The History of the Mind-Muscle Connection

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“What puts you over the top? It is the mind that actually creates the body, it is the mind that really makes you work out for four or five hours a day, it is the mind that visualizes what the body ought to look like as the finished product.”

Arnold Schwarzenegger

The mind-muscle connection? That’s what Arnold talked about right?

Well yes but he wasn’t the only one as I discovered recently when going through some old material written by Peary Rader.

Peary Rader was perhaps one of the most influential men in spreading physical culture in 20th century America and someone worth reading if you have the chance. He produced Iron Man magazine for decades, publicised programmes such as the 20 rep squat and provided valuable nutritional advice. Whilst reading Rader’s ‘Bodybuilding and Weight Gaining System’, I came across a reference to the importance of building one’s own spiritual strength.

Rader pleaded with readers

“DEVELOP YOUR MIND AND YOUR BODY TO ITS LIMITS.

Do not neglect your spiritual development. You will find this one of your greatest comforts and greatest sources of strength.

It may seem strange to some that [it] has any bearing on the development of a perfect physique, but we assure you that you will eventually realize that it has.”

Why was Rader so passionate about the power of the mind in training? Perhaps it had to do with his own exercise habits. Anyone who has tried Rader’s 20 rep squat routine has at some stage called out to God for help by rep 17! Rader wasn’t advocating something new however, by the time he was writing in the 40s and 50s, the idea of the mind in training had long been established.

Max Sick or ‘Maxick’, the famous 19th century German strongman was one of the first physical culturists to publicly discuss the importance of the mind in training. Weighing in at 145 pounds, Maxick could snatch 165 pounds in one hand had barbell press 230 pounds. He once hand pressed a 210 pound man over his head whilst drinking a glass of beer in the other. He was without a doubt a strong man.

When asked about his unbelievable strength by a doubting Thomas, Maxick would talk of the importance of the mind. He believed that his ability to life such incredible weights was capacity to control the contraction and relaxation of any muscle at will. Think of a Bicep Curl. More than likely when you perform this exercise your triceps will be involved in some capacity. Maxick believed he could relax his triceps so that his biceps would do all the work. He believed this allowed him to build up a tremendous physique. Not only that, he believed in the mind-muscle connection for it’s overall mental health benefits. In 1911 he wrote

“THE SERIOUS student of muscle-control will soon become aware of the fact that his willpower had become greater, and his mental faculties clearer and capable of increased concentration. Thus it will be observed that the controlling of the muscles reacts upon the mind and strengthens the mental powers in exactly the same proportion that the control of the muscles strengthens the body and limbs.”

Maxick wasn’t alone however in his beliefs.

Eugene Sandow, someone who has been discussed already on this site, also stressed the importance of what we may understand as the mind-muscle connection. Sandow made a career out of dazzling audiences with his muscular control, something he couldn’t have achieved without some form of mind-muscle connection.

Sandow’s Posing in Action

In Sandow’s words, it was important to put

“The muscles to the strain by concentrating the mind and will-power upon the manipulation of the weights […] exercise should be systematic, persistent, and thorough.”

This idea of using the mind to concentrate on an exercise exercise proved popular and soon entered the consciousness of many of America’s top physical culturists. By the 1950s, few trainers would question Bruce Randall when he said

“I am a firm believer in the power of the mind when it comes to lifting (or anything else for that matter). It is only with the constant urging of the mind upon the body to do more and more that one attains the pinnacle. As much as one uses his body in this sport (weightlifting) I believe he uses his mind more.”

The fact Randall was nearly as strong as America’s heavyweight Olympic weightlifters only added to his credibility.

Yet it was only really in the 1970s with the famed Pumping Iron movie that the idea of the mind in bodybuilding was presented to the public in Arnold’s charismatic way. Arnold was adamant that the mind was a powerful tool in bodybuilding

Since then the idea of mind-muscle control has been publicized through just about every muscle magazine and weightlifting blog known to man (including this one!). In many ways its become a buzz word in the fitness industry and has perhaps lost its meaning which is a real shame. The ability to concentrate on one muscular function helped men like Maxick and Sandow perform incredible feats. It helped Arnold win competitions and has helped countless trainers improve their training.

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