By Katie Watson

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Did you know that what you’re thinking about during your workout makes a difference? In the bodybuilding world, there is a theory, called the mind-muscle connection, that when you intentionally think about the muscle you are working that it improves the exercise.  And now there have been several studies conducted that can confirm that is indeed true. 

When you are lifting weights or doing resistance training it is very beneficial to think about and concentrate on the primary muscle you are working out. By doing so you actually recruit more of the muscle fibers in that muscle making for a much more effective workout.


Think of the exercise like a group project. There’s usually someone who doesn’t fully participate and therefore doesn’t receive the benefit of the project but still gets the grade. Every now and then you get an awesome group of people who all pull their own weight (pun intended) and the group project becomes exactly what it was supposed to be in the first place. When everyone works together to get the job done the end result is a quality project.

When you think about a specific muscle and move it intentionally, this is what we call the mind-muscle connection.  If you are an athlete, a bodybuilder or have had a stroke,  chances are you are familiar with this term. 

When you think about a specific muscle and move it intentionally, this is what we call the mind-muscle connection.

If you have ever had an injury that prevented you from moving that muscle for a period of time you may have experienced a lack of ability to intentionally move those muscles. The same is true with a stroke patient who loses the ability to move parts of their body.  A big part of physical therapy in both situations is to strengthen the mind-muscle connection to regain movement in the muscle to move the body part. 

For athletes and bodybuilders the quality of the muscle movement is enhanced by the mind-muscle connection.

For those who may struggle with diastasis recti, learning to activate the transverse abdominals takes a lot of practice in strengthening the mind-muscle connection in order to activate the transverse abdominals to correct the diastasis recti. 

As a personal trainer, coach or group fitness instructor, of any kind, it is important to give excellent verbal queuing. The external focus (push your heels through the floor) and internal focus, the mind-muscle connection (squeeze the shoulder blades together) are both necessary and important to prevent injury, maximize the exercise, increase muscle tone and improve overall performance. 

mind-muscle connection


This can be achieved even without a personal trainer or fitness instructor. It’s all about where you place your focus. Is it on your form? That is an external focus. It is important to note that using proper form trumps EVERYTHING! Once you are comfortable with an exercise movement, you can now focus internally on that mind-muscle connection.

When you are performing a lat pulldown and are comfortable using proper form, you can now switch your attention to concentrate on pulling those lats down and together as you perform the exercise.  You can close your eyes to help you focus and visualize your back lats moving together as you contract them, squeezing them downward during the movement. 

I remember as a child wanting to be able to raise only one eyebrow. I practiced in the mirror and sometimes I would use my fingers to hold the other eyebrow down while I raised the opposite one. After a while I was finally able to feel the mind-muscle connection to raise only one eyebrow. 

Another time I wanted to learn to wiggle my ears. I could not for the life of me figure out what muscles I needed to connect with in order to do it. One day as I was singing a hymn in church, I looked up from my hymnal and the muscles in my head moved my ears as I changed the direction of my focus from down to up at the pulpit. Eureka! That moment had shown me what muscles I needed to use to wiggle my ears. From then on I worked on strengthening that mind-muscle connection using the same movement I had discovered while in church. Now I do not need to look down then up to find those muscles. I am proudly able to impress my kids by wiggling my ears without the need of a hymnal.


So maybe you’re not a bodybuilder or an athlete. Why would you want to focus on a better mind-muscle connection? A common issue with women, especially those who have given birth, is peeing their pants when jumping, sneezing or coughing. This is embarrassing and of course uncomfortable. This is a problem that can be fixed by strengthening the mind-muscle connection with the muscles used when urinating and also strengthening the transverse and lower rectus abdominis. 

Just like I was able to find the muscles in my head by a movement as simple as looking up from my hymnal, you can find those muscles used to stop peeing your pants. You can find those muscles simply while you are on the toilet by focusing on stopping the flow of urine and holding it for ten seconds. Then release, and if possible do it again. 

Another way to strengthen those lower abdominals is by lying on the floor on your back, knees bent with your hands on your lower pelvis/abdominal region. Focus on breathing into your lower belly. On the exhale draw your attention to those lower abdominals to bring your belly back together, zipping them up. The lower abdominals make a very small movement so having your hands on your lower abdominals helps to feel the movement. 

In the same supine position lying on your back, with knees bent, you can use your breath to connect with your lower abdominals to control the movement of sliding one heel out and back in, all while focusing on those lower abdominals to pull the heel back towards the body. And repeat with the opposite heel. 

Whether you are a bodybuilder, athlete or super mom everyone can benefit from having a better internal connection with our body and muscles for everyday living as well as when we are exercising.

Let me know if you found this helpful by leaving me a comment below.  For more tips, motivation and education, follow me on Instagram @taylorkati2018.


1.. Calatayud, J., Vinstrup, J., Jakobsen, M.D. et al. Importance of mind-muscle connection during progressive resistance training. Eur J Appl Physiol 116, 527–533 (2016). Importance of mind-muscle connection during progressive resistance training

2. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy

Published Online:January 1, 2004Volume34Issue1Pages4-12

Effects of Specific Exercise Instructions on Abdominal Muscle Activity During Trunk Curl Exercises | Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy

3. Front. Psychol., 29 November 2010 | Directing Attention Externally Enhances Agility Performance: A Qualitative and Quantitative Analysis of the Efficacy of Using Verbal Instructions to Focus Attention 

4.  Snyder, Benjamin J1; Leech, James R2 Voluntary Increase in Latissimus Dorsi Muscle Activity During the Lat Pull-Down Following Expert Instruction, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: November 2009 – Volume 23 – Issue 8 – p 2204-2209

doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181bb7213

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