What is the basic difference in the exercise pattern of a newbie and pro bodybuilders? It’s their ability to establish a mind and muscle connection for proper muscle activation.
At the gym, I see many people blaming their bad genetics for the insufficient development of particular muscle groups or injuries but the main reason for slow growth is their ignorance towards muscle activation.
Muscles don’t understand bodybuilding, they just respond to the resistance you provide. Knowing the correct muscle activation technique poses tons of benefits and we are going to discuss that in a while.
Before we talk further about the benefits of muscle activation let’s have a short introduction to muscle activation.
What is muscle activation?
Why do gym trainers pay so much emphasis on the proper form? That’s to prevent injuries and target the right muscle groups.
Exercises require muscles to work in pairs, the inability to activate one muscle group might put extra tension on the other muscle groups that could lead to muscle imbalance or injury.
Lack of muscle activation is the number one “gain killer”. Simply moving weight doesn’t necessarily help in muscle gaining.
Muscle activation is a process of waking up the required muscle groups for better contraction.
Most of the pro bodybuilders don’t lift heavy all the time, instead, they pay more emphasis on the smart workout pattern that allows them to gain muscle definition without putting their body on risk to injury.
Some basic tips for better muscle activation-
Focus on form:
The body is designed to move in the proper range of motion and following proper form can help in the prevention of injuries and achieving better muscle activation.
You can’t really think about the development of the target muscle without paying emphasis to the body mechanics and proper techniques.
Hold the squeeze
To establish the mind and muscle coordination for better contraction you need to be able to feel the target muscle.
Problem is, most of the people at the gym are not able to feel some muscle groups. In my initial gym days, it was really hard for me to feel the squeeze and contraction at my traps and lats while doing my back workout routine, which resulted in limited back development.
Holding the squeeze is the best way to feel the target muscle, whether you are targeting your biceps, triceps, shoulders, chest, traps, etc, it’s important to have 3-seconds hold after every 3-4 repetitions.
Mastering the hold and squeeze technique can help in some dramatic improvement in muscle development.
Isolation movements before compound movements
One of the most common mistakes that people are doing.
Even I did these mistakes for a long time, do you start your chest days with bench press? Do you start your legs days with squats? Do you start your back days with deadlifts?
Compound movements (Chest press, squats, deadlifts, etc) are designed to target multiple muscle groups with single exercises.
People start their workout with compound movements because they are hard to perform and the body requires a lot of energy for the execution of compound movements.
Now the issue is, compound movements work really well to develop strength and muscle size but they don’t really help in gaining better conditioning and definition.
Additionally, starting with the compound movements also restrains smaller muscle activation which increases the probability of injuries.
Big compound movements followed after isolation movement will assist better muscle activation and muscle definition. Your PR might go down with those compound movements but you will experience far better results.
Stay in control
Most people lack control over their muscles which is another reason for insufficient muscle development.
Controlling the momentum of every repetition will allow you to gain better muscle contraction.
Slowing down the momentum puts the targeted muscle group under higher metabolic stress which results in superior muscle gains.
Use resistance bands
I personally found these resistance bands to be the most effective way to improve muscle activation and blood flow. I usually suggest starting the daily workout with some resistance band exercises to activate muscles for heavy lifts.
But how are resistance bands different? Resistance bands primarily work on the concept of “linear variable resistance”. Linear variable resistance means the muscle tension progressively increases as the range of motion increases.
You get the maximum resistance at the peak contraction of exercise which makes it far easier to establish mind and muscle connection.
Muscle activation benefits
Smart lifters always focus on the activation of required muscle groups before going heavy on them. Mastering muscle activation delivers multiple benefits that are hard to achieve by any other means.
Let’s have a look at the proven benefits of better muscle activation.
1. Avoid Injuries
I know, you are tired of hearing these basic tips but the majority of people are still neglecting the muscle activation.
What is the root cause of injury while strength training?
It’s because of muscle overuse or muscle imbalance.
Muscle overuse can be avoided with the help of following a proper workout regime.
Muscle imbalance can happen to anyone, it occurs because of the lack of symmetry between different muscles.
We all have dominant muscle groups and inferior muscle groups (these lacks mind and muscle connection). Because of the lack of ability to activate these “Inferior muscles”, those muscles stay undeveloped and ultimately suppress your workout efficiency.
Mastering muscle activation can help in improved performance and injury prevention.
2. Improved Strength
Your muscles are not operating at their full potential if they aren’t communicating effectively with your brain. In most of the cases, only 50% of your muscles are functioning.
Improved mind and muscle focus can help in assigning more muscle fibers to work which ultimately leads to far superior strength.
3. Impressive Pump
Arnold Schwarzenegger once compared good pump with the orgasmic feeling was enough to motivate bodybuilders to “chase muscle pump”.
Of course, we all chase for a superior muscle pump at the gym.
Muscle pump doesn’t just make you feel good but also plays a vital role in muscle development, here are some of the benefits-
- Better supply of nutrients: the better pump is caused by the higher supply of blood which also ensures a better supply of nutrient-rich oxygenated blood.
- Required stretch: “Pump” style training, on the other hand, causes more cellular fatigue and swelling, and less tension overload. Training for the pump supports stretching the muscle tissues which gives better space for growth.
- Growth hormone production: A higher number of reps and higher time under tension leads to lactic buildup which results in the production of growth hormones. We all know the importance of growth hormone in achieving strength and hypertrophy.
You can’t enjoy the great pump until you harness the art of proper muscle activation.
4. Better Muscle Definition
Not being able to activate the muscle properly is the number one reason for not getting sufficient muscle definition and size.
Every muscle group is comprised of a set of different muscles, for example- your quads are made of a group of 4 muscles (vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, vastus intermedius, and the rectus femoris), Delts comprises of 3 different muscles. etc.
A normal person can activate only the larger muscle groups and that’s the foremost hurdle between you and your precious gains.
Focusing on the muscle activation process can help you develop all the tissue of targeted muscle groups which leads to a better definition. Superior muscle activation also helps in generating higher strength.
One of my students was unable to develop strong delts because he was never activating the “rear delts”, after some rear delt activation routines he was able to grow bigger and well-defined delts.
5. Accelerated Progress
Did you ever notice, why bodybuilders prefer going for higher reps with low weights?
It’s because bodybuilding is not about lifting higher weights, it’s about staying focused and establishing a mind and muscle connection.
Higher repetitions with lesser weights allow you to achieve superior muscle activation and muscle pump.
Achieving superior muscle activation allows you to lift heavier and pack more muscle on the targeted area.
Proper muscle activation sets the muscles in perfect alignment, and from this mind and muscle coordination, they’re prepared to generate a tremendous amount of force.
Yes, that’s right, muscle activation allows you to enjoy better hypertrophy as well.
The concept of muscle activation is to enhance the mind and muscle coordination, which allows you to target specific muscle tissues thus resulting in superior hypertrophy and strength gains.
7. Enhanced Coordination
By default, your brain wants to save your body from injury. To do so, it indicates your body to use the strongest muscles to get the task done.
Insufficient muscle activation can restrict the body to get work done in the most efficient way which might result in getting injured.
Mastering control over muscle strengthens it to move in a direct path, executing your movements quicker and better coordinated.
Thanks for reading. Questions are welcomed in the comments as always. This site contains affiliate links as well as general health and fitness information. Please read my Medical Disclaimer and Writing Disclaimer for more information.