In our experience, athletes accustomed to high-intensity workouts (like CrossFit), have difficulty slowing down their movements when necessary (like for hypertrophy). Simply put, they lack mind-muscle connection. In this blog post, we'll discuss why this connection is crucial, especially for those who thrive on high-intensity exercise.
The mind-muscle connection is a term that describes the mental focus and awareness one has over the muscle being worked during an exercise. It involves intentionally contracting and engaging the targeted muscle while performing a movement. This heightened awareness allows for a more effective and efficient workout, ultimately leading to better muscle growth and movement patterns.
High-intensity workouts certainly have their place in some fitness routines, but they can sometimes hinder the development of the mind-muscle connection. Athletes are often so focused on completing repetitions quickly and “winning” that they neglect the importance of quality muscle engagement. Here are some reasons why slowing down can be beneficial:
1. Improved Technique: When you slow down your movements, you can pay better attention to your technique. This reduces the risk of injury and ensures that you are targeting the right muscles with each exercise. It also allows you to work on movement as a skill, improving the way you move, which in turn can lead to the ability to gain more muscle and strength.
2. Enhanced Muscle Activation: Slower, controlled movements allow you to focus on the contraction of the muscle you're targeting. This maximizes muscle activation and promotes hypertrophy…and we all want to look good!
3. Reduced Momentum: High-intensity workouts often rely on momentum to lift weights, which can take the emphasis off the targeted muscle. It can also lead to overcompensation. You shouldn’t be using momentum all the time!
4. Improved Mind-Muscle Connection: Slower movements naturally encourage a stronger mind-muscle connection. When you're not rushing through reps, you can mentally engage with the muscle you're working, creating a stronger neural pathway.
Now that we understand why slowing down is essential, let's explore some practical tips for building the mind-muscle connection:
1. Focus on the Squeeze: Concentrate on the squeeze or contraction of the muscle at the peak of each repetition. Visualize the muscle working and engaging with each movement.
2. Use Lighter Weights: Don’t be afraid of going lighter. This allows you to focus on the quality of the movement rather than the quantity of weight lifted. And note: you can make a light weight feel heavy by going slow!
3. Mindful Breathing: Pay attention to your breathing patterns. Exhale during the concentric (lifting) phase of the exercise and inhale during the eccentric (lowering) phase.
4. Reduce Distractions: You don’t have to always do it for the ‘gram! Put away your phone and avoid conversations that can divert your attention from the exercise at hand.
Don’t underestimate the power of the mind-muscle connection. It not only aids in muscle growth, but also contributes significantly to overall athleticism. When you have a heightened awareness of your muscles and their function, you can move more efficiently and effectively during intense exercises. This improved movement quality translates to better biomechanics, reduced risk of injury, and the ability to generate more power and force when needed.
So, whether you're a CrossFitter, sprinter, lifter, or you engage in any other high-intensity activity, the mind-muscle connection can be your secret weapon for better performance and longevity in your athletic journey.