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Concentrating on the muscle vs. the movement

Posted: Thu Apr 13, 2006 4:32 pm
by Blue_Nose
Thought this was interesting, and I hadn't heard of it, so hopefully it's not old news:
A Hull University team asked 30 subjects to do biceps curls and found their muscles worked more when they focused on what the muscles were doing.

But lower rates of muscle activity were recorded when they simply visualised themselves lifting the weight.

The study is being presented at the British Psychological Society conference in Cardiff on Friday.

The team wired their subjects up to weight machines which monitored levels of electrical activity in their biceps and asked them to think in two different ways while exercising.

The more electrical activity measured - the more the muscle is doing.

When subjects were asked to focus on what their muscles were doing and how they were working there were significantly higher levels of electrical activity.

But when they were asked to visualise lifting the weight, electrical activity was lower.

Earlier studies have shown that thinking about what muscles are actually doing can make more skilful tasks like throwing a ball more difficult.

Penalty kick

Dr David Marchant explains: "When athletes are at the starting line they are primarily focusing on the end of the track rather than what their legs are doing."

If they focused on the actual movement in their legs they probably would not perform as well, he said.

But this research shows it can be helpful to focus directly on the muscles to improve muscle strength.

Dr Marchant added: "Say you have a footballer who's got some sort of muscular injury he wants to repair - ask him to think about what the muscle is actually doing while he is exercising and it is better.

"But if he's going to kick a penalty - don't get him to think about the muscle because it will go wrong. Instead focus on the goal."

Mental imaging

Dr Marchant suggest the reason why the penalty kick will fail in this scenario is because the player's muscle is over-activated by the mental focus on it.

He suggested that sports coaches and trainers would benefit from tailoring their instructions depending on what they wanted to achieve.

Dr Jim Golby, expert in sports and mental toughness at the University of Teesside's Social Futures Institute, said the study was an interesting one which tested how mental imaging affected performance.

But he said testing the subjects with 10 repetitions did not really replicate any real life sporting conditions.

Makes sense to me... I've found that if I concentrated on exercising a specific muscle group, I'm more able to target it with the exercise than if I just do the movement without thinking about it. Now I know it's not all in my head, so to speak.

Posted: Thu Apr 13, 2006 5:54 pm
by DubDub
That sounds pretty cool, I'll have to give it a try when I'm curling next. Thanks for the post.

Posted: Thu Apr 13, 2006 6:17 pm
by elemental
I've heard this before and think it's probably valid. What I wonder is how adaptation plays in. After 6 months of doing tihs will you still see the same improvement, or will the benefits become marginal because your body is used to doing it this way now?

Posted: Thu Apr 13, 2006 6:32 pm
by Blue_Nose
From my understanding, it wouldn't be a matter of conditioning, since it basically only controls which muscles are active in the movement. As the report indicates (I'm actually partially going by an interview I heard with the researcher on CBC radio), normal movement and activity does the exact opposite of this - that is, the body tries to spread the load to as many body parts and muscles as possible. Lifting weights as you would lift, say, firewood or bags of groceries, wouldn't target one specific muscle group as well.

I would be worried, though, that the body would become conditioned to focusing a particular movement to one muscle group after a long period of time. This may seriously affect activities outside the gym which rely on complex movements (like running, or kicking a soccer ball, to use the example from the article).

Posted: Fri Apr 14, 2006 12:47 am
by elemental
I see, but when your lifting groceries or kicking a ball, your supposed to think about lifting the groceries or kicking ball, not contracting the bicept or quads. Still I can see where this might tie into doing too many isolated exercises and not enough compound exercises. So maybe doing something like thinking about getting the wieght up during squats and thinking about contracting the bicept on preacher curls ist eh answer. When your trying to isolate think about the muscle, when your trying to improve a motion (like squats) think about the motion.

Fun stuff to think about.

Posted: Fri Jun 02, 2006 12:26 pm
by Guest
This is often refered to in bodybuilding circles as "keeping the mind in the muscle." I've found it works better with single-joint isolation type exercises like curls, triceps extensions, leg curls, leg extensions, cable crossovers, laterals, ect.