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The marriage of mind & muscle**

Tue, Jan 17, 2012

Exercise, Videos


I lifted weights for almost six years before I opened my personal training studio.

Yet, even with all those years behind me, I naively thought none of it had become second nature.

I *always* spent time with clients discussing form, breathing, tempo, stretching etc. before we even hoisted a weight.

I was aware of the importance of laying a solid foundation with my clients’ training information-wise and only then putting all we’d discussed into practice.

I young. I was prideful.

I didnt realize any of this until I had an interaction with a client which made me do the ole *facepalm* at my failing to address the importance of the mind/body connection.

I was training a new client & after he finished a set of squats I asked him in which muscles he felt the exercise.

After a long pause he announced: in my right calf.

Cue the facepalm. 

And long pause on my end. 

A much needed mind/muscle connection discussion ensued (highlights of which are in my vlog below).

Too busy for a vlog? Swinging by my neck of the net whilst crouching in your cubicle at work?

Here’s the condensed version:

  • Exercise is 100% like life.  You can muddle through with little focus and get MEH results. MENTAL FOCUS = GREATER SUCCESS.
  • The more you *shut out* distractions & visualize muscles working during exercise the better youll succeed in working/contracting muscle groups.  The more you contract/work the muscles the more rapidly (according to those more “expert” than I) muscle definition will appear.
  • Let tunes pump you up during workouts—but don’t 100% tune out from what youre doing OR let them distract you from proper form, tight core or tempo.
  • Remember if you can zone out too much (if your body does the routine as if it’s second nature) you’ve hit an exercise rut.  Challenge the mind.  Challenge the body.

Got you 150 seconds to toss my way?

You can hear the tips I shared with my SquattingClient below.


Now you.

Do you make the effort to mentally focus on the muscles your working when exercising?

Are you like I am & ‘cant feel it where you should’ if you let 50cent or Lady GaGa sing too loudly in your ear?

Or are your workouts better & do you emerge STRONGER when you think about anything BUT the exercise youre doing?



**This was the tag line of my training studio. As you may recall we got married day it opened & continued to fight about have lively debates over exactly WHO was the mind and WHO was the muscle.

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56 Responses to “The marriage of mind & muscle**”

  1. AlexandraFunFit says:

    Ohhhhhhhmmm. Now my left calf kinda hurts.

  2. John says:

    That’s really true. If you want to see any improvement, you have to mentally focus on the muscle you are working.

  3. Mere says:

    I do tend to fly through my workouts without thinking or focusing.
    Food for thought.

  4. Izzy says:

    I had a trainer a few years ago who would always say this same thing.

    He’d yell at me when he knew I was zoning out and say I need “FOCUS!!!”

    You really believe this, Miz? It’s so much easier to zone out LOL

  5. Helen says:

    Oh Carla I love that!
    Challenge the mind. Challenge the body.

  6. Cort The Sport says:

    In running we call this “associating” or “dissociating”. You can go out on a long run and dissociate, get lost in your thoughts, and pound out mileage by tuning out your body. But if you want your top running performance, you need to associate with the body and be in a constant loop of checking energy, areas of tightness, technique, mental status, etc.

    I’m heading into the gym in a bit and I’ll definitely be more mindful of my own focus in there. Thanks for the reminder!

  7. Runner Girl says:

    I was going to say what Cort did before me.

    I check out too much—it helps my running I think, but not in the weigt training.

    Thanks Miz.

  8. Runner Girl says:

    (Can you be the mind and the muscle? :) )

  9. Sabina says:

    amazing tips, thx so much *

  10. Deborah (Schmiet) says:

    Miz, I had a pilates teacher (and friend) who used to get me to REALLY focus on what I was working. She wanted to ensure I had the proprioception to know what muscle was working and how I should be undertaking a certain movement.

    Sadly I had to stop my appointments with her, but it was a good grounding for later training (when I remember to focus!)


  11. Tara Burner says:

    wow so true and love this “Exercise is 100% like life. You can muddle through with little focus and get MEH results. MENTAL FOCUS = GREATER SUCCESS.”

    I’ve been muddling through lately *sigh*

    • Healthy Mama says:

      I love this sentiment, too.

      I’m not a typical fitness blog reader because I don’t need information on routines.
      I want inspiration.

      Thank you for these thoughts.

      • Miz says:

        that is 100% me right now too. I need to start a few iterations BACK from the “how many times to workout each week” etc and focus on finding the motivation to stick with this and how to mentally ensure success!

    • kale says:

      so deep. (?)

