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How to Build a Mind-Muscle Connection for Bigger Gains

September 21, 2020

mind muscle connection jason stallworth

You know that just showing up to the gym and going through the motions will only get you so far.

And even though you may get great workouts most of the time, you also know that there’s a deeper level of training required to build serious muscle…

For that, you need build your mind-muscle connection.

In this post, you’re going to learn seven methods to build that connection between your mind and your muscles. This is going to take your workouts and muscle gains to the next level!

You’re going to get some practical things you can start doing for every workout. But I’m also going to give you some methods to use outside of the gym!

What Exactly is the Mind-to-Muscle Connection?

Before we dive into the methods that I’m going to share with you, let’s quickly define what is the mind-to-muscle connection and why it’s so important.

Your mind-muscle connection is the ability to put extreme focus and concentration into the specific muscle you’re training. You’re focused on every aspect of the rep, contracting your muscles and forcing them to work harder.

It’s the opposite of just moving a bunch of weight from point A to B. In other words, it’s not a mindless motion. Instead, you are mentally connected, deeply to that muscle during that set.

You can also see how pro bodybuilders feel about this from the Generation Iron quote…

The mind-muscle connection is the difference between just going through the movements and establishing a connection with your muscles. The Governator, Arnold, brought the concept into the limelight in the classic documentary, Pumping Iron.

While performing an exercise, you should have a laser focus on your working muscle. Having a good mind-muscle connection will help you get an incredible pump and annihilate your muscles.

‘6 Ways To Improve Your Mind-Muscle Connection’ by Vidur Saini on July 12, 2020, Generation Iron, generationiron.com

Let’s get into the methods you’re going to use…

1 – Flex Between Sets

Jason Stallworth muscle

One way to help develop your mind-muscle connection is to flex the particular muscle you’re working between sets. This will help further stimulate that muscle and will also keep you more conscious of that muscle during your next set.

Take bicep curls, for example. Here’s what you can do…

  • Perform a set of EZ bar curls (about 10 reps)
  • As soon as you put the weight down, bring your hands together in front of you and flex your biceps as hard as you can
  • Hold that pose anywhere from 5-10 second
  • Rest for a few seconds and repeat
  • Rest for about another 20-30 seconds before your next set

When you go to pick up that weight again, you’re going to immediately feel your biceps contracting. This will help you contract your muscles even harder during that set when you get to the peak of the rep.

You can do this with every muscle. And it especially works great for isolation exercises, which we’re going to talk about next.

**The one muscle you should flex the most is the muscle you can’t necessarily see and that’s your back. Your back is such a ‘huge’ (no pun intended)! muscle and more complex than other muscles.

You really want to focus even more on flexing those muscles between your rows and pulldowns. This is how you’ll bring out those striations in your back.

2 – Do More Isolation Exercises

**A quick disclaimer before we get into this – by no means am recommended that you neglect your compound exercises. Those are your foundation for building muscle mass.

However, to truly build, define, and shape your muscles, you need exercises that are going to target them directly. Isolation exercises allow you to get those deep muscle contractions.

It’s true that muscle definition comes through nutrition and with the help of some cardio. But you also want that desired shape to your muscle bellies, which come through your training, specifically getting those deep contractions.

Make an effort to do at least two isolation exercises for each muscle, preferably more.

Here’s an example of using more isolation exercises for a chest workout

ExerciseTypeSets x Reps
Incline Bench Presscompound4 x 8
Dumbbell Presssemi-compound4 x 10
Incline Dumbbell Flyesisolation4 x 10-12
Cable Crossoversisolation3 x 12
Pec-dec Flyesisolation3 x 12-15

3 – Pre-Exhaust Your Muscles

cable flyes crossovers for shredded chest

As I mentioned earlier, the reason you want a strong mind-muscle connection is so that you’re working the actual muscles, not just moving weight.

An excellent way to set your muscles up for working harder for the entire workout is to pre-fatigue them with what’s called pre-exhaust training.

There are a few different ways bodybuilders go about this, but I’m going to give you a simple and effective method:

  • Start your workout with an isolation movement
  • Start light but go up in weight a little each set
  • Keep the reps high and focus on pumping more blood into the muscle

That’s it! It’s almost like an extended warm-up if you want to think of it that way.

Here’s an example below of a back routine using pre-exhaust training. And this also gives you another isolation exercise as we talked about earlier.

ExerciseSets x Reps
Lat Pulldowns (pre-exhaust)4 x 12-15
Barbell Rows4 x 8-10
Dumbbell Rows4 x 10
T-bar Rows4 x 10-12
Hammer Strength High Pulls4 x 12-15

**I have an entire guide on pre-exhaust training and a full routine using this method in this post: How to Pre-Exhaust Your Muscles (Routines for Each Muscle)

4 – Control the Eccentric Part of the Rep

The eccentric part of the rep is where your muscles work the hardest. It’s also where there’s the most resistance as you’re practically fighting the weight, and sometimes gravity after getting it to that position.

