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How the Mind-Muscle Connection Can Help You Get More Out of Every Workout

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You know the phrase “mind over matter?” Turns out, it can apply to your workouts, too. One of the buzziest theories in fitness right now is something often referred to as the mind-muscle connection, and the basic idea is that just by thinking about your muscles moving your body through an exercise, you can help them work more efficiently.

Pretty much any trainer will tell you there are big benefits to be found in mentally connecting to your movement, simple as it may sound. “It can be very easy to disassociate from your workout by chatting with your friends or paying more attention to the instructor. But what we’ve seen is that if you focus on contracting the muscle that you’re involving, then you can get a better result out of it,” exercise physiologist and ACE-certified personal trainer Pete McCall, C.S.C.S., as well as host of the All About Fitness podcast, tells SELF.

There are a few different theories that suggest why brain power is such an important tool in getting the most out of your time at the gym—and while some are still under investigation, others make a convincing argument for channeling the mind-muscle connection in your own workouts.

First, it’s worth noting that neurological evidence shows that our brains play a major role in regulating muscle movement and strength.

“Muscles are a puppet of the nervous system, and a muscle that does not have nerves regulating it is essentially useless in terms of force production,” Brian Clark, Ph.D., executive director of the Ohio Musculoskeletal and Neurological Institute and professor of physiology and neuroscience at Ohio University, tells SELF.

This means that muscle movement begins in the brain, and it plays a major role in regulating strength—remarkably, the brain can regulate strength without you ever moving a muscle. Clark coauthored a 2014 study that found that participants with one arm immobilized in a cast could avoid loss of wrist strength simply by using imagery, thinking through the process of flexing their wrist.

Here’s how the connection works: “Whether you’re actually doing a task or just imagining a task, if you’re imagining it correctly, you see increases in the EEG signal, which suggests that the neurons are being activated,” says Clark.

This neurological signal is then sent down from the brain to the muscle you’re thinking about. The theory is that if you visualize an exercise and specific muscle movement as you do it, you can train the brain to send stronger signals, which translates to more muscle engagement, likely by either recruiting more muscle fibers or getting the fibers to work more quickly and efficiently, he says.

The jury’s still out on whether mentally moving through an exercise while you do it improves muscle recruitment on its own, but early research is promising.

Of course, as with all things that sound too good to be true, there’s a kicker—you’ll see bigger strength benefits actually working out than just thinking it through, stresses Clark (so you definitely shouldn’t give up that gym membership if you’re physically able to exercise).

But these findings give us a clue into how the mind drives movement, and new research is exploring the question of how thinking about your workout while you’re doing it can give you better results than just mindlessly performing the exercise alone.

Clark points to a few recent studies from other researchers exploring how mental effort affects workouts, including one published in June 2017. In the study, 18 young, healthy participants were put in a low-intensity strength training program for six weeks and divided into a high mental effort group, a low mental effort group, and a control group that didn’t exercise. The participants in the high mental effort group gained more strength than the other groups, even though the workout intensity was the same for both the high mental effort and low mental effort groups.

While promising results like these are buzzy among fitness pros who’ve been advocating for the mind-muscle connection for years, these are early, small-scale studies (the study above also didn’t test imagery directly), so it’s hard to say whether thinking about your muscles working actually leads to better performance, independent of other factors.

But until more research is published, there are actually some other reasons to think about your muscles as you use them.

Thinking about engaging the correct muscles during an exercise is an excellent path to better form, which does lead to better results.

Actively focusing on the muscles you’re trying to engage as you move through an exercise can be the difference between a “meh” rep and a killer one, exercise physiologist Dean Somerset, C.S.C.S., tells SELF. Take squats, for example. “If you don’t feel the glutes flexing whatsoever but you just keep pumping out reps, you might be working your quads and hamstrings, but you’re not getting the benefit that you’re actually looking for,” he says. “If you’re working on decent technique, it’s going to be a much more effective exercise.” Actually thinking about the muscles you’re trying to target is a simple but effective place to start.

By focusing on form, you’re also less likely to rely on the wrong muscles to get you through an exercise, which can lead to pain and injury.

Plus, simply picturing your muscles working can help you get in the zone.

From a psychological perspective, McCall and Somerset both say that a major benefit they see from implementing the mind-muscle connection is just feeling engaged with your workout (which probably means you’re working harder, too). “A big buzzword is mindfulness. When people are really focused on what they’re doing, they’re able to hone in on that exercise more easily. It’s a matter of quality—you’re intrinsically focused on what you’re doing,” says Somerset.

“When you see somebody focused on what they’re doing, you see a tremendous difference [in performance],” adds McCall. “It’s kind of like a form of meditation. If you focus on the muscles that you’re using, you just become more in tune with what your body is doing,” McCall adds.

Ready to try it? Here’s how to use put the mind-muscle connection into practice.

The good news about the mind-muscle connection is that it’s really as simple as it sounds. As you’re working out, actually picture your muscles contracting as you move through an exercise. For example, if you’re doing a bicep curl, imagine the bicep muscle contracting and lengthening as you lift the weight up and down. You can do this during pretty much any exercise or type of workout, says Somerset, but it’s particularly useful in exercises where it’s easy to drop into improper form (like rowing exercises and even running). If you’re not sure what specific muscle or muscles you’re targeting with a more complex exercise, ask your trainer or the class instructor to give you the lowdown.

Bottom line? A mental workout doesn’t top an actual workout, but there are benefits to doing both. It doesn’t take any extra time or physical effort to simply channel your thoughts, so there’s nothing to lose and only potential strength to gain.