  12. Olive says:

    I will be back for the video (I’m running late and sadly not running at all LOL), but wanted to say how I think you look better now than in the photo.

    When is the photo from?

  13. Nicole says:

    need to definitely work on this…running on the treadmill watching the view comes to mind. i tend to zone out, especially when doing cardio by watching tv or listening to music. need to replay this in my mind while working out…I’ll start today!

  14. Marion says:

    I do my workouts challenging enough that I can’t help but concentrate. It’s impossible for me to bench press the amount I do without concentrating really hard. Same with doing yoga well. I have long noticed the direct correlation between an outstanding fitness level and people who concentrate intensely. Leave the book or magazine home!!!!

    :-) Marion

  15. Erica says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more on the you get out what you put in. I always tell my classes to focus on what they’re doing. Its so easy to half-behind it and just “make it” through the exercises. If you really focus, you can get more out!

  16. Fran says:

    Interesting Miz. I thought about it and I came to the conclusion that I can focus more on the exercises. Sometimes I do them without thinking too much. When I use my weights DVD’s the music is not loud and when I’m running neither because I need to hear the outside world i.e. traffic coming. But I do get lost in my music sometimes.

    Something to work on.

    You asked, after Blue Monday, what today is. Well what about Miz’s and Fran’s day? Lightbulb moment: let’s make every day our day! Have a great one.

  17. Coco says:

    My body is telling my that my ITB is f*cked up. :-(

  18. Leesa says:

    I spend most of my day not living in my body or skin and exercise is no different. This could be a good challenge for me.

    • Miz says:

      first FRACK. I. FEEL. YOUR. PAIN.
      Next you make such a fantastic point here Coco.

      When my clients mastered the marriage of mind & muscle they felt all kind of new ‘thing.’

      Some great (I CAN FEEL MY HAMSTRING MOVING!) and some…not so (the ability to feel & identify injuries).

      It’s amazing when we aren’t tuned into our bodies/don’t live full IN THEM how much we miss. And how much more injured we become

  19. Tamara says:

    Totally agree! In fact, I recall seeing a study where some people did bicep curls, some did them and thought about them and some just thought about doing them. Surprisingly, all three groups made gains in strength, even the ‘just thinkers’.

    I’m careful which clients I tell the last part to:)

  20. Michele @ nycrunningmama says:

    I love this post!!! Everything you said in the vlog hit home with me. I sometimes get too distracted and like you asid, feel the pain in areas that I’m not actually working!!
    Thanks for the reminder that we need to concentrate on what we are doing to see better results!!
    PS. Your. Arms. Are. Beautiful!!! =)

  21. mimi says:

    Since i’ve always seen exercise as something i have to make myself do, my tendency is to zone out and see how fast i can get through it to something else. Yes, i’m working on ending that, and this will help.

  22. Jody - Fit at 54 says:

    I am sooooooooooooooooooooooo Mind/Muscle! Always have been. Honestly, I can go thru a whole workout & not hear the songs in my ears for the iPod.. Now, many times I hear the songs but I would say every workout, there are points that I don’t even hear them due to total focus on what I am doing. For me, I can’t get the results unless there is that mins/muscle connection!

  23. Lindsay @ In Sweetness and In Health says:

    Awesome post! I definitely make an effort to focus on my muscles and focus on what I’m doing. Just from experience, I’ve realized how much of a difference it can make. There were some days that I would walk away from a workout and not really feel like I did much and not feel like I had been “all there” during it. For me, I was like “what’s the point?” so now I try to pay attention!

  24. Jeremy Logsdon says:

    I’m going to steal/borrow this tip and make sure I use it more often. I’ve gone through so many workouts, and the next day, thought, “Did I even work *insertmusclehere-usuallyabs*? It’s sore…”

  25. Lara says:

    I need this reminder because many time I do Zumba or Pilates and only think later how I should have held my body differently and it would have been better.

    Better workout I mean.

  26. Karen@WaistingTime says:

    I have read that studies show when we concentrate on the muscles we are working that we actually have more gains than if we don’t concentrate our thoughts. Some times I’m zoned out. But mostly I try to feel things in the right places and squeeze if I should squeeze. One thing that helps me for this with my upper body is wearing cami tops so I can see some of the muscles actually engaging.

  27. cyn says:

    wow — i have just been pondering this exact thing. i think a good portion of the time i am in my workouts mind, body & soul. sometimes not. especially the days i am using my workouts as therapy & so lost in my thought process. i am gonna make a conscious effort to make my workouts be what they are & connect my mind & body!

