T Nation

The MMC Thread (Mind Muscle Connection)


#1

The MMC…“Mind Muscle Connection”, kind of a mystical thing. Not really much research available about it, yet every bodybuilder knows the importance of establishing the MMC to get the pump in the desired muscle and improve. Aside from the benefits of greater activation in the desired muscle, a good MMC is absolutely essential while posing during a contest.

In a recent thread on the forums, the topic has come up of anecdotal evidence vs research, and as has been discussed, research in the area of bodybuilding is extremely limited. It would be pretty much impossible to maintain a quality study on bodybuilders for any length of time. So, we take the info available, apply it to ourselves and learn over time what works best for us.

This article by Bret Contreras: https://www.t-nation.com/training/mind-muscle-connection-fact-or-bs, with some solid EMG evidence shows that,
"we can conclude that advanced lifters are quite capable of “steering” neuromuscular drive to and away from muscles, at least with lighter loads."

Research aside, any bodybuilder who has been training long enough to figure out how to get a good MMC knows the benefits of it.

SO, I thought it might be a good idea for us to share some methods we use to get a good MMC, or just talk about it general. Any tips, thoughts, mentally, physically, whatever. Lots of times we read or hear little gems like keeping the pinky slightly upward during lateral raises to increase pump in the medial delt, keep the foot stance during leg press more narrow to feel it more in the quads, etc. Chances are we all have a variety of techniques we employ for different muscle groups, collectively we can probably compile a hell of a list.

Let’s do it!


Mind/Muscle Connection?
Teen's Road to Physique Competition
#2

In general, I always take a brief second to close my eyes, take a breath, and prepare for the exercise. I find if my mind isn’t really engaged I still get a good pump, but if my focus is 100% my MMC is much better. Typically I’ll wear a hat to block out any distractions.

Getting to all the muscle groups would probably take all day, here are a few things I think about for shoulders:

DB Lat Raises
-slight bend in my elbows, at the top of the movement my hands are slightly in front of my body
-pinky slightly tilted upwards
-arms come up to parallel with the floor but not more
-don’t let my arms hang relaxed at the bottom, I bring them down almost to straight down but not quite, making sure to keep the tension constant in my shoulders and never letting the delts relax
-initiate with the shoulder, don’t feel tension in the elbow
-don’t let momentum lead the exercise, keep body english minimal

Rear Pec Deck
-slight bend in my elbows
-initiate from the rear delt, I imagine my rear delt is the pully, and I tighten it to shorten the muscle, my arms are an extension of my shoulders
-good squeeze, hold the squeeze briefly before returning to starting position
-don’t let my delts relax or let the arms come back to the initial starting position, I come back most of the way then start the movement again. keeping constant tension.
-keep the pump isolated to the rear delt and not the tricep or traps.


#3

Years ago, I was contemplating three things:
1. What is intensity? I felt like I was lifting intensely, but I could objectively tell that it was a spit in the ocean compared to the intensity of real bodybuilders or even just advanced lifters, right? So…how could I ramp it up and achieve it?
2. Am I hitting mental failure or muscular failure? Meaning, was my mind limiting what I thought I could do? Or were my muscles legitimately DONE? People were always writing about embracing the pain…what pain?
3. What does ‘leave your ego at the door’ mean? I typically felt pretty humble and didn’t (and don’t) think of myself as big or strong (even though the lady would argue that one…although she’s tiny and adorable haha), so what ego was I supposed to be getting rid of?

I began employing a John Meadows tactic into my workouts every so often. My shoulders were a supreme weak point (weight I could use, MMC, aesthetics, anything really). So, I began doing rear delt db flyes, lateral raises, front raises with lighter weight and not counting the reps. For example, I’d pick up 5lb dbs and start doing lateral raises. I’d go until I could barely move my arms a couple of inches. I was doing something like 75 or more reps (including the shitty partials at the end). But then I’d go pick up a barbell and do upright rows and I’d feel it like never before.

I did this with rear-delt flyes and then the rear delt pulldowns (using a lat pulldown machine). I’d do this with chest flyes and then DB press or bench press. I’d do this with leg curls and then romanians or squats.