You aren’t necessarily slowing the rep down. But you are forcing your muscles to react by controlling the negative part of the rep.

The way this is done is simply by not letting the weight just fall back into the starting position. Instead, you want to mentally hone in on that part of the rep by forcing your muscles to control the weight of the descent.

As you’re controlling the weight, keep extreme focus on keeping that muscle contraction during the eccentric part of the rep. You will indeed feel your muscles working overtime!

**Some will do what’s called negatives, which is where you take longer to lower the weight back to the starting position. This is often done for the last rep or two to enhance strength and to get that deep burn in your muscles.

5 – Visualize Your Workouts Before Your Workouts

Dumbbell rack - heavy dumbbells

Chances are you’re excited about the gym as you’re driving your pre-workout drink and getting your gym bag ready.

But I want you to take it to the next level and actually visualize your workout. Take a few minutes to go there in your mind and see yourself pumping out those sets and reps before you walk into the gym.

Here’s a quick visualization routine you can do before the gym:

  • Go to a quiet place, or even in your car
  • You don’t have to close your eyes but sometimes that helps (obviously don’t do this while driving if you’re in your car)
  • See yourself doing a set of your first exercise and tighten those muscles up as you’re thinking about it
  • Continue this for a few other exercises that you know you’ll be doing
  • Now visualize yourself and the physique you’re aiming to have
  • You’re ready!

This is actually part of the ‘mind prime’ that I’ll talk about next. But this short mental exercise will ignite your muscles and develop that mind-muscle connection before you even step into the gym!

**I want to share an awesome pre-workout with you that will really get you pumped and give you that mental focus you need. Read my thoughts on it in my post: Alpha Lion Superhuman (Hulk Juice) Pre-workout

6 – Prime Your Mind

Now let’s really close that gap between your mind and your muscles. And it all starts before you get to the gym.

Priming your mind for your workouts is a two-sided process:

  1. Preparing your mind for extreme focus so that when you get to the gym, you immediately have that mind-muscle connection
  2. Eliminating any negativity or anything that’s going to hinder your focus on training

And there are some practical ways you can do both!

How to Prep for Extreme Focus:

  • Take 10 minutes before your workout to listen to a motivational podcast or video
  • Watch a clip of a bodybuilder training before your workout to get your head in the right space
  • Do 2-3 minutes of deep breathing exercises (breath in through your nose, hold your breath for 5 seconds, and slowly breath out through your nose)
  • Visualize your workout, as I mentioned in #5 above

How to Eliminate Negativity:

  • Don’t check social media before you workout
  • Don’t watch the news before you workout
  • Don’t engage in a conversation that could potentially lead to a heated one before you workout

**Just eliminating negativity will do wonders! I will also add to not engage in conversations at the gym that aren’t conducive to your training.

For example, I hear people discussing things like politics between sets. That can spark a fire so it’s just best to leave it outside of the gym.

7 – Don’t Worry About How Much Weight You Can Lift

Squats - too low

Worrying about strength gains can be the Achilles heel for bodybuilders. And it’s the one thing that can break your mind-muscle connection.

A perfect example is the bench press. And this is especially a ‘big’ problem with the guys.

  • When your focus is on how much weight you can lift you’re going to recruit your entire body and momentum to lift it.
  • So your mind connection is with lifting the weight, not building the muscle.

As I mentioned earlier, compound movements certainly have their place in bodybuilding. And, I get it, you don’t want to be all-show and no-show (a bodybuilder with big muscles but can only bench 185).

And it’s not that you can’t get stronger. In fact, your muscles will be forced to get stronger as you’re using the power of your mind-muscle connection.

But remember your goal is muscle size over strength gains. Because one will always precede the other.

If you want to max out once every few weeks, go for it. Just don’t want to get caught up in trying to go heavy all of the time.

**If you’re looking to build muscle and get stronger, I have a 12-week plan that works in phases to help you achieve both here: Hardcore Muscle Building Program

Be Mentally Muscular

The mind-muscle concept is powerful for packing on muscle mass and getting jacked. It can really work in your favor if you allow it to.

And the mind-muscle connection is not some idea that far out in space somewhere. As you just read, these are practical methods that will help your muscles grow bigger and get that bodybuilder shape.

Try these methods for your next workout and see how you feel!

Train with Passion,


About the author

Jason Stallworth

Hi, I'm Jason Stallworth and I created The Muscle Program in 2010 for the purpose of helping you build muscle. I know first-hand how weight training and being in the gym has shaped my life in more way than one. And here is where I share that experience with you so that you can continue pushing yourself and becoming the best version of yourself each day!