Focus on What Matters: Muscle vs. Movement

Hope everyone here in the U.S. celebrated a Happy Thanksgiving with  friends & family yesterday.

As the infamous “Black Friday” is now upon us, I would encourage those brave shoppers who dare venture out into the “savings wilderness” to shop safe.

Alternatively,  to some of you who might be heading to the gym, might I suggest making it a “Back Friday.” (Pun Intended)

Nevertheless, today’s  post is the latest installment of the Golden Eye for the Adonis Series. 

Here is another  guest post from Eric Weinbrenner.  Better know by his True Insider Handle, “eweinbrenner.”

EWeinbrenner: True Insider and One of our Top Bloggers in the Community

EWeinbrenner: True Insider and One of our Top Bloggers in the Community

Focus on What Matters:

Muscle vs. Movement

I struggled through a few more reps, dropped the dumbbells, and sat up.

Having just finished my third set of Incline Dumbbell Press, my chest (especially the upper portion) should have been fried… but as I sat there thinking about the set I had just performed, I realized I couldn’t really feel any specific muscle working.

Sure, my arms, chest, and shoulders were fatigued- but as far as feeling a specific muscle?- nothing.

Unfortunately, this was not an isolated case: this was a system-wide issue. With nearly every exercise, be it biceps curls or seated rows, I could lift “heavy” weights, but getting a pump and really feeling the target muscle work just was not happening.

To make matters worse, I felt like my muscles were lacking that hard, defined look that I was after. I had put on a decent amount of size, but even at a pretty low body fat (near golden waist), definition was not what I wanted, especially in my chest and arms–where I struggled to feel the muscles working the most.

How a Set Should “feel”

When you are lifting to achieve a certain look–note: I said “to achieve a certain look”; not “to get strong”; not “to improve conditioning”–each set you perform in the gym should feel a certain way.

At the most basic level, during each rep of each set, you should feel the target muscle working. There will be stabilizing muscles contributing, but overall, on any given lift, there should be one muscle (or muscle group) that you feel above all else. When you set the weight down, you should know, without a doubt, that you just worked the target muscle.

But… wait… what does that feel like?

Feeling the target muscle work produces a significant “pump” in the muscle; you should be able to squeeze the muscle and feel tension in the “belly” of the muscle, rather than in the joints around it; you should be able to isolate and flex the target muscle without feeling distraction from surrounding muscles.

In addition to describing what a good set feels like; it is also helpful to describe a bad set. Let me use the biceps curl as an example.


Focus On What Matters: Muscle vs. Movement
At the most basic level, during each rep of each set, you should feel the target muscle working.

When you do a biceps curl, you should get an insane pump in your biceps and you should have limited contribution from any other muscles. Every guy in the world who has ever been in a weight room has done curls. For some guys, their workout looks like the following:

Monday: Curls

Tuesday: Bench press, curls

Wednesday: Think about doing legs but actually do curls

…You get the point.

I’m using curls and this ridiculous example to show that everyone knows (or thinks they know) how to do a curl.

Yet, I know guys, and have personally experienced doing curls and struggling to actually feel the biceps doing most of the work. For a long time, I would do curls and feel my front deltoids getting a lot of the action and notice that my elbow joints would hurt the next day.

It wasn’t that I was doing curls wrong–I just didn’t know how to target the biceps muscle and make it do the work. I’ve noticed this is especially true, for a lot of muscles, when people have a background in powerlifting or working out primarily to get stronger. They come over to Adonis, where it is about working the muscles, not the movement, and find that they struggle to do that efficiently.

 Work the Muscle, Not the Movement

If you find that you struggle to really feel the muscle working on any given exercise; you have joint pain following certain movements; or you lack the hard, fully developed look in any of your muscles– you very well may be focusing too much on the movement and not enough on the muscle.  

This often stems from the “more weight = more muscle” mantra preached so often in the fitness industry. There are also a lot of experts that suggest things like, “you must lift heavy weights in order to build muscle”, and that “lifting light weights will never stimulate enough muscle for growth.”

There are two major problems with both of these ideas: First, “heavy” and “light” are relative; a weight that is “heavy” to me may be “light” to someone else, and vice versa. Second, this kind of thinking places tends to cause focus to fall on lifting maximum weight, thus focusing more on the movement, rather than the muscle.

This whole idea of working the muscle is not new to the AGR community, but it is so important, it is worth repeating–this is THE focus of our workouts. John Barban himself has described the ability to contract and relax each muscle at will as the “key to full muscle development”– this is how important working the muscle is.

So how can you get better at working the muscle and avoid just slinging weight around?

There are a few ways to do this and nearly all revolve around improving your mind to muscle connection. The best way to do this without overcomplicating things is to align your lifting with your breathing.

This means you will need to s-l-o-w d-o-w-n and use light(er) weights. Remember: “light” weight is relative, choose a weight that allows you to complete the prescribed amount of reps with perfect form using the target muscle.

When I say “slow down”, I am referring to the tempo of each rep. AGR members know that this is built into some of the more advanced programs where specific tempos are prescribed. If you are following one of those programs, just stick with the tempo as written. 

During each rep, lower the rep while inhaling and counting  1 one thousand, 2 one thousand; pause for a second at the bottom of the lift; then complete the “lifting” portion of the lift while exhaling to the count of 1 one thousand, 2 one thousand. The entire motion should be controlled (i.e. you controlling the weight; not the other way around).