A pumped muscle is easier to feel working…even if pre-exhausting doesn’t necessarily contribute to more muscle growth or more fiber recruitment or whatever the studies might say. Once I could consistently feel the pumped muscle working, I could make the muscle work more before it was pumped…if that makes sense.

My point is: Doing this didn’t necessarily add a lot of muscle or anything, but it taught me a) how to break through the pain barrier, b) better mind-muscle-connection, and c) how to initiate with the working muscle, and d) how to leave my ego at the door.

I think I’ll make another post about things I’ve done to further this concept…but not from a beginner’s standpoint. I like the concept of this thread…I’m interested to read what others have done and see if I can apply any of it to my own training.


#4

As I was advancing from intermediate to where I am today (I don’t think I’ll ever think of myself as “advanced” because there is always so much knowledge to gain), I was beginning to pay too much attention to what I looked like. I think this is a typical trap for a lot of lifters: Once you begin gaining a good amount of mass and start looking good (or better than most bros at the gym), you might begin paying too much attention to what you look like in the mirror while lifting.

I started lifting in more clothes For example, on leg days, I typically train in a hoodie and sweatpants. Arm day I like to lift in a big t-shirt or long-sleeved shirt. Other days I just go for the t-shirt.

My point here is thus: Once I was unable to see my body/working muscles in the mirror, I could concentrate on what those muscles were doing more with my mind. I think this has increased my mind muscle connection more. Another good offshoot, is that I stopped comparing myself to other guys in the gym…and/or being self-conscious.

**As a note, I got this idea from Dani Reardon (women’s physique competitor). She speaks of imagining what her body looked like under all the clothes, what she could picture would always be greater than what she could see in the mirror.


#5

As a “lankier” guy by nature, I always had trouble feeling the MMC in central, large muscle groups like my chest and lats.

For chest I follow what CT says about constant tension. I try not to lock out, usually only use dumbbells, and I try to start with my chest squeezed at the top of the rep. During the eccentric portion I try to feel my chest “stretch” before returning to the top for the squeeze. Squeeze and Stretch phases, new terminology? (Lol) pre-exhausting similar to what Stu recommends seem’s to help me feel this.

For lats, on rows and things of that nature, I usually let my chest/upper body come forward, but keep my hips and lower body back, once again to feel the lats stretch and pull from there.
On Lat Pulldown/pullups I try to go slow. I can’t remember where I read this, but I read that going fast on those exercises wears out the smaller muscle groups faster (which are mor4 prone to fatigue anyways).

Pre-exhausting here seems to help as well.


#6

Holding the squeeze with rear delta definitely helps, but my God does it make those reps a lot harder lol


#7

Rear delts are my MMC arch-nemesis. I simply can’t feel them.


#8

used to be lateral delts for me. Cables helped with that though.

The MMC is weird. It’s been my experience that if you are having trouble with it, once you find an exercise that gives you it for that muscle group, all exercises will after that.

Like I didn’t get any lat activation at all from pulldowns (or anything else), but slow, controlled straight-arm pulldowns were the first exercise during which I could feel my lats, and ever since then I can feel my lats on any back exercise (although obviously to varying degrees).


#9

I agree. Total bitch in avoiding other muscles taking the load.


#10

Have you tried meadows destroyer sets?


#11

Yes, I’ve just started doing a machine-based version of them. I have to say, I felt sore in places I’ve never felt sore before. (I assume it was my rear delts, but who knows.)


#12

@EyeDentist I agree, some exercises I can feel them more than others. Face pulls I just can’t feel the pump unless I get to like the 15-20 rep range, and even then sometimes I don’t feel it right.

For rear delts I find whatever exercise I’m doing, it takes a very specific weight to feel the pump. Too heavy and it’s in my traps and arms, too light and it’s not there at all. Typically I start with bent over dumbbell rear laterals, then move to rear pec deck. On the rear pec deck I feel the pump much better if I keep my thump next to my index finger, like a suicide grip for a barbell except pronated, and I almost feel like my arms are relaxed but shoulders are engaged.

The rear pec deck is also one where the weight has to be exact. Typically I’ll do 90lbs, I could do more but then the pump is gone.

