22/02/2024

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Ep. #1122: Chris Barakat on the Science of the Mind-Muscle Connection

Ep. #1122: Chris Barakat on the Science of the Mind-Muscle Connection

Mike: Hello and welcome to Muscle for Life. I’m Mike Matthews. Thank you for joining me today for a new episode on the topic of the mind muscle connection. And specifically you are going to learn what that means of course and you are going to learn why it’s an important part of training especially if you are an experienced weightlifter and one of your primary goals is Hypertrophy is muscle growth.

And of course, you are going to also learn how to achieve more mind muscle connection in your training, how to actually do it. And if you are currently not achieving nearly as much mind muscle connection as you could in your training, and you start to implement some of the stuff that you are going to learn in this podcast, it is going to make a significant difference in your training.

You are going to have more productive workouts. You are going to probably notice less wear and tear, less stress on your joints because you are going to be able to use lower loads and get a better training stimulus from them. Now, that is not to say that you should be trying to lift the lightest weights you can or use the least amount of weight that you can to still achieve an effective training stimulus.

That is not to say that lifting lighter weights is… better or more effective per se than lifting heavier weights or that higher rep ranges are better or more effective per se than lower rep ranges. But what is true is whatever training loads you’re using, you should be using effectively. You want to be getting at least 80 percent let’s say of the maximum amount of training stimulus that you can get out of a given exercise with a given load.

And if currently you are getting only maybe 50 percent of the possible training stimulus out of a given exercise with a given load. because you are not achieving enough mind muscle connection, especially with the target muscle group. And then if you correct that, so we’re just really correcting technique is what we’re talking about here.

If you correct that, you may find that now that load is actually too heavy. You can’t move that load. You can’t do that exercise with that amount of weight while also doing it correctly, which includes achieving. A sufficient amount of mind muscle connection. And so anyway, I’m getting a little bit ahead of myself here for the intro, but that and more is what awaits you in today’s episode.

And in today’s episode, you’re going to be hearing mostly from my guest, Chris Barakat. Who has been on the podcast a number of times. He is a published scientist. He is an educator, a coach, a competitive natural bodybuilder. And I always enjoy my conversations with him because I think he does a good job blending academic insights with real world gym experience and practical strategies that make your training more effective.

Hey, Chris, it’s good to see you again. Thank you for taking the time to talk with me this afternoon.

Chris: Thank you, Mike. I appreciate you having me on again.

Mike: Yeah. Yeah. So, um, we’re here to talk about the mind muscle connection and what that means. It’s almost, almost a little bit of a buzzword these days, at least on social media, people sharing.

Training hacks, so to speak, and I think different people have different ideas about it, but obviously want to want to bring you on to share your thoughts on it and share what is in the scientific literature. I know there’s not too much research, but there is some research that’s going to help guide this discussion.

And so what is the mind muscle connection? And also, obviously, how much does this matter? Is it something that we should be trying to apply? With every exercise and every rep of every set or is it better suited to certain exercises rather than others better suited to certain muscle groups rather than others and anywhere else you want to take the discussion in terms of practical application of the theory.

Chris: Yeah, for sure. So it’s definitely something that’s been talked about. And bodybuilding circles forever, right? It’s been really emphasized there, but essentially just the neuromuscular activity. So your brain communicating with the periphery and with the skeletal muscle system, and then it depends how you want to approach the discussion of what you kind of want to focus on.

But when we talk about resistance training, neuromuscular activity is going to be a Pretty darn high. Um, and they’re going to be a lot of factors that influence that. But when you talk to like a more old school bodybuilder or somebody who’s just focused on hypertrophy training, they’ll really emphasize how important my muscle connection is.

There might be other things that can’t actually be measured in a laboratory setting. Just looking at EMG, like electromyography sensors. That might not be picking up everything that a old school bodybuilder might be talking about, right? But there is definitely something there. There’s a good amount of evidence that just shows the importance of neuromuscular activity and its correlation with muscle hypertrophy.

So there’s definitely something there. But Not all pieces of that puzzle are like completely understood. And when you talk to different people from different disciplines in different camps, they’ll have different theories and thoughts on it. So it could be quite interesting.

Mike: And let’s talk more about this neuromuscular drive, that component of training and how that contributes or it relates to the hypertrophy that results from the training.

Like it’s part of the equation, but you said that. It’s not fully understood and because most people, they would think, well, if I can get more neuromuscular activity, that’s just better. Right? And so in an EMG study, shouldn’t we just say, hey, if we’re seeing more activity here, that’s probably better for hypertrophy than less.

Chris: Yeah, yeah, I’ll dive into that. So to keep it really simple at first, I think, uh, there definitely is some truth into that, that statement that you might have heard where, hey, your muscle doesn’t know if you’re lifting a 30 pound dumbbell or 20 pound dumbbell, it only knows tension. Right? So I think that’s a really kind of good starting point when we talk about neuromuscular activity and my muscle connection, because Let’s just say somebody can curl a 30 pound dumbbell for 10 reps.

That doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t get a great stimulus with a 25 pound dumbbell or a 20 pound dumbbell. So if I did have an EMG sensor on my, on my bicep, if I performed a full range of motion concentric, I can perform a repetition without demanding the most of my bicep. So without squeezing it as hard as possible.

If I simply squeezed harder. Intentionally, there would be more neuromuscular activity.

Mike: And this is regardless of the weight is the point?

