Develop your mind-muscle connection and make your performances sore

Admit it. How many of your weekly training sessions are, you know, just going through the motions? Where you’re literally sleep walking through a training session just to get it done while your mind is thinking about the emails you have to respond to, what’s for dinner, or what ever negative crap was just shown on the news.

Don’t get me wrong- I absolutely love a run, where I’ll loose myself in it. I find runs like these provide answers to questions you may have been mulling over in your head and offer a good release from life stress. But, when your goals are big (and everyone needs big goals) and when its time to train, you better train intently.

When we check our brains at the door before a session means we miss out on perhaps one of the biggest secrets to developing our bodies unlimited potential to grow. The “secret” is developing a synergistic relationship between the mind and the muscle and we do this by fully engaging our grey matter in what we’re doing. By letting our minds wander and the just rolling through the motions in our training sessions means we literally turn off the development of this important mind muscle connection (MMC) and that leaves some serious money on the table.

This MMC concept has been around for a long time and used to great effect in the bodybuilding community- these guys intently learn to feel which muscles should be working to the point of isolation. Masters at this technique can even flex a muscle when nothing else moves. While these guys start to develop this skill set with super-slow reps- that obviously won’t work for us triathletes in swimbikerun- but we can use MMC effectively for triathlon. We’re still training the muscles to do what we want and for us thats developing our muscles ability to endure for long periods of time under escalating degrees of duress. Simply- when we can train our muscles to contract repeatedly, efficiently and forcefully we are going to get from swim start to run finish quicker.

Time to get in the Zone

At some point in our training life we have had sessions where we’re just in that zone. Everything goes quite but you can feel the blood flowing and the muscles pumping- it’s like someone hit the autopilot button. That is what it’s like when the MMC is firing on all cylinders.

When we focus and train correctly, we can fall into a trance-like state, where our breathing patterns, cadences and speed blend together in harmony, in your minds eye you see the correct muscles firing on each perfectly controlled swim stroke, crank revolution or foot strike.

We simply overlook an important part of performance when we don’t focus on the muscles. You want to feel the body part you’re working, visualise it. For instance- the bike power intervals on the trainer that I prescribe, these are short all out efforts against a huge resistance. Now we can focus on just trying to maintain the 40rpm and the effort- or we can zero right into our quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings and calves and get the brain in on the job of firing the motor units consistently and forcefully, visualising them like pistons pumping up and down. This way we actually recruit and activate many more muscle fibers and let me tell you- when you do this consistently, the gains in your bike strength on the road will be huge.

The idea is to develop control in each movement. It’s going to take time- most likely your brain cells have been on holiday when your training, so we need to turn that around. As I mentioned above, body builders use super-slow reps to develop this skill set and that won’t work for us triathletes but we can still work on creating that connection with your mind and your muscles, simply by intently focusing on the movements and the muscles responsible for those movements.

In the swim- it could be a matter of developing a strong catch via developing the feel of the water under your forearm and elbow- this will train the small little muscles (you don’t need to know them) around the elbow that never get trained because our prime movers normally do the job and when they tire and these little muscle could be trained, they are not because a) we’re not focusing on them and/or b) we’re too fatigued and form goes out the window and unfortunately we train a shitty movement pattern into the body. So we can train these muscles by focusing on gluing the underside of your elbow to the water from hand entry to hand exit- this will keep your elbow high and develop your stroke. Using a tool like the Finnis Forearm Fulcrum will help.

On the bike- as I mentioned above with the power intervals focus. You can apply this to all bike sessions and especially anytime you have efforts prescribed. Forget about the time and the effort per se and delve deep into the muscles pushing those pedals.

For the run, same goes. Get into the feeling, the movement of the muscles as they contract and relax through the running gait cycle.
In other words we want our bodies to feel a certain way during the training, we focus in on what we’re working and make it feel what we want it to feel.

The core mechanism with MMC is “feeling” what you’re doing instead of just doing it.
So whether you have hit a performance plateau or just want to keep improving (which should always be a goal) then the development of the mind-muscle connection is a principle that can change your training forever, and it will make what you’re doing now more productive and efficient. And that my friends equals results.

What I love even more about this principle is it can greatly cut down on training volume while accelerating our results.

To wrap this up… Training and using your grey matter are not mutually exclusive activities. Going into a session with an empty mind (or one filled with the 101 tasks you have to do) is easy. But without the strong mind-muscle link, you’re just waisting your limited training time.