 Final Thoughts

The strategies above can be applied to any and all exercises where you struggle to feel the target muscle work or simply as a way to improve mind to muscle connection overall and refocus on what is most important during our work outs: working the muscle.

Be careful to assume that this is for “beginners” and that you are too advanced for this. Remember: John Barban has noted the ability to target a muscle at will is the advanced stage of muscle building–this is something that will take years or practice and consistency to achieve. I can personally attest to the difference this has made for my physique as I have made improving mind muscle connection the focus over the past year or two–I have noticed a much more dense, hard look to my muscles and my ability to work the target muscle has noticed incredible improvements.

 While I wanted to make sure I provided some applicable strategies that you can use at the gym within this article; I also want you to use this article as a way to adjust your mindset, if need be. Becoming distracted and getting caught up worrying about lifting heavy enough weights or feeling like you must “prove” yourself will distract you from what is truly important.

-Eric Weinbrenner

eweinbrenner's Transformation Pics

eweinbrenner’s Transformation Pics

Give Yourself Permission to Lift Light

We have talked about the permission to be light a lot lately, especially it comes up in the interviews, because guys are starting to realize that being 200 pounds might not be the answer to a great looking body. You would have to be about 6’2” and train for at least 10 years in order to be lean and ripped at 200 pounds, that’s just how it is, no one will tell you this, but height is an important factor in determining your weight.

Today, we are going to discuss something similar, yet different. We won’t talk about the ideal physique, but rather about the training itself that will be responsible for building you such a physique.

If you have been listening to the last couple of interviews you may have noticed that more and more guys are starting to focus on things like

  • Training rather than on the supplements
  • Workout structure rather than on the high protein diets
  • Mind-muscle connection and muscle contraction rather than on the amount of weight lifted

And this goes completely against the conventional saying: “lift heavy, sweat blood in the gym, take protein shake exactly 3.8 minutes after your workout followed by post-workout meal 30 minutes after that”.

Well, Adonis Index made it’s name on going against the conventional approach. However, it’s also made it’s name on having a string of dozens of successful transformations from guys having 4 kids and 4 jobs or guys with injuries lasting decades, yet despite their condition or lifestyle circumstances or training history, they still achieved their physique goals and honed in on their ideal body shape. And more and more of them as they progress are focusing on this unconventional training approach.

The headline of this article is to lift light. And let’s be honest that just doesn’t sound all that sexy, does it? Chances are this would not get printed in a fitness magazine, yet if you get this concept it might be the difference between gaining 8 pounds compared to 3 pounds of muscle mass in the same time period.

What’s the deal with this mind-muscle connection and workout structures anyway, why can’t you just lift heavy to grow more muscles?


Is your training just about lifting heavy or are you really training your muscles and focusing on the contraction?

Well, the truth is that a fare amount of guys that try to lift really heavy, thinking that’s the way to go, experience a loss in their strength.

Have you ever done a really tough workout, but instead of just feeling sore, you felt really weak for several days? Or you may have just noticed that your strength decreased over a couple of weeks.

Well, if that happened to you, you may count yourself lucky, because you could have also seriously injured yourself.

I’ve even seen some serious chest tendon injuries as an immediate result of heavy bench press and testing the “max”.

Let me tell you something, if you are a guy that can’t do a bench press without someone else helping you with the bar and your whole body is shaking and almost dancing on the bench while you are lifting the bar up, you may want to reconsider your training style. Not only that your friend can do a biceps curl on his own without you lying under the bar, but you alone are not training instead you’re simply stroking your ego by attempting to lift more weight than your current body can.

Best case scenario – you will simply just look dumb, worst case scenario – you will get injured and won’t be able to work out for months or years.

Not only that lighter weights are bearable on your joints and CNS, but with lighter weights you can do something that you just can’t with the heavy weights.

What it is?

Well, you can actually focus on TRAINING the muscle.

If you are lifting so much that you are only thinking about putting the bar down after the first two reps, you are not really training.

Workout Structure Should Dictate the Resistance

What really drives me nuts, well apart from the whole fitness industry, is when somebody comes up to me and says: “Hey how much do you lift on bench press?” or “How strong are your biceps?”. This just doesn’t make sense and just shows that you have no idea what you are talking about if you ask a question like that.

Most people do the 3 set-8 reps-rest until fresh type of training that they’ve heard the first day of their workout life from some trainer. Some people will do that for the rest of their lives.

The truth is that there is no universal way to train, every workout type is different, so asking about the weight without mentioning the other variables of your training is kind of short sighted.

If you asked me how strong I was in the middle of the 2nd workout in the week 7 of the IXP on my biceps, then I would tell you. However, this is a completely different question, you are being specific and we both know what type of training structure are we talking about.

Let’s elaborate on this a bit.

If you do the regular Adonis Index Workout, then most of your training will be around 5,8 and 13 reps with around 90 or 120 seconds rest. However, if you decided to follow the IXP protocol, you may be doing three supersets in a row with no rest in between. So, this means 6 sets in a row, back to back, no rest. Do you think that you can lift the same weight in both of those training protocols in a given exercise?

Of course not.

Just like with look, weight itself tells nothing, because it’s all about proