Mind Over Muscle

Tuesday, February 02, 2016
Mind Over Muscle

A man begins the journey towards physical self-improvement; he tackles the issue right from the physical aspect. Always seeking better results, he hits the gym hard… pumping iron, running each and every machine, taking advice from those who have wider chests and bigger biceps, trying to benefit from every second he has in there to tone up his body and shape it up to his expectations. And finally, he regulates his diet to cope with his physical training. Regardless of whether this is a healthy approach or not, everyone disregards the role of the ever powerful mind!


What men fail to notice is that when they train their muscles, their brain is taking action in that training too. To be more precise, the gaining of muscle strength is due to two factors: neural adaptation and muscle hypertrophy (extensive exercising). At the early stage of training, the nervous system, and not the muscles, is mainly responsible for the increase in strength. Additionally, the training of one’s limb is associated with an increase in the strength of the contralateral untrained muscles (the passive muscles surrounding the main targeted muscle), even though the contralateral muscles remain inactive during training.


Following this fact, scientists began wondering how it is possible for a muscle to gain strength without physical training. After conducting a series of studies, they managed to find that the neural events controlling the muscle parameters for performance (ex: timing, thrust, amplitude…) can be improved through mental practice. And here lies the Million Dollar Question: Is it possible to improve and strengthen muscles with the power of thought alone?


In the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute, a study was conducted on 30 young and healthy individuals, divided into three groups:

- Mental Muscle Contraction Group (A): this group mentally imagined the contraction of muscles.

- Physical Muscle Contraction Group (B): this group physically worked the muscles out.

- Control Group (C): this group watched the whole experiment but didn’t participate in it.


The research was conducted for 12 weeks (15 minutes per day, 5 days a week). They set Groups (A) & (B) in an apparatus that helped train the pinky by pushing against a metal plate attached to a spring, and while Group (B) actually worked out the pinky, Group (A) mentally imagined it.


When the training was conducted, the individuals in Group (B) kept their eyes locked on their hand, while the majority of Group (A)’s individuals kept their eyes closed. When asked why they closed their eyes, the answer was one: “Visualization;” they visualized the actual training. At the end of the study, they found that the physical training group increased their finger strength by 53%. The control group showed no significant changes in strength in the finger muscle. And confirming the scientists’ speculation, the mental muscle contraction group increased their finger strength by 35%!


The improvement in muscle strength for groups (A) & (B) was accompanied by significant increases in electroencephalogram-derived cortical potential, a measure shown to be directly related to control of voluntary muscle contractions. The tests showed that the nervous system in Group (A) adapted and morphed as if the muscle was actually in physical training, while the electromagnetic test conducted on the finger muscles tested negative, which tested positive in Group (B). This meant that by mental power alone, an individual can induce growth of a targeted muscle’s strength and growth!  


So there you have it! Now you can work out virtually anywhere and without effort, simply by the power of the mind! In a nutshell, you wanna tone your body up? Just VISUALIZE it!