Chris: Regardless of the weight. So, like, let’s just say you’re working with, like, a 15 R. M. Or 20 R. M. That 1st 123 reps isn’t super hard. But if you squeeze more on each rep intentionally, you will create more neuromuscular activity.

Now, the question kind of becomes is if we know mechanical tension is super important, something we might not really know is. If you’re intentionally squeezing more and creating more neuromuscular activity on an EMG sensor, are you also creating more mechanical transduction? So that’s the biochemical signal that turns on all the machinery for things like mTOR and muscle protein synthesis.

Now, if there Is truth there evidence supporting that it would make sense that just being more intentional and squeezing harder, contracting harder can have some benefits. Some people would try to argue the other side of the spectrum and they say, hey, if you’re squeezing really hard on rep 1, when you can do 15, 20 reps, you’re just fatiguing yourself early and rather than getting 15 or 20 reps, you might fail on rep 12 or 14.

If you did fail on rep 12 or 14, you made that set harder on yourself, but that doesn’t mean there was less stimulus there necessarily. Right? So, from a mathematical standpoint, some people are so obsessed with objectivity and science and math. That they like tracking volume loads. So if somebody does 20 pounds for 15 reps, it must be better than that same person doing 20 pounds for 12 reps.

Well, maybe not like they made it harder. They still reached failure. And we know if you did reach failure, those last few reps, you maximized neuromuscular activity or muscle activation anyway. So we’re probably getting to the same end point. I think where the beauty may lie or some benefits. Might be there for longevity is, hey, if you can get more out of lifting a little bit lighter or with more time under tension, so potentially slower reps.

Maybe you’re saving your joints right now. Maybe you have less kind of force on those passive connective tissues because the very, very end of your eccentric and the very, very start of your concentric is very controlled rather than bouncing and using momentum. So there can be something there from a longevity standpoint.

I’ve actually been getting a little bit more and more into yoga recently. And one of my buddies who is a natural pro bodybuilder, and as well as a like national level power lifter, he dove deep into Pilates. So we’ve been having some interesting conversations on longevity and like, what can we do so we can bodybuild for the rest of our life?

Like, so we can keep this resistance training part of our. Foundational staple of like, this is what we do from a physical health standpoint. This is the basis of it, but what other modalities do we need to sprinkle in? So we can do it for the long haul.

Mike: Yeah. And not sacrifice the longevity for short term.

Rewards, even if it is enhanced performance or enhanced muscularity, but at what cost, though.

Chris: For sure. For sure. I don’t want to be limping around or using a cane or wheelchair if I don’t have to.

Mike: Yeah, but, but talking about the good old days when you could squat 500 for reps or something and nobody cares anymore, dude, you can’t walk.

Chris: Exactly. It’s, it’s, it’s funny. Like you’ve been in this even longer than I have, you know, this is like, I’ve been like really involved for the last, like 12 ish years now. And people I used to watch when I first started, a lot of them are hurting right now. They’re sidelined. They’re injured. Um, and some of those videos that used to be more inspirational, more motivational, it’s like, dang, there’s a really good saying one rep won’t.

Make you, but one rep can break you. So sometimes teetering on that line of like when you’re redlining it, how hard you’re pushing it, we gotta sometimes be smart with, with our approach for sure.

Mike: Yeah. Unfortunately, more and more older school bodybuilders and strength athletes, you know, powerlifters are kind of becoming cautionary tales rather than inspirational.

Once like, but I want to come back to what you’re talking about in terms of being more intentional with each rep and how that might turn your, your 20 RM, what you would normally consider a 20 or I’m into a 15. and there’s a debate, uh, as to which. Of those scenarios is better, or is there no meaningful difference so that that would be, though, maybe similar in effect to doing a set and and maybe limiting your rest time, right?

Well, let’s say you limit it to to 1 minute instead of 2. 5 minutes or 2 minutes that allows you to regain your. More or less all of your performance capacity, right? So you cut that rest time to a minute and you do fewer reps with the same weight and you can go to failure. But, you know, maybe you get half the reps, um, that, that you got in your first set.

Now we know that that is not optimal if you’re trying to maximize strength or hypertrophy. Like if you’re just limited in time and you’re trying to do something rather than nothing, that’s fine. But if you have the time, right, those longer rest periods are going to meaningfully contribute to your results.

Is there any similarity maybe in the kind of physiological effects? I know it’s not exactly the same because you’re maybe not cutting your reps in half by being more intentional, but I would question if, if you were quote unquote losing. Yeah. If it were a significant amount of Reps because you were being more intentional on those first few, let’s say with with almost it’s not isometric, but it’s almost like you’re increasing kind of the isometric component of the exercise. If that makes any sense.

Chris: Yeah, I think there’s different mechanisms at play. Right? So when we short in our rest time and we go into that 2nd set, if we’re performing the reps the same exact way, We’re losing reps because of fatigue mechanisms, whether they’re still metabolic stress in the area, right?

There’s more calcium ions there. There’s a little bit less fuel there. Your heart rate still elevated 1000 different options there. That’s 1 thing, but. Going back to the mind muscle connection, this is where the argument usually comes into play, even if somebody instead of performing 15 reps got 12 reps by being more intentional and thinking about the mind muscle connection there, their volume load is lower, but their time under tension might be the same or maybe even more.

So now if we start looking at rep speed, maybe their concentrics concentrics were slower, their eccentrics were slower, So the objective measure of volume load dropped because they perform fewer reps, but their time under tension metric might be similar or higher. So that’s an interesting thing. This is something that, again, you talk to people from different disciplines or different mindsets.

