Are you struggling to activate your muscles during your workout? Or are you looking for ways to optimize your muscle growth? Maybe you’re struggling to activate a specific muscle group like your shoulders or your glutes? In this post I will be discussing the mind muscle connection, what it is, how to improve it and why it is important.

Let’s jump right in!

Mind muscle connection

The Higlights

1. The mind muscle connection is a technique that focuses on activating the muscles you are training, for that reason it results in better muscle growth because the muscle works as intended.

2.The mind muscle connection is important for muscle activation.

3. To improve your MMC:

Focus on how the exercise feels and keep your focus on how the muscle is working during each rep of every set.

Understand your anatomy, so you know which muscles to contract and strengthen.

Visualize the muscle you are working as you perform exercises, this will help you to feel more connected with it and improve mind muscle connection skills.

What is the Mind Muscle Connection?

In short and in non-sciency lingo, it is when you activate your muscle mentally and it is often used by bodybuilders in resistance training and strength training. When you are making a mind muscle connection, you are consciously and purposefully targeting a particular muscle. By training your mind muscle connection, you mentally isolate the particular muscle group you are using. For instance, you can use the mind muscle connection for glutes. When you are performing a hip thrust, you would think about contracting your glute muscles as you perform the exercise.

Yes I know, you’re working your fine ass off in the gym, and now you have to get your brain involved too?

I know this sounds a little hocus pocus but bear with me.

Bodybuilders have been arguing for years about whether the mind-muscle connection exists. Some say it does while others say it is as mythical as the Greek goddesses.

They believe that by training with proper form, the muscle you are trying to target will activate automatically.

This is where Dr Bret Contreras aka the Glute God comes in. Dr Bret Contreras conducted a study to determine whether the mind-muscle connection exists.

In this study he had bodybuilders perform a range of upper and lower body exercises. During the first test, they completed the movement with the intention of not using the target muscle; however, during the second test, they focused on using the target muscle.

The study showed that by focusing on the muscle, the lifter achieved better activation. They also found that the mind muscle connection works best with lighter loads.

Internal and external focused attention:

When it comes to exercising there are two types of focused attention you need to know about: internal focus and external focus.

Internal focus is when you direct your attention internally such as concentrating on squeezing your glutes at the top of a hip thrust. Internal focus is the attentional focus that is required for a mind muscle connection since you are concentrating on how your muscle moves/contracts.

External focus is when you direct your attention to your environment or outside your body such as concentrating on pushing through your heels at the bottom of a squat.

Mind Muscle Connection

Why is the mind muscle connection important?

You may be wondering, does the mind-muscle connection matter?

Mastering this skill is important in resistance training because many of your smaller muscles do not activate without some degree of effort. Even when the exercise targets the muscle.

Practicing your mind-muscle connection will help your muscles activate more effectively. An adequate mental link will also lead to better muscle recruitment. This means that you will get a better muscle contraction.

Ultimately, it will prevent other dominant muscles from taking over the movement.

How to improve your mind muscle connection?

Here are 10 helpful tips you can use to improve your mind muscle connection for improved muscle activation and more gains.

Activation exercises

Adding a warm-up set before you start with your working sets will ensure that your muscles are primed for performance. This will make it easier to build that mind muscle connection because your muscles will be warmed up and ready to work. Your warm up exercises should be tailored to the target muscles you want to work during your training sessions.

Use cues

Add cues to your workouts. It will help you focus on contracting the muscle you’re trying to target. For example, you can tell yourself to squeeze as you get to the concentric phase of the exercise.

Tap the muscles

Partner up. If you have a training partner, you can ask them to tap your target muscles when you perform the exercises. This makes you more aware of where the muscle is which helps you achieve a greater muscular contraction. Warning, this might be awkward when it comes to glute related exercises. So you can go ahead and skip the tapping here.

Mind muscle connection tips

Slow down and increase the time under tension

Slow and steady wins the race. Try to not rush through your reps. Perform slow and controlled reps, this will give you more time to focus on activating the muscle.

Lower the weight

Progressive overload and a challenging weight are essential for muscle growth. That being said, using lighter weight is the best way to achieve a good connection. When you are lifting heavy weights you won’t be able to pay attention to the muscle you are targeting because you’ll be focused on moving the weight( and not getting squished).Make sure you include both heavy and light weights to get the best of both worlds.


Think about the muscle you are training and imagine it growing larger as you are doing each rep. Don’t be afraid to let your imagination run wild. Arnold Schwarzenegger used visualization as well. He said, “In my mind I saw my biceps as mountains, enormously huge, and I pictured myself lifting tremendous amounts of weight with these superhuman masses of muscle.” But don’t panic, using his method isn’t going to give you enormously huge muscles.

Flex your muscles

Flex your muscles

Flex Friday! You may think these gym dudes flexing in the gym is a bit cringy but flexing your muscles is a good way to improve your mind muscle connection because it is an easy and quick way to create a muscular contraction.