  28. Yvonne says:

    I need to see my muscles working to feel them.

    I also run and workout without music!

  29. Anon. says:

    I worry sometimes I’m zoning out too much in life let alone workouts.


  30. Alex says:

    I’ll be back for the video!!
    I am, as you say, “hiding at work” :)

  31. Cat @Breakfast to Bed says:

    I am so add I easily tune everything out. I NEED to focus on the muscle I am working, but often do not.

  32. joy says:

    It’s kind of funny that you are talking about this now. For the past 2 years, when working out at the gym, I’m thinking only of how I look and what are people thinking of me. I’ve never thought about what I’m working on! Then this week, something clicked with me and I’m starting to think about what I’m doing. All of a sudden, the people in the room and the “CLOCK” do not matter. I’m in my zone - focused! SO COOL!

    Now that I’ve heard your message, I will be more focused on what I’m doing!

    Thanks so much!! Keep up the great work and stay focused!

  33. lindsay says:

    i think i been in that exact same position! with a client that is, and it made me think…. whoa? what are they focusing on then? WHat am I teaching? So yes, i am following in your footsteps and taking your mind muscle approach! Mental focus improves our body’s ability to do a lot, yes?

  34. Tina @ Best Body Fitness says:

    I love this! I am good about the visualaztion thing with my goals, but have to admit that during workouts I have to bring it in check a lot because I will just go through the motions. I love switching things up with tempo workouts so I have to focus on the pacing of my movements and the mind/muscle connection. Great post, Carla!

  35. theantijared says:

    The marriage between mind and muscle has been a tough one for me. Especially when the mind leaves the toilet seat up.

  36. addy says:

    I don’t listen to music while working out. Drives some folks nuts at the gym - “How can you do that?” If the music is playing and the earphone thingies are buggin’ me I can’t concentrate. Attention span of a gnat….

  37. Quix says:

    Pushups should make my left knee and the top of my head sore, right? Right? :) Great post, love it.

    Depends - I think for weights, I zone out the music and it’s just background noise, and the exercise has my focus. For cardio, after I get going, its the same motion over and over, so I zone out the exercise and focus on the music (with occasional form checks).

    I NEEEEED music for cardio (I have to wean myself off running music before triathlons and it sucks). I can take it or leave it for weights.

  38. Kyle @ Getting Better and Better says:

    ((heavy sigh)) Since I’m not the biggest fan of strength training, I probably “go through the motions” much more than should instead of truly being present and focused with the exercise. However, when I perform a strength related activity like the rock climbing gym, then I am focused (of course).

    If you can’t focus, you can’t get the most out of the time you are spending.

  39. charlotte says:

    Zoning out during my workouts is a seriously problem for me and one major reason why I change mine up so often. If I’m making my grocery list or arguing with my kids in my head then clearly I’m not working hard enough. Plus, zoning out is when I get injured. Also “in my right calf” would have totally become a punchline for me for years afterward. Love it!!

  40. Kerri O says:

    I am working hard at focusing on this for 2012. I’m ditching a few of my fav DVDs that just go through the moves too fast to focus.

  41. Miz says:

    GOOD POINT Kerri. It isn’t always *us*…

  42. Rita @ Healthy Mom, Sexy Wife says:

    I focus on form so I guess I’m focusing on the muscles. I never thought about it like that but very intersting.

  43. Ann says:

    I love this post. I always hate being at the gym and seeing these people who are lifting and chatting, chewing gum, blaring loud music and focusing on everything except their muscles. Really good advice.

  44. Jill says:

    Love this, Carla. This is precisely why yoga is my primary workout. That mind-body connection is so strong and I need it. I find I now bring yoga focus to other types of workouts when I do them.

  45. Dr. J says:

    I really believe in maximum effort when it comes to weight lifting. I do as heavy as I can as much as I can. It’s just me. I am far from looking like a body builder, think more Bruce Lee :-) But then the martial arts are my pathway, and I want functional fitness for that since I break faces and, on the job, make faces, lol!

  46. kale says:

    Why is everything “over-thunk”? At least to me…just go and do whatever it is you like doing and you will see results. Work included.

  47. Amanda - RunToTheFinish says:

    i have recently started to turn off the tunes or turn them way down on my long runs and i’m running better because while I can relax, i can also remember to focus on my form

  48. Roz@weightingfor50 says:

    I need to focus on this a bit more. THanks for the reminder!! Have a great Thurs. btw…the title of your post today re: your attune article has stuck and now I can’t stop singing “Would I lie to you” by Eurythmics to myself. Please make it stop! :)


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