They’re going to give you different answers. The data is not strong there at all.

Mike: What’s what’s your opinion? I mean, you have extensive experience personally, and you’ve worked with so many people.

Chris: Yeah. So anecdotally, I just think. And again, I’m, I’m leaning even more this way, this stage in my career, but I think the stimulus to fatigue ratio can be improved by really focusing on the mind muscle connection or again, this is, we’re using the term mind muscle connection.

Some people might just view it as really good form and execution.

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Just so people understand when you say it, what do you mean exactly?

Chris: Yeah. So when we’re talking about the mind muscle connection, I’ll say we’re trying to maximize the amount of work and the amount of tension. That that target muscle is experiencing, so let’s take a dumbbell chest press as a quick example.

Um, obviously your front delts, your triceps are going to help quite a bit with that movement, but somebody who’s really focused on training their chest and really focused on the mind muscle connection, even when they’re doing a compound movement, they’re really going to be focusing on using their pack.

To do the bench press rather than moving the weight from point A to point B, that’s where the argument comes in between what’s the difference between a powerlifter and a bodybuilder, right? Powerlifter is concerned about moving the weight from point A to point B on the bench squat deadlift. A bodybuilder, especially a more old school bodybuilder, it’s more focused on training the muscle.

And maximizing activation there to get the best hypertrophic response possible. So again, going back to a dumbbell chest press, you’re trying to really maximize how much work the pec is doing and potentially reduce the amount of work the front delt is doing. That can definitely alter what loads you’re working with, like how heavy you can lift.

But again, from a stimulus to fatigue ratio, you might feel like, Oh, I’m getting a better pump in my chest acutely. And then, hey, the next day, my chest is more sore than it would have been, even if I lifted heavier. And maybe my, my shoulder isn’t bothering me as much, or my joints aren’t bothering me as much.

So generally speaking, when you, when you see someone really focused on their mind muscle connection, their rep speed is going to be a little bit slower. Their change of direction, that’s a whole other topic. The change of direction is a really important concept. Your change of direction is probably going to be slower, so when you get to a fully shortened position or the end of that concentric phase, you’re going to pause for like a super slight second.

It can be half a second. It can be 1 second. It can be 0. 25 seconds. Just going to there’s going to be this this moment of stillness before. Dropping into that eccentric, and then the same thing at the very, very end of the eccentric, you’re going to pause for a short, short period of time before initiating that concentric.

So you can kind of tell there’s just less momentum and there’s less transfer of energy, right? There’s less like elastic energy kind of being used to get out of certain

Mike: less of a rebound, so to speak?

Chris: For sure. Right. Um, And again, it probably is harder. It’s more taxing on the muscle, but it’s probably less taxing systemically.

So, perhaps there’s more of a localized fatigue, but less, less systemic fatigue. And there’s so many things that still need to be researched, and we don’t fully understand on, uh, local fatigue mechanisms, systemic fatigue mechanisms, how can we actually Study this differences between person to person and something you kind of mentioned in the intro was like, is this something we can consider for different exercises?

So people can argue, hey, maybe your compounds, you’re not overly focused on this mind muscle connection. You just want to make sure your form is really solid and good, but on your isolation movements, maybe this is where you want to hone in on that mind muscle connection a little bit more. So lots of different ways we can go.

Mike: What do you think about that perspective?

Chris: Yeah, I think, um, this is just my personal experience for a strength and performance. If you want to be more of like a hybrid resistance training, I kind of support that. Like, all right, let your compound movements, your presses, your squats, your deadlifts, your rows, let that be.

Great form, but not overly focused on, I got to pause here, pause here. You don’t have to be overly intentional.

Mike: I found it difficult, like on a squat where even, even if I’m, if I’m trying to focus on really using my quads, for example, especially. If the weight is heavy and I’m deeper into a set, I find that I tend to maintain better form with external cues rather than like trying to focus just on my quads and I can’t I can’t do both at the same time.

I have to choose one, you know? And so same thing with the deadlift that that’s been helpful because of the importance, especially with exercises like those of maintaining proper technique, especially when you get deep into the set. That’s what I’ve Done personally. It’s worked well for me. Whereas take a biceps curl.

I don’t need an external cue for the biceps curl. I can just really focus on making those biceps work. And the same thing goes for even even if I think about compound exercise like a leg press still qualifies as a compound exercise, but that or or a pendulum squat in those cases, I can focus on my quads and really just forcing my quads to do as much work as they can do, because it’s a controlled enough environment to where I’m not concerned about my technique breaking down.

It’s just, it’s easy to maintain proper technique.

Chris: For sure. Yeah. So the greater the skill of a particular exercise generally also means like there’s less stability. So barbell squat versus the pendulum squat. When a certain movement pattern requires a lot of skill, it’s going to be really hard for somebody to have, like, great internal focus and the ability for them to really bias something.

If they do so, their loads are going to be significantly reduced, where it probably isn’t beneficial in that case. Can they still get a good stimulus out of it? Sure. But if you just want to… Improve like that individual’s overall ability to perform a movement pattern and you’re using like really light loads because you’re telling them, oh, you just want to use your quads.

Probably not the right exercise to do that with now, if you’re doing a leg extension or a pendulum and they have a lot of stability on that pendulum or a hack squat, you can use certain cues to bias different musculature and you can perform it a different way. So, yeah, generally speaking, if you’re resistant training for overall health, um.

Multiple purposes, strength, power, hypertrophy, take those compound exercises, perform them with great form. But maybe you don’t have to use this overly emphasize my muscle connection and then on the isolations you would. But there could be an argument if you just care about bodybuilding, you just care about aesthetics and you really want to maximize your own personal longevity.

Maybe you can use the lighter loads and the overly mind muscle connection approach, even on the compounds, that’s like, obviously, to be debated. And we won’t really know for sure. But I think arguments can be made for both both decisions there.

Mike: Yeah, or you could approach it with. External cues approach it as a performance exercise, but only take it so far as well as another option.

I mean, I would say that’s kind of what I’ve done in my training. I probably about six months ago, I wrapped up what was about two to two and a half years of pushing about as far as I could push, just given sleep and overall, you know, life stress and things. Uh, I’d say I was probably close to my maximum recoverable, uh, capacity of, of training, especially given the loads are pretty heavy and.

I hit PRs, think more or less cross the board. And then there was a point where I just was like, I think this is about as strong as I ever need to get. Cause when, when your squat and I’m not, I’m not really made to be a strong person. I was always an endurance athlete. I’ve done a couple of DNA tests over the years, and there were one or two genetic markers that were like associated with, I think, higher than average testosterone.

And like, Good recovery. So those have probably contributed to my ability to gain muscle, but I’m not built to be a strong person, even just my anatomy. And so for someone like me, once the squat gets really into the, anything over 400, once the deadlift gets anything over 500, though, those two in particular, the risk of, of injury, it grows.

Quickly. Yeah. And the severity of injury, if it does, it does occur also goes up significantly. So, yeah, so I was like, you know, I’m happy. I, I got to, um, you know, probably one or M’s a low five hundreds, very low, probably around five to five 10 on the deadlift. I was doing a lot of front squatting at the time.

And so. I want to say it was like 315, 325, something like that on a front squat. And, um, I wasn’t back squatting as much. It wouldn’t probably have been high 300. So I just, I got to like what I felt were some, some good numbers. I worked hard, but, but then since then I’ve just intentionally backed off. I mean, I even went down to lifting three days a week so then I can just do cardio on the other days.

And it, and it frees up some time that if I’m just looking to maintain, I would like to put into work and other things. You know, just saying that’s another option that people listening, you don’t have to try to get stronger forever if you don’t want to, like you, you can work just up to some personal milestones and be happy with that.

And then just stay relatively strong because I’ve reduced my volume and I’ve changed my training, my programming a bit. I’ve lost one or M strength as expected and I’m fine with that. And I’m happy with the one or M strength that I’ve, I’ve maintained is still well, stronger than the average person. And it fits now my.

My lifestyle and this point of longevity as well. I want to be able to, I want to be able to do this for hopefully the rest of my life. And I feel like if I kept pushing, like, okay, now I’m gonna try to go to, I’m gonna try to get to a four 50 squad and a five 50 deadlift. It’s just the chances of something going wrong, or even if something doesn’t necessarily go wrong, the chances of just having more aches and pains, maybe some of these things turn into chronic aches and pains.

That’s no fun.

Chris: Absolutely. No, I hear you completely, man. Uh, the only list I currently do out of the big three is deadlift. And yeah, I’m trying to find ways to make movements harder with lighter loads. So I don’t get hurt at this point. I noticed a big difference in my recovery capabilities from now. I’m about to be 32 compared to when I was like.

22, 25, 27. There’s a, there’s a difference. So, yeah, I’m making adjustments to my own training. And again, incorporating different modalities to hopefully allow me to keep doing this for a long period of time.

Mike: Absolutely. Um, anyways, I kind of, I kind of got us off course there to come back to the mind muscle connect.

So, um, if I heard you correctly, Then it maybe has limited utility in the case of certain compound exercises, where if you are going to focus on using a key muscle group, you’re probably going to have to reduce the load. So your performance is going to be impaired. Now, if you’re okay with that, then that’s fine, but you have to, you just have to know that that’s going to be probably a consequence of it.

Um, and so That can make sense if you’re backing off on an exercise or, uh, like you said, if you’re just focused on hypertrophy, you’re not too concerned about maximizing strength or performance. And then if I heard you right, then in the case of really any isolation exercises, is there any reason to not give some importance to the mind muscle connection?

Or do you feel that, um, that should be basically a part of. Of most of our training, it’s more of the rule rather than the exception.

Chris: Yeah, I do think if anybody resistance training for body competition goals, maximizing muscle growth, when you’re doing isolation work, I don’t see how it could ever hurt.

Mike: The only argument I’ve heard is what you mentioned earlier, that, well, if you’re being very intentional, yeah, on that, on the first few reps, which are normally really easy, uh, then you, you are effectively reducing your rep max.

Chris: Exactly. Yep. Your volume’s going to drop. Yeah. But again, and going back to what you said, um, even if you’re a load, you’re dropping, we need to sometimes ask ourselves, like, who are we lifting for?

Like, what do these arbitrary numbers of doing X amount of. Pounds for X amount of reps. Like, what does that mean? Even if you do your compounds with a, with a mind muscle connection, focus, whatever your forms, different intentionality is different. Yeah. Your, your loads and your, whatever you’re putting in your log book or your app might be lower in terms of load, but like, who are we lifting for?

Like, are we trying to impress someone in the gym? If we’re not competing in a weightlifting sport where like that performance metric. Matters than like, why does it matter? And again, if you’re reaching concentric muscle failure. You’re getting a great skeletal muscle stimulus and probably eliciting that positive adaptation response that we want.

