Importance of mind-muscle connection during progressive resistance training



This study evaluates whether focusing on using specific muscles during bench press can selectively activate these muscles.


Altogether 18 resistance-trained men participated. Subjects were familiarized with the procedure and performed one-maximum repetition (1RM) test during the first session. In the second session, 3 different bench press conditions were performed with intensities of 20, 40, 50, 60 and 80 % of the pre-determined 1RM: regular bench press, and bench press focusing on selectively using the pectoralis major and triceps brachii, respectively. Surface electromyography (EMG) signals were recorded for the triceps brachii and pectoralis major muscles. Subsequently, peak EMG of the filtered signals were normalized to maximum maximorum EMG of each muscle.


In both muscles, focusing on using the respective muscles increased muscle activity at relative loads between 20 and 60 %, but not at 80 % of 1RM. Overall, a threshold between 60 and 80 % rather than a linear decrease in selective activation with increasing intensity appeared to exist. The increased activity did not occur at the expense of decreased activity of the other muscle, e.g. when focusing on activating the triceps muscle the activity of the pectoralis muscle did not decrease. On the contrary, focusing on using the triceps muscle also increased pectoralis EMG at 50 and 60 % of 1RM.


Resistance-trained individuals can increase triceps brachii or pectarilis major muscle activity during the bench press when focusing on using the specific muscle at intensities up to 60 % of 1RM. A threshold between 60 and 80 % appeared to exist.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2





Pectoralis major




One-maximum repetition




  1. Aagaard P (2003) Training-induced changes in neural function. Exerc Sport Sci Rev 31:61–67

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  2. Andersen LL, Magnusson SP, Nielsen M et al (2006) Neuromuscular activation in conventional therapeutic exercises and heavy resistance exercises: implications for rehabilitation. Phys Ther 86:683–697

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  3. Baechle TR, Earle RW (eds) (2008) Essentials of strength training and conditioning, 3rd edn. Human Kinetics, Champaign

    Google Scholar 

  4. Bressel E, Willardson JM, Thompson B, Fontana FE (2009) Effect of instruction, surface stability, and load intensity on trunk muscle activity. J Electromyogr Kinesiol Off J Int Soc Electrophysiol Kinesiol 19:e500–e504. doi:10.1016/j.jelekin.2008.10.006

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Criswell E, Cram JR (eds) (2011) Cram’s introduction to surface electromyography, 2nd edn. Jones and Bartlett, Sudbury

    Google Scholar 

  6. Critchley D (2002) Instructing pelvic floor contraction facilitates transversus abdominis thickness increase during low-abdominal hollowing. Physiother Res Int J Res Clin Phys Ther 7:65–75

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. De Luca CJ, Kline JC (2012) Influence of proprioceptive feedback on the firing rate and recruitment of motoneurons. J Neural Eng 9:016007. doi:10.1088/1741-2560/9/1/016007

    PubMed Central  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  8. Folland JP, Williams AG (2007) The adaptations to strength training: morphological and neurological contributions to increased strength. Sports Med Auckl NZ 37:145–168

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Greig M, Marchant D (2014) Speed dependant influence of attentional focusing instructions on force production and muscular activity during isokinetic elbow flexions. Hum Mov Sci 33:135–148. doi:10.1016/j.humov.2013.08.008

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  10. Jakobsen MD, Sundstrup E, Andersen CH et al (2013) Muscle activity during leg strengthening exercise using free weights and elastic resistance: effects of ballistic vs controlled contractions. Hum Mov Sci 32:65–78. doi:10.1016/j.humov.2012.07.002

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  11. Karst GM, Willett GM (2004) Effects of specific exercise instructions on abdominal muscle activity during trunk curl exercises. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther 34:4–12. doi:10.2519/jospt.2004.34.1.4

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  12. Marchant DC, Greig M, Scott C (2009) Attentional focusing instructions influence force production and muscular activity during isokinetic elbow flexions. J Strength Cond Res Natl Strength Cond Assoc 23:2358–2366. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181b8d1e5

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. McNevin NH, Wulf G (2002) Attentional focus on supra-postural tasks affects postural control. Hum Mov Sci 21:187–202

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  14. Palmerud G, Sporrong H, Herberts P, Kadefors R (1998) Consequences of trapezius relaxation on the distribution of shoulder muscle forces: an electromyographic study. J Electromyogr Kinesiol Off J Int Soc Electrophysiol Kinesiol 8:185–193

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  15. Ratamess NA (2011) ACSM’s foundations of strength training and conditioning. Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Philadelphia

    Google Scholar 

  16. Sahaly R, Vandewalle H, Driss T, Monod H (2003) Surface electromyograms of agonist and antagonist muscles during force development of maximal isometric exercises–effects of instruction. Eur J Appl Physiol 89:79–84. doi:10.1007/s00421-002-0762-6

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  17. Snyder BJ, Fry WR (2012) Effect of verbal instruction on muscle activity during the bench press exercise. J Strength Cond Res 26:2394–2400. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e31823f8d11

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  18. Snyder BJ, Leech JR (2009) Voluntary increase in latissimus dorsi muscle activity during the lat pull-down following expert instruction. J Strength Cond Res Natl Strength Cond Assoc 23:2204–2209. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181bb7213

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Vance J, Wulf G, Töllner T et al (2004) EMG activity as a function of the performer’s focus of attention. J Mot Behav 36:450–459. doi:10.3200/JMBR.36.4.450-459

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  20. Wulf G, Lauterbach B, Toole T (1999) The learning advantages of an external focus of attention in golf. Res Q Exerc Sport 70:120–126. doi:10.1080/02701367.1999.10608029

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  21. Wulf G, Shea C, Park JH (2001) Attention and motor performance: preferences for and advantages of an external focus. Res Q Exerc Sport 72:335–344. doi:10.1080/02701367.2001.10608970

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

Download references


The authors thank the participants for their contribution to the study.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Lars Louis Andersen.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

No conflicts of interest or sources of funding are declared by the authors of this article.

Additional information

Communicated by William J. Kraemer.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Calatayud, J., Vinstrup, J., Jakobsen, M.D. et al. Importance of mind-muscle connection during progressive resistance training. Eur J Appl Physiol 116, 527–533 (2016).

Download citation


  • Muscle activation
  • Internal focus
  • Strength training
  • Bodybuilding