Ben Mudge is a Reflex-sponsored athlete and physique competitor. He trains in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
One of the biggest problems I see among even some of the most experienced lifters I work with is their lack of mind-muscle connection. Look at it this way: if you can’t contract your muscles on command, with zero weight, why would you be able to work them at optimal efficiency when you start adding load?
That’s why I like to include bodyweight isometric contractions in my programming. By holding and squeezing key movements, you’ll not only further exhaust your muscles after your main sets, but also teach yourself the control to better activate your muscles the next time you train. Here are my favourite three moves: look at your week spots, and create your own.
For this, you’ll want to hit the classic side-chest stance – a mandatory pose in bodybuilding competition. Grip one forearm with the opposite hand and flex hard on that side: if you’re doing it as hard as you can, you shouldn’t be able to keep a straight face. I might do four sets of 12 chest press, then hold a chest contraction on each side for 15 seconds a side as hard as possible.
Use this one after your squats. Sitting on a bench with your legs in the position you’d use for a leg extension – straight out, contract your quads as hard as you can. Hold that for maybe ten seconds, lower down slowly, still controlling the contraction, get a couple of breaths in, then do it again, ten times. You’ll be burning, but it works.
Use this either in conjunction with your quads work, or on a different day – it depends how you’ve laid out your programming. Lie flat on the floor, chest up, elbows on the floor and hips driven into the floor – almost like the sphinx pose from yoga, if you do it. Then curl your heels towards the glutes and squeeze your hamstrings hard for 5-10 seconds, again bringing them down slowly. Repeat ten times.
Learn to contract the muscle without the need for resistance. If you can nail these movements and master them, you’ll make even more progress when you add weight.