So I think sometimes we need to like, think like, does the person next to us care? Like what pin, you know, that machine chest press is stacked on? Like, why does it matter? Right. So, um, I think a lot of us, Can probably benefit from just training with better form, better intentionality. And, um, I can briefly kind of chat about how I think people can improve their mind, muscle connection and their form and technique and stuff like that.

So something I think can be really beneficial is just understanding the anatomy of each muscle. It doesn’t have to be to a super, uh, in depth, high level degree. You don’t need to know all these anatomical terms. However, if you just know where the muscle starts and where a muscle ends, again, without knowing like each bony landmark and every single terminology.

It can give you a really good idea of what the muscle does. So, like, if we take our pecs, again, as an example, we know we have different origin points, but we have a bunch of fibers that start here on our sternum, the middle of our chest, and they run, these, these fibers basically run horizontally to our shoulder.

If we just connect the start point to the end point, we know that this muscle is responsible for pulling this upper arm across the body, right? We kind of know that the ones that originate on the clavicle or the collarbone, they kind of run more in this downward direction. So they kind of help pull the upper arm across the body, but also up in this diagonal pattern.

And then the ones that originate along Okay. The lower portion of the rib cage and the upper portion of your abdominal region, they kind of run on this slant, right? So we know that they help bring the upper arm across the body again, but more with a downward focus. So just knowing, like, what the muscle looks like kind of underneath the skin, which direction the fibers run, it can give you a good idea of what I tell people is to try to get.

the insertion point closer to the origin. So you’re just trying to connect the dots. If we use the bicep as an example, we understand that the insertion is somewhere here on the forearm. You don’t need to know if it’s the ulna or the radius or whatever. You don’t need to know these terminologies. And we know that it originates somewhere in the shoulder region.

And we know that it does this thing. So if you try to get that insertion point closer to that origin, it can help you when you’re trying to perform the movement. Like, all right, what am I actually trying to do here? I’m trying to connect that dot to that dot. Okay, cool. And that helps a lot with certain movements or certain muscles that people have a bad mind muscle connection to start with.

If you have a great muscle connection with a certain muscle right off the bat, you probably don’t even need to think about these kinds of things.

Mike: That’s a common issue, though, where especially people new to weightlifting and I think, uh, I mean, recalling some research that indicated that people who are more experienced with weightlifting tend to be better.

With the mind muscle connection, and I’ve seen it more on the other end. I’ve, I’ve heard from many people who are new over the years, who struggle to really feel certain muscle groups working with certain exercises. Now that’s not to say the muscle groups are not working. Sometimes it really is just, there’s nothing objectively wrong.

It’s just, it’s a subjective perception that they’re kind of lacking and they need to develop, but that is a common issue, as you know.

Chris: Yeah, for sure. Something that is, um, shown in the literature. That’s really interesting. We kind of just alluded to it is the more advanced people as you’re approaching failure, you can recruit more and more of that target muscle.

Sometimes a less advanced person as you’re getting closer to concentric failure, whatever it may be, their form kind of breaks down so much that they just start recruiting. So many other muscles around that region that the target muscle muscles activation might not actually go up, might stay the same, might go down, and they might just start recruiting other stuff to help again.

The form would look visually different. So I would just say that’s a lot of form breakdown, but the literature supports that. Okay. The more advanced someone is. They can kind of hone in on exactly what they’re trying to target.

Mike: And for people listening who are new, a tip then, um, for getting to, let’s say, more advanced levels of mind muscle connection, sounds like at least one of the tips, uh, is going to be learn how to maintain proper form when the sets get hard.

And when the weight really starts to feel heavy, and that comes with practice. And of course, that’s just a general tip that everybody, we all should always be doing is trying to use proper form every rep of every set. But I can think of just seeing people who look to be pretty new over the years in gyms, and maybe it’s a bit of ego, maybe Uh, they’re working out with friends and their friends are more advanced and they’re trying to keep up to some degree, but I’ve seen many people who are, again, who look pretty, pretty new to weightlifting and their form.

I’ve seen it get pretty sloppy fairly often in many, in many sets that I just happened to see, you know, especially as it gets hard as versus maintaining that strict form, which would require them to end those sets. Maybe five reps earlier, but instead, you know, they, they reached that point where, okay, if they maintain proper form, they have one or two good reps left and then it just gets loosey goosey and they’re trying to finish reps any which way they can.

Chris: For sure. For sure. Quick story I’ll share with a former friend and client of mine. Um, she was preparing for her first ever figure show, and this was the first time we ever got the opportunity to lift together in person and her intensity was excellent. Like, she was pushing herself basically as hard as she possibly can.

But as the set went on, her form got worse and worse. And this kind of goes back to the systemic fatigue that she was accumulating versus a localized fatigue. So she was doing anything possible to keep that weight moving and to like complete the rep. So she was creating a lot of systemic fatigue. But that target muscle Like would have failed way earlier if she just focused on improving the form.

So that’s basically what we did. We reduced the loads. We really focused on, all right, you’re going to fail when that muscle fails, not when you you’ve given it your entire effort, like systemically. And I’m like, no wonder you feel like you’re run to the ground. Like you take every set. To a really high intensity point.

Mike: Yeah. And then every exercise is a full body exercise.