You May Also Like: Strongest SELF Ever Challenge: Strength and Balance

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Health & Fitness

What Should be the Duration of Your Gym Workout?

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When you’re just starting in the gym, there might be confusion regarding the amount of time which you should spend in the gym. Rather than mimicking someone else, it is a good idea to look at the type of workout which you are following. Once you are able to look at the type of workout, it will become easier for you to understand the duration of the workout as well.

We will today share with you the details of 3 different workouts and how much time you should spend when you’re doing those workouts.

Also, check out: How To Gain Weight And Build More Muscle

1 Aerobic sessions:
When you’re undertaking aerobic sessions, you should ideally be spending 60 minutes in the gym. When you are able to spend 60 minutes in the gym, it will become much easier for the body to get accustomed to various exercises. Even if you’re undertaking the gym workouts for the 1st time, the body will not be under a lot of strain. That is why you have to stick to the 60-minute mark when you are opting for the aerobics class.

2 High-intensity interval training:
High-intensity interval training as the name itself suggests, is pretty high in intensity. Before undertaking these workouts, you should be fit and you should have at least some workout experience. A single session of such a workout can last for 10 minutes at max. You have to repeat this 3 times a week. In addition to that, most of the trainers will also advise you to undertake cardio sessions 3 times a week as well. These cardio sessions will be 45 minutes each. Thus, when you’re undergoing high-intensity interval training, the actual time of the workout is on the lower side.

3 Strength training:
When you are opting for normal strength training, the workout duration will last from 30 minutes to 60 minutes. A lot will be dependent on the exact sets which you are opting for. Your personal trainer will be able to advise you the exact time depending on the type of exercise which you are indulging in on that day.

Thus, when it comes to the duration of your gym workout, it is important to keep these few factors in mind. Only once you are able to do that, it will become much easier for you to plan your work out in the right way and to ensure that you are not overdoing it.

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Health & Fitness

3 Exercises Which You Should Master

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Some of the exercises are known as functional exercises. This is because they help you with various other exercises. Moreover, these muscles are necessary for many other exercises. That is why you have to 1st to study and learn the functional exercises. This will ensure that you are able to increase your stamina easily as well. We will today share with you 3 such functional exercises which you should always learn on a regular basis.

Also, check out: 3 Exercises That Will Help You Become Better at Pull-ups

1 Deadlift:
Deadlift will help you in strengthening the muscles throughout the body. You have to always ensure that you are practicing Deadlift under the supervision of a personal trainer. Also, at the start, you have to start with a small amount of weight. Only when your body becomes accustomed to that much amount of it, you have to progress towards larger weight options.





2 Squats:
Scots help you in strengthening the lower part of your body. They also help you in toning the hips as well as thighs. Also, the muscles which you build with the help of squats will help you in a wide variety of other exercises. They will also help you in improving your posture. In addition to that, if you plan on undertaking high-intensity interval training in the future, it is important to learn how to attain the proper posture and squats. You have to also understand that with the help of squats, you will be able to increase your stamina significantly. Squats are pretty easy to perform. You have to just place your legs apart and you have to pretend that you are sitting backward while remaining stationary. You have to thereafter again attain the standing position. You have to do the exercise in repetitions of 10.

3 Chin up:
Chin up, on the other hand, helps you in making the upper part of your body more stronger. You have to use a bar in order to pull yourself up. You have to continue pulling yourself up until your chin is above the bar. It all points in time, when you’re in the air your legs should be crossed. You have to repeat this exercise in sets of 10. This exercise again will increase the weight which you can lift.

Thus, when you’re looking to learn the functional exercises, these are the 3 which you should definitely look at. With the help of these functional exercises, you will be able to increase your core strength as well.

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Health & Fitness

3 Tips to Tone Your Hips

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Hips are one of the most difficult parts of the body to tone. That is why many women often look for various exercises which can help them in toning the hips. You need to keep in mind that rather than trying out each and every exercise which you come across, it is a good idea to actually choose the exercises carefully. When you are able to do that, it will become easier for you to tone your hips.

We will today share with you a few simple tips which you can follow in order to tone your abs.

Also, check out: Keep Yourself Healthy Using Natural Methods

1 Lying side leg raise:
This is the classic exercise which will focus on your hips. You have to lay on your side with your legs outwards. You have to ensure that your hip is in a steady position. While raising the like, you have to ensure that the body does not move forward or backward. You have to raise the top leg towards the sky. You have to thereafter alternate the position to raise the other leg. When you’re doing this exercise on a regular basis, you can be sure that not only the hip shape would improve but also the thighs would get toned as well. You have to do it will repetitions for each leg.





2 Horse stance:
Horse stance is actually adopted often in martial arts. Increasingly, it is being used in normal workout regimes as well. 1st of all, you have to stand wide legged. Thereafter, you have to get in the squatting position. Once you are able to do that, you will be able to attain the horse stance posture. You have to remain in this posture for a long period of time. As long as you are able to hold the balance, you have to remain in this posture. You will notice that after a while, the thigh muscle start burning. This is an indication that the toning of the hips and thighs is underway. You need to keep in mind that when you suffer from the burning sensation, it is good to take a break for a few minutes before repeating the exercise.

3 Sumo walks:
Sumo walks are not for the fainthearted. You have to attend the sumo position and you have to walk from side to side. You have to take the big steps in order to complete your work.

Thus, when you’re looking for exercises to tone your hips, these are the 3 which you have to keep in mind. With the help of these 3 exercises, it will become easier for you to tone your hips.

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