Focus and turn off distractions

Getting distracted during your workouts is easy. Your phone might be ringing, you’re starving and about to go grab a snack or the some guy is trying to talk to you. It can be very difficult to focus on the muscle you are targeting when there are other things pulling away your attention. So if it’s possible turn off your phone and get rid of other distractions. This will help your focus tremendously. It might be a good idea turn off audio books and podcasts as well since you’ll be focused on these instead of your exercise.

Focus on how the exercise feels

Keep your focus on how the exercise feels, rather than how you are doing it. Of course form is always important but once you have learned how to do an exercise, muscle memory will help you to perform it correctly even if you aren’t paying attention to your form . Form also becomes less of an issue when you are lifting lighter weights since you won’t be tempted to cheat to finish the rep. Remember to pay attention to the muscles you are working during each rep of every set.

Know your anatomy

Last but not least, understand how your muscles work. Understanding your anatomy helps you to contract your muscles better. If you know how your muscles work, you’ll know how to train them and maximize your growth.

What is the benefit of the mind muscle connection?

Woman with abs
  • Sometimes you’ll have a stubborn muscle that just won’t grow, mind muscle connection can help you build up specific muscles that won’t grow. You’ll develop a stronger muscle memory and become more aware of your muscle movement. Thus, you will have better control over them. This means that you can target individual muscles for isolation exercises with less difficulty.
  • MMC helps you target smaller muscles that don’t activate well during exercises. When you focus more on the muscle, you will get a better muscle contraction. You will then be able to feel your smaller muscles working which encourages hypertrophy.
  • You can improve overall muscle building because it helps you to recruit more muscle fibers. Recruiting more muscle fibers during your workout will lead to greater performance and greater muscular gains.

You can use MMC to “exclude” dominant muscles in order to build less dominant muscles. There are certain muscles that tend to take over during an exercise.

For example, if you are trying to grow your glutes, you may find that your quads take over during the exercise which means there will be less glute activation. Since you’re trying to grow your glutes, this can hinder your glute growth plans. Another example is your middle deltoids.

During lateral raises it is common for your traps to overtake the movement which means your middle delts aren’t working as hard as they should.

MMC will help you to focus on your middle delts which will help you to figure out when they aren’t working like they should. Mind muscle connection basically helps you to train the correct muscles by steering your focus to the correct muscles.

Does the mind muscle connection actually work?

In short, yes.

Scientists have known for years that the mind-muscle connection is a real phenomenon. However, in recent years more and more studies have been conducted on the mind muscle connection.

The research: Is the mind muscle connection fact or myth?

Can you build muscle by thinking about it?

That is exactly what researches at Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine and Cleveland Clinic Foundation tried to find out.

Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine

A study conducted at the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine by Brian Clark and his colleagues involved splitting volunteers into two groups. The volunteers had their wrists wrapped in surgical casts for 4 weeks during which the first group was instructed to visualize flexing their wrists for 11 minutes a day, 5 days a week.

The second group was instructed to do nothing. After the 4 weeks, the casts were removed and it was discovered that the volunteers from the first group had not experienced decreased strength due to immobilization. In fact, the wrist muscles in the first group had become twice as strong as the second group, despite being immobilized.

Cleveland Clinic Foundation

A study conducted at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation by Vinoth Ranganathan  conducted a similar experiment. In this study, the researches split the volunteers into two groups. The first group was instructed to physically exercise their pinky finger whereas the second group was instructed to only visualize flexing their pinky finger, without moving it.

The participants pinky fingers were measured before after and during each finger and at the end of the 3 month study the researches discovered that the subjects that physically exercised their pinkies increased their finger strength on average by 53%. The visualization group on the other hand, increased their finger strength by 13.5 %, despite not physically moving their fingers.

How do you get mind muscle connection with abs?

Mind  muscle connection abs

If you want to have a good mind-muscle connection with your abs just flex it while doing your ab workouts. Repeat this whenever you can throughout the exercises and try not to think about anything else, but this muscle.

Another good way to get mind muscle connection with your abs is to think about your abs and visualize them working as you do your ab exercises.

Lastly, perform slow and controlled movements with each rep this will ensure that you activate the muscles during the exercise.


Listen Belinda(we’re giving Linda a much needed break), if this hasn’t convinced you to start building your MMC then I don’t know what will. Not using the mind muscle connection is leaving gainz on the table. It is simple to incorporate in your routine and will help you get closer to your goals. Who doesn’t want that eh?

PS: Don’t forget to check out the Free Resources section for some useful guides and cheat sheets!

Anna Mathis, CPT,CNC
Anna Mathis, CPT,CNC

Anna is a certified personal trainer, certified nutrition coach, and science junkie who has a passion for teaching women about weight training, nutrition, and wellness.