Chris: Full body. It was full body, everything. So yeah, again, you can, uh, you can be more efficient with a lot of movement patterns and, uh, especially isolation movements when you’re trying to target. Specific muscle groups. I think a lot of people can get benefit out of that.

I think a lot of people also have worse mind muscle connection with muscles that they can’t necessarily see in the mirror. So a lot of times it’s like hamstring curls are like, I don’t feel my hamstrings working right. Well, okay. Let’s think about. Where the hamstrings originate, where they insert. You don’t need to know the fancy names, but you kind of know exactly where that is and what that muscle does.

So we’re going to try to keep the pelvis nice and stable. We’re not going to have your butt rocking back and forth throughout the set. We’re going to keep it locked into place. And the only thing that’s going to move is your lower leg because you’re flexing the knee. So you’re trying to get your heel closer to your butt.

You’re trying to get that insertion point that’s like right below the knee, like on that right next to the calf. You’re trying to get that closer and closer to your glutes every time you do your hamstring curl and you’re not letting your pelvis move. And they’re like, Oh, okay. I can feel my hamstring work now.

So a lot of times it’s muscles you can’t see. And that’s why back training gets butchered by. Beginners, intermediates, because you can’t necessarily see those muscles. Initially, when people start their lifting career, they’re really focused on chest and arms and they’re not, they don’t care too much about back.

But yeah, a lot of times, the things you can’t see, um, you can improve the mind muscle connection there by again, learning, all right, where do these fibers originate? Where do they insert? What’s their line of pull and what’s the function? Okay. Let me start tying this together. And then it makes sense. Like, oh, that’s why this exercise trains this muscle because it’s training that joint function.

Mike: And people let’s don’t don’t discount that if there are any major muscle groups that are not immediately clear to you and in terms of how they function, just take a few minutes. Go. I’m sure you can just go to youtube and just find some good 3D models that just show you each major muscle group and shows you how it spans across your, your skeleton.

And then when it, when it shortens and when it lengthens what that looks like in manipulating your body. Okay. And it’s a, it’s a great tip and underrated tip. There are many, many people. Even very experienced people who probably couldn’t quickly just walk you through each of the muscle groups that they’re training and exactly like, like you’ve broken down.

Yep. This is, this is where it begins. This is where it ends. This is the function, and I think that that’s just good to know, and especially for this point of really understanding what are we doing with this exercise back is a good example, because when you look at somebody’s back, even well developed, okay, people, the lats are pretty straightforward, but then.

When you look at kind of like the peaks and valleys of the back muscles, even, even if it’s well developed and it’s symmetrical, it’s not immediately obvious looking at these ridges that go all around your back. What do these do exactly?

Chris: Yeah. Yeah. The back is definitely more complicated. Um, more joints involved, more bony structure involved, fibers run in different directions.

So lots going on there. One thing I wanted to mention too, for listeners is something as simple. As thinking about your muscle shortening during the concentric and your muscle stretching during the eccentric or the negative and feeling that stretch and feeling the muscle lengthen during an eccentric can go such a long way.

Um, I see a lot of people. They might perform a concentric with the target muscle. So let’s take a lap. Pull down as a quick example. Maybe they perform that concentric. Well, they activate a ton of muscle fibers in their lap. But when they do their eccentric, they sort of just let it go and they let other muscles actually.

Kind of take over that load during the eccentric rather than keeping the tension where they want it. So you want to feel your muscles stretch during that eccentric and short and during that pond centric. And

Mike: I’ve gotten better about that. Um, just over the last year or so, just paying more attention to that exact point, especially deeper in the set.

The reps are pretty hard. Now I’m approaching. Uh, failure, even if I’m not going to train to failure, I’m always training close to it. And sometimes I would get a little bit sloppy in those eccentrics. And if it’s just here and there, okay, fine, whatever. But, but to consistently be sloppy in at least a rep or two over a longer period of time, I mean, it can make a difference in terms of results.

And, and it’s also, I think it’s a good rule of thumb, at least something that I try to keep in mind is generally speaking, the more polished your reps look, the better your results are going to be. Now, I know every rule has exceptions, that’s fine, but I do think that that is generally true. Would you agree?

Chris: Totally agree. Totally agree. I’ve been, uh, there’s this one natural bodybuilder in particular, for listeners that might not know, I’m very focused on natural bodybuilding competitions. I, um. In that space, but there’s someone I’ve been following this year. That’s competing right now. This guy has an incredible physique lifts with such good mind muscle connection.

Some of the loads he’s lifting are so light. I’m like, how does this guy have that much muscle? And he’s lifting this light, like on his hack squat, he’s he’s, uh, he’s swatting a plate and a quarter on each side. And this guy’s quads are insane. I’m like, what’s going on here?

Mike: And out of curiosity, what do you, do you remember what kind of rep range that would be?

Chris: Yeah, like, like 10 to 15. Yeah. Yeah. I’m going to, I’ll share you his page after just because it’s really interesting. So you can see what his form looks like. But even on like dumbbell presses, like he’ll be pressing like. 60 pound dumbbells, which isn’t like super impressive for like an advanced level person, but it’s just like perfect form, like perfect, perfect form.

Very interesting. And he can be an exception to the rule. So maybe if he lifted with shittier form or wasn’t super focused on the mindless connection, maybe he would look great anyway. So I don’t know, because there are definitely people who have amazing physiques that kind of lifts with. Pretty poor form and you’re like, how haven’t they gotten injured yet?

Or how are they getting such great results? So there are quite a lot of exceptions to the rule, but it is definitely super interesting to see.

