Using Your Brain to Lift
Most people don’t imagine that success in the weight room requires much brains. However, to unlock true strength, explosiveness, and speed, the signals being sent from the brain to the muscular system need to be strong and well established. Just like learning how to walk or write, your body needs to develop the pathways necessary in order to move in the most efficient way possible. If you’ve ever started shaking uncontrollably during a plank, or felt dumbbells wobble while you’re pressing them, this is the weight room equivalent of learning how to crawl.
To cement this neurological adaptation, try to place your full attention on the exercises you perform. Start developing awareness of the ideal positioning, bracing, and breathing patterns necessary to make the weight move as smoothly as possible. Soon you’ll know the difference between a good rep and a bad rep, and can hold yourself accountable for the quality of each set you perform. If you look around your gym, those who are the strongest and have best physiques are likely focused on attacking their next set with these intentions in mind.
For the average trainee with aesthetic goals, this concept is even more important because it lays the foundation for the rest of your training career. The first 2 or 3 months are critical to developing the good habits that you need in order to keep progressing safely with heavier weights. Most people who begin resistance training get discouraged when there are no visible results during this period. This is a huge mistake, because your nervous system needs this time to adjust to the new stimulus. As long as you are able to safely add more weight, use better form, and can get more work done in the same period of time, you are on the right track.
The main takeaway from this is that you will get far more use out of your time at the gym by understanding this important connection between mind and body. Practices even as minor as visualization, form/grip adjustments, and a 5-10 minute core stability warm-up can pay dividends as far as the efficacy of your workout goes. The next time you catch yourself bored and uninterested in your workout, just remember there’s plenty to think about.
-Chris Wu, CPT