We do more things in the front of us than we do in the back. It’s easier and comes more naturally.
That is the same for your muscles – it’s easier to focus on the muscles (the ‘mirror muscles’ as I call it) as you train them. Even then, a lot of trainees don’t really feel the essence of the exercise. The great Arnold Schwarzenneger referred to it as the ‘pump’.
“here we go … 1, 2, 3 …. (counting, while looking at himself in the mirror) … 4, 5, 6 (thinking – yes, I can see my biceps in the mirror … yes … 7, 8, … yes, I think I can feel it finally …. 9, 10). Stop!
A typical set performed by a physique trainer (by definition, any person who lifts a weight to improve their strength, appearance, health or fitness is a ‘bodybuilder’).
Most trainees struggle to feel continuous tension of the working muscles and maybe lucky to feel the last 1 or 2 reps in a set. Not good for maximizing muscle in the time you spend in the gym. This comes with increased awareness of proper technique in exercise execution.
Training your mirror muscles (the societal favourites – the chest, biceps, delts and abdominals is important but I believe, not as important as focusing on the muscles that you don’t see in the mirror, the muscles you can’t see.
These would include – your trapezius, rear delts, upper and lower back, glutes, hamstrings and calves. Why do most gym enthusiasts favour the mirror muscles?
Simple answer: it is easier.
The thing is focusing on your mirror muscles while training is a helluva lot easier than trying to focus on the muscles you can’t see.
I believe it is very, very important and well worth the effort to connect and experience that ‘mind-muscle connection’ that many of you would have either heard about or felt. This is put in practise in full when focusing on the muscles you cannot see.
There are many benefits of prioritizing the muscles you can’t see. In my over two decades of training and helping hundreds of individuals, three real benefits of focusing on the muscles you don’t see in the mirror are:
- It reduces risk of injuries. By the time a person starts weight training, he or she would have spent most of his or her life building and predominantly using the anterior chain muscles (muscles in the front of the body). Bringing up the rear muscles would enhance balance of skeletal mass which would lower risks of injuries.
- Accelerates the growth of the mirror muscles. Most men dream of building a bigger, more shapelier pectoral muscles (chest) and bigger arms (biceps) – the popular mirror muscles.
So, the majority would naturally do more sets of exercises to work these muscle groups thinking that more sets will build bigger muscles. Big mistake.
More sets and more weight does not necessarily build a bigger chest or arms, only increases your risk of injury to the most common joint injury: the shoulder (deltoids). The thing is there is a safer approach. If you work and train the muscles you can’t see in the mirror like the triceps and rear delts and the upper and middle back, your ability to do the chest and biceps exercises would increase.
- Better balance and symmetry. With better balance and symmetry you don’t run the risk of suffering from postural problems which a majority of the population seem to suffer from, especially the aged.
Better balance and symmetry will give you less aches and pains in the joints and have better mobility and have less chance of seeing physios and chiros for problems cause by muscle imbalance. After all, its body shape, not body weight, that matters. Remember this: most, if not all, joint issues stem from muscle imbalances.
Are you struggling to or not sure how to focus on the muscles you can’t see in the mirror? Here are three things I think could help you focus on these muscles and get the most benefit from:
Close your eyes. Use your imagination and ‘see’ the world from the muscles point-of-view. Shutting your eyes will help you tune in to your muscles and rid your mind of distractions. I wouldn’t recommend this approach for all the exercises due to the obvious dangers. Don’t use this approach when doing standing exercises like, say, deadlifts ( I like to call them “happy lifts’).
This method is ideal for lat-pulldowns or 1-arm dumbbell rows or leg curls. For the best results, effort alone is not enough. One must also use one’s imagination.
Practise posing. I’ve always said different sports require different habits to be relatively successful at it. For example, a soccer player needs to practise dribbling skills, passing and a rugby player has to be able to pass and kick and tackle. All this is done in the appropriate playing field.
When you’re in the gym, you need to also practise the habit of posing. This is the appropriate ‘playing field’ for a person training with weights. This may seem very ostentatious, but it shouldn’t be as it is a great feedback mechanism that allows you to improving overall balance and symmetry.
Isometric tension of any muscle group through the holding of a particular pose (say ‘front-double biceps’ for example) helps stress or ‘pump more blood’ in to the muscle area. Especially if you do the posing immediately following a set.
Do this: after finishing a set of exercise, strike a pose! Aim to tense and tighten the respective muscle group for up to 8 seconds. Squeeze, squeeze, squeeze!
The power of touch. If you have a training partner, terrific. You can simply ask him or her to lightly place his hand or fingers on the area of the muscle group that you’re working as you exercise. There is a definite neuro-muscular connection. This method can help you assess whether you’re using the muscle fully or you are cheating by using other surrounding muscles. More weight lifted does not necessarily equate to bigger muscles.
To build good, clean, quality muscles, remember to leave your ego at the door.
All the best in your journey towards your BEST.
Eat well. Train well. Rest well. Repeat.
Until next time,