Mike: Yep. And I know that, uh, we’re coming up on time here, but I did want to, I did want to follow up on one thing with you just because some people have, have certainly heard about kind of super slow training and maybe are wondering, because you had commented once or twice on time under tension.

And, um, so if, if we’re using good mind muscle connection, you had mentioned that reps are probably going to be a bit slower. And that’s certainly been the case for me now. I’m not intentionally slowing down my reps, but I’m doing them as quickly as I can while maintaining what I feel is adequate control, especially of those eccentric portions of, of, of the movements.

And do you want to quickly just comment on. If taking that to an extreme is advisable, like, Ooh, I can get a really good mind muscle connection. If I, if I just do my reps with, uh, like a, a 3, 1, 3, or a 3, 0, 3, or 4, 0, 3 tempo.

Chris: Sure. Yeah. Yeah. I’ll dive in on that real quick. Um, love some of the points you just made.

I personally don’t. I basically never prescribe a specific second count for concentric or eccentrics, and I’ll quickly explain why. So, concentrically, we know about the force velocity curve. We know that when someone is lifting closer and closer to their 1 rep max, or they’re lifting heavier loads in a lower rep range, and or, as they get closer and closer to failure, their rep speed’s going to slow down.

So, if I’m doing a Set of 15 on a hack squat versus a set of six on a hack squat. My concentric speed is going to be different on rep one on both of those sets. Regardless if something’s written on a piece of paper on a training program is telling me to do X amount of seconds. So the load is going to dictate speed, um, concentrically.

So again, the heavier you lift, The lower that speed is going to be, the lighter you lift, the faster that speed can be while still having great mind muscle connection. Now, something where I think people don’t talk about this at all is even eccentrically, your speed is dictated by load. So if I’m using a lighter load, let’s say 60 percent of my 1 RM or whatever, I’m working in the 10 to 15 rep range, my eccentric speed.

Can be faster while still keeping tension on that target muscle and still having like great, great form. But as I lift heavier personally, if I want to keep tension on the target muscle, I need to be more intentional, more conscious that I actually need to slow down my eccentric even further compared to that lighter set.

So, yeah, I personally never like. Prescribed specific seconds for, um, for tempo, and I have a general rule and you alluded to that concentrically. I’m basically trying to do it with some sort of, um, explosive intent, but while keeping the tension exactly where I want it, that can sound a little counterintuitive.

I’m not trying to maximize the velocity of the movement. I’m not trying to move the load as quickly as possible from point A to point B, but I am trying to move it forcefully. While allowing that target muscle to produce the force I’m looking for and then I like to pause for a half second split second just so there’s a there’s a motionless point before starting the next phase, right?

So the change of direction, I like to pause for a split second before starting that eccentric and then eccentrically rather than focusing on a specific 2nd count. It’s just maintaining tension on the target muscle. And another reason why I think that’s important to talk about is because our limb lengths are going to drastically impact our range of motion.

And what a great eccentric tempo might look like for Mike versus me. So like, I have pretty long arms and a pretty shallow rib cage. So if I were like, when I do a bench press, my shoulder joint is moving through a really, really Large range of motion. Whereas if someone else is doing the same exact bench press exercise that has a barrel rib cage, like a really big chest and shorter arms, their range of motion at the shoulder is going to be less.

So for me. A three second eccentric might be appropriate on a particular, on that movement with a particular load. But for somebody with a big rib cage and short arms, that three second eccentric might be like unnecessarily long. Like it might just be too slow. And the same thing for the squat. Same thing for every movement, basically, right?

Like, if you take someone with really long legs and a shorter torso, their range of motion at the hips, the knees, the ankles is going to be different compared to someone with different structure. So that random second prescription doesn’t often make a lot of sense. Um, and then the last example I’ll use there is like, a lot of people just say, I’ll just do a three second eccentric.

Like, that’s good. Okay. Last example. If we’re doing a leg extension exercise, generally speaking, we’re moving through approximately 90 degrees of motion, right? If I were to do like a lat pullover exercise, we might be moving through 180 degrees of motion. So prescribing three seconds on a 90 degree range of motion leg extension or 180 degree motion pullover is a totally different thing.

The amount of degrees you’re moving per second. It’s not matched at all. You know what I mean? So the tempo is totally different, even though the second count is the same. So that’s a little bit more advanced, a long spiel, but definitely important to, to consider to some extent and, uh, not get overly caught up in like, Oh, do I need to do my eccentrics for this amount of time or my concentric for this amount of time?

It’s going to vary. Based on the load intensity, your rep ranges that you’re working in and the movement you’re doing and what that range of motion looks like for you.

Mike: I wanted to get one more tip from you here before we sign off. I know you have to run. This is on enhancing mind muscle connection and I thought it was a good one.

So I just wanna make sure we get it in. And that is to initiate with the target muscle. Could you just quickly explain what you mean by that?

Chris: Yeah, absolutely. So again, we’ll, we’ll use the dumbbell chest press as a quick example, initiate your concentric with the target muscle on any movement that you’re trying to perform.

So if we get to the bottom of that dumbbell chest press, you’re pausing for a split second. So you have a intentional change of direction rather than a momentous. Elastic energy change of direction, so you’re pausing at the bottom and then you’re literally saying, okay, I want to basically flex my pack to start this pressing movement rather than flexing my delta rather than flexing my tricep.