Also, finishing with Meadows’ “6 Point Raises” or chest supported pendulum swings are a good finisher for rear delts, the 6 points just trashes everything.

@Yogi1 Same man, had a tough time establishing a good connection with the lats. Slow straight arms pulldowns are awesome, I also liked CT’s “kayak row” to get a good squeeze and connection.


#13

Hell yeah! lol, but when it feels that much harder you know it’s that much more beneficial.


#14

YES! This is essential I think for really squeezing the pecs and feeling the pump there. Too many people we see with dumbbell presses seem to think you have to lock your elbows out and have super straight arms, or they bump the weights together, which adds momentum and you lose the opportunity to control the weights with the supporting muscles. Taking the concentric portion to just before lockout, and even pausing there for a second, will really keep the tension in the chest and take it out of the elbows. I think when some non BBers see this they think, “well that person isn’t doing a full range of motion” when in actuality a BBer is better targeting the pecs, which is the whole point of the exercise!


#15

Great stuff here, especially trying to compare your intensity to real pro bodybuilders, considering when we see footage of them training they’re typically giving the impression that they’re hard core machines of death and destruction. This might sound out there or not make sense, but I feel like there’s a difference between muscular intensity and mental intensity, and finding the right balance of both is key.

Again just the way I think about it personally, muscular intensity meaning really keeping the desired muscles tight and firing throughout the exercise, not letting up at all for one second. Mental intensity having the ability to concentrate with efficiency and stay focused, and not let it get out of control or letting body english take over.

I recently had kind of a break through in terms of intensity after talking with Arash Rahbar when Stu organized the get together at Bevs Powerhouse. Just hearing some of his advice made me realize I could be training harder with more intensity. I thought I was already, but throughout our conversation, realized I had more room to grow (as we always should!)

So since my show in June I’ve been training with more intensity, mentally and physically. Not out of control false hype, but really seeing how heavy I can go while keeping it in control. I used to favor higher rep ranges to “chase the pump” but found if I increase intensity, I can go heavier and still get a great pump in the 8-12 range, I really just have to be very focused and ready.

Sorry if this doesn’t make sense or isn’t too concrete.


#16

Can you expand on this? What specifically did you learn from him that made you realize your intensity level wasn’t what it could/should be?


#17

Yes, exactly! People just don’t get what I’m saying when I attempt to explain this to them lol. Can you expand on this as well?


#18

Absolutely, I’ll give the short version so I don’t type a novel here as I tend to do. We were eating at an incredible high end Japanese buffet after the gym, and fortunately I wound up sitting next to Arash, he’s the nicest guy, very humble and very meticulous with his training and nutrition. I asked him some advice about bringing up some weak points, and he asked me a question.
"What’s best, heavy weight with low reps, or low weight with high reps?"
Not sure what to say and not wanting to sound like a noob, I came up with the best answer I could, which was, "optimal weight that allows you to get the rep range you want a control the weight?"
He responded with, "heavy weight, high reps." I told him I typically used higher rep ranges, and he then went on to suggest that I work lower rep ranges, try using 5x5 for the first exercise of my session, and really get my strength up for a while. Then, come back to the 8-12 area so I can lift heavier in that rep range.
Hearing this was kind of like a slap to the back of the head, an “aha” type moment. So I thought to myself, man to do heavy weight, high reps, I’m going to need to get stronger and step my game up.
So, I started doing 5x5 for the first exercise of my sessions, including:
Chest - Incline DB Press
Back - Close grip pull downs/weighted pull ups (depending on which back workout)
Shoulders - Seated DB Press
Arms - Barbell curls/weighted dips
Legs - back squat (here I did 6-8 reps to avoid too much spinal compression as I have some lower back issues)

I know it’s a basic principal to an extend, but I’ve never done 5x5 before. I was very focused on lifting as heavy as I could with good form, with kind of a new drive and intensity to break to that next level. There was no way I was going to be able to complete 5 sets of 5 properly without being very focused, in my mind and body.

@dt79 this next part hits a little bit on the rep ranges.

