. I hope I’ve made it a small bit of this easier for you, or at least easier to understand. Feeling it is all on you.

I believe if you are still reading, you are not shy when it comes to difficult things. Be a doer of hard things. This is just one of them. I will write more about this. We still have a long way to go. I’m promising big things here.

Each step counts just as each pound counts on the bar. The real trick is to fall in love with the process. Then it never matters how long the road is. There are wonder and achievement in every single step. Try hard to find that.

Header image courtesy of ra2studio ©

Part 1: The Mind-Muscle Link