So you’re just being intentional with what muscle is starting the concentric phase. It’s probably. Less obvious with compounds and like super obvious with isolations. So like if you got to the bottom of a preacher curl, like nothing else is going to flex the elbow except the bicep, but it’s still good to think about, okay, I’m going to pause here.

There’s no elastic energy. There’s no bounce. And now I am intentionally contracting that target muscle. I think that’s just a great way for people to initiate their movements with intent. And that will lead to, in my opinion, just better mind muscle connection. It’s a skill that you’re training. So I think some of these concepts we spoke about will help the listeners refine that skill.

Over time, and therefore, we’ve had conversations in the past about, like, volume and quality over quantity. This is what encompasses some of that quality discussion, right? If somebody has really good mind muscle connection, they have really good form. They probably can create. A really good stimulus with less working sets, they probably can create a really good localized stimulus on a target muscle or muscle groups without creating a ton of systemic fatigue.

Like, some of our previous conversations, it would actually be great for listeners. Like, if you listen to this 1 1st and then listen to some of the quality over quantity stuff, this is kind of what encompasses some of that quality equation.

Mike: Yeah, that’s a that’s a great tip. And for people who want to, um, check out our previous interviews, just wherever you’re listening to the podcast, you should be able to search the feed.

And if you just search for Barakat, B A R A K A T, we’ve done a few and they’ll come up and last question on the on the initiation. Do you also think about that with the eccentric when you when you’re initiating the eccentric or or no?

Chris: Great question. Um, the answer is yes, there. I think a lot of people are missing that component again.

When I see people do eccentrics, especially on pulling, you kind of just see them let the weight go. They allow the load to control their limbs rather than. Intentionally focusing on the muscle to control the direction the limb is moving it, right? So they kind of like gravity work against them. It’s like if someone’s doing a squat and they just dive bomb into the bottom, that’s not intentionally moving.

Through a movement pattern, right? They’re kind of just dive bombing bouncing out of the hole.

Mike: And then you got to try, yeah. Trying to catch themselves bounce out of the hole, get back up.

Chris: Yeah. Yeah. So yeah, using, um, even during the eccentric, allowing that, that target muscle to initiate the eccentric is also super important.

Mike: Yeah, I found it helpful to when that eccentric is about to start to just focus again on the muscle group, like you said, that I want to use to control this movement as opposed to just letting it happen and then maybe trying to course correct midway. But by the time you get there, your eccentric is done, like, you know, it’s too, it’s too late.

Chris: Yeah, yeah, last thing I’ll say, I got it. I’m getting excited. Now we’ve got deeper and deeper into conversation. Um, we started off initially saying, like, all right, we know mechanical tension is really important. The way that scientific literature has quantified. Mechanical tension, a lot of times has been through volume.

So how many sets is someone doing or volume load? How many sets per reps is someone doing? So we’re trying to objectify this thing. Truly, internally, when it comes to mechanical, uh, mechanical tension leading to mechanical transduction, which is leading to an increase in mTOR and muscle protein synthesis, and that leads to hypertrophy, we’re not measuring that.

What we spoke about today was kind of like zooming in more microscopically. But what the scientific literature has a better understanding of at the moment is more of like the macro. It’s more of like the bigger picture stuff. So the stuff we’re talking about today just isn’t truly well understood. But if you can create, like, theoretically speaking, if you can create a better training stimulus internally on the target tissue, It probably doesn’t matter if you’re using slightly less load, or even if you’re doing fewer sets, like if you get a fantastic pump, you’re sore the next day, you’re having a lot of these other things still fall in line, you’re probably moving in the right direction for hypertrophy purposes.

Mike: Yep, I would agree with that. Uh, I would, I would be willing to bet a fair amount of money. That’s, that’s correct. So I’ve, I’ve kept you 10 minutes longer, and so this is a great spot though, to, I think we can wrap it up here. Uh, great discussion as usual. Um, why don’t we just quickly wrap up with where people can find you, find your work, anything in particular you want them to know about?

Chris: Sure. Yeah, you guys can find me, um, at schoolofgainz. com, Gainz is spelled with a Z over there. I’m on Instagram primarily, just my full name at Christopher. Barakat. I did put out a, um, like working on like a little passion project on the side. Um, it’s called beyond bodybuilding and the, the first episode was on yoga.

So the, the website I have beyond the bodybuilding. com it’s not like created and done yet, but you can at least see that first episode on yoga and longevity and it’s like relationship to bodybuilding. Um, so that’s something I’m working on, you know, just. As I please for fun and whatnot, but yeah, feel free to reach out to me.

Shoot me a DM, um, contact me through the website and I’ll be happy to connect with you guys. Thanks so much for tuning in and Mike, thank you very much for having me on again. I always enjoy the conversation with you, man. And I look forward to the next one.

Mike: My pleasure and same. Well, I hope you liked this episode.

I hope you found it helpful, and if you did subscribe to the show because it makes sure that you don’t miss new episodes. And it also helps me because it increases the rankings of the show a little bit, which of course then makes it a little bit. It’s more easily found by other people who may like it just as much as you.

And if you didn’t like something about this episode or about the show in general, or if you have ideas or suggestions or just feedback to share, shoot me an email, Mike. At muscle for life. com muscle F O R life. com. And let me know what I could do better or just, uh, what your thoughts are about. Maybe what you’d like to see me do in the future.

I read everything myself. I’m always looking for new ideas and constructive feedback. So thanks again for listening to this episode and I hope to hear from you soon.