Around this time, I also started reading more articles in various magazines and got more of an insight to the workouts of the pros, who all seem to sit in the 8-12 rep range for most exercises. Granted this is just what they write and might not be always what they do, but the numbers were very consistent. The more I saw, the more it seemed 8-12 is really the money zone. Of course there are times to go lower or higher, but 8-12 seemed like the staple and typically I would go higher in a lot of my exercises. So, after my 5x5 sets, I would keep everything 8-12, no higher than 12. When I would do my 8-12 sets, I would keep that same intensity I used for 5x5.

Sure enough, my strength really started improving relatively quickly along with some good physique changes. I was finally eating again after my show, I think it was the right combination of my body soaking up the nutrients after a long prep, and also stimulating my muscles with more weight and intensity than usual. Right now I’m sitting at 162, but am a hell of a lot leaner and bigger than I was last time I was 162 in February.

When I would do, let’s say, shoulder lateral DB raises, I used to do around 15 reps, usually with 15lb dumbbells. I would keep very strict form, straight arms, etc. So the first 5-6 reps I would focus on my delt and have good execution, but the weight didn’t really start feeling heavy until around 10 or 11 reps, the pump came and I pushed as hard as I could after that. Now, I’m using heavier weights, 25 pound dumbbells typically for laterals, and still have good form, but I really force myself to lift the heaviest weight I can while keeping the initiation and tension in my delt. From the first rep the weight feels heavy, but with serious mental and physical intensity, I can feel a good pump pretty much from the start.

Here’s a little video example that might illustrate better what I’m talking about. The first video is from a series of videos I made last spring for marching band students to get in shape for the season; basically a “starter” split program for high school and college aged students. This is from the “shoulder” video, in the first exercise you can see more how I used to execute lateral raises. *Note, I still think beginners should start lateral raises with this type of form and execution. @dt79, I think having a good pump in the 8-12 rep range requires a solid MMC, and the ability to really initiate the movement with the desired muscle, not just feel it tense during the exercise. A lot of times we see people doing delt raises, initiating with the knees or body momentum, THEN engaging the shoulders, rather than starting the movement with the delt. A little body english is ok, but every exercise needs to have the desired muscle tense at the very beginning and very end of each rep.

This next video is one I made a few days ago, the last exercise of my shoulder workout, which is dumbbell lateral raise into barbell upright row. You can see the form isn’t as strict, but it still controlled, and overall intensity is higher.

At first glance it may just seem like I’m using more weight, therefor trying harder, but for me there was a significant change in my mental and physical approach, allowing me to go higher and stay controlled after building up some more strength.

Recently I went back to the 8-10 rep range for my first exercise with 3 working sets, but I will alternate between that and more of a strength based 5x5 focus again probably after 6ish weeks, or when I feel it’s time for a change. The weight I’m using for all of my exercises has gone up since I’ve used that method and really demand more of myself, and my physique is growing in new ways as well as a result.

Well I ended up typing a novel anyway lol, I hope this helps and gives some more insight, but if there’s anything I can be more specific with let me know!


#19

Did you use the same weight for each of the 5 sets, or did you reverse pyramid (ie, start with the heaviest weight you could possibly use for 5 reps, then drop the weight as needed so you could continue to get 5 on subsequent sets)?

By what criteria did you decide it was time to increase the weight(s) in the 5x5 portion of your workouts?

Also, what sort of rest periods did you use between 5x5 sets?


#20

A number of highly successful BBers have touted the same idea (eg, John Meadows said he learned it from Tom Platz). I’ve always had a little bit of trouble with this concept, though. For example, the only universal definition I can come up with for what constitutes a ‘heavy weight’ for a given individual on a given exercise is:

A weight that, despite his/her best efforts, limits the number of repetitions the individual can perform in a set to a very low number.

(We can argue over how many reps constitute a “very low number,” but the lower limit is obviously 1, and I think most of us would agree that the upper limit is in the 3-5 range.)

So, by definition, I don’t see how anyone can lift a weight that is heavy for them for a high number of repetitions, unless we’re talking about extending the set in some manner (eg, partial reps, rest-pause, clusters, etc). Curious to hear others’ thoughts on this.