by Cassy Daniels, MPH, CPT

brain_squarethumbThe capabilities and depths of the human mind leave much to be discovered, but if we know one thing it is that the mind can be an extremely powerful tool. When it comes to exercise the brain plays a major role in sending signals to your nervous system, which allows for proper body function and movements. Exercise Physiologist Guang Yue at The Cleveland Clinic Foundation took these understandings one step further in a clinical trial to test the power and existence of a mind muscle connection. The elbow flexor muscles (biceps) and little finger abductor muscles were both studied with corresponding cortical signals from the brain that could quantify voluntary muscle contraction. Thirty participants were split into groups to either perform “mental contractions” of the little finger or bicep, physical training, or a control group who offered measurements before and after the project without performing any mental contractions. The results? It appears that just thinking about exercise has a fairly large impact on strength gain! The participants in the abduction of little finger group showed an increase in strength by 35%, and the elbow flexion group saw an increase in strength by 13.5%. So, what does it all mean? Strength training can be enhanced by distinct mindfulness. Thinking about the exercise you are doing and envisioning the contraction of the muscle you are working will cause your brain to send out increased signals that will lead to higher muscle activation and an increase in strength. Distractions are plentiful at the gym, so here are some tips to remain mindful during your workout and make the most of the mind muscle connection:

  1. Practice a few reps without weights while trying to contract the muscle group you are working.
  2. Center your breathing; Breathe out on exertion. This will help you think about each rep.
  3. Watch yourself in the mirror to get a visual of your form and muscle contractions.
  4. Do not rush your reps, instead take your time and focus on proper form and squeezing the muscle at the end of the flexion portion of your lift.