I incorporate the principles of Pilates into all my strength and conditioning coaching. In the same way that an aerobic base provides the foundation for improving your top end, the Pilates principles lay the foundation for building strength. Centering, concentration, control, precision all enhance the mind-muscle connection.
The idea behind the mind-muscle connection is simple:
If you consciously and deliberately place your attention on the contraction of the primary muscle you are working, the quality of the contraction is enhanced, and the greater your gains will be.
How muscle movement works in your body
Acetylcholine is the neurotransmitter that stimulates your muscles to move. The more we think about the muscle that's being contracted, the more acetylcholine is produced, leading to an enhanced quality in the contraction.
Studies have shown that placing mental attention on your muscles as they're contracting increases the activation of the muscle fibres leading to greater gains. When your brain and your body are working closely together, there is an increase in the quality of your action.
How to enhance your mind-muscle connection
It's all about activating the right muscles, in the right sequence, to ensure you are not allowing the muscles which should only be assisting to dominate. If you find your hamstrings cramp when trying a glute bridge, this is most likely down to the fact that you’re glutes aren’t firing enough and your hamstrings are taking the slack. If you focus your mind on initiating the move from the bum, with the hamstrings only assisting, this usually will help solve any cramping issues.
Slowing down the tempo of an exercise to increase the time the muscles are under tension can really help the mind muscle connection, allowing you to focus on your form, and increase the intensity of the exercise without the need for heavy weights. Try squatting with a 5 count lower, 3 count hold tempo. You will soon know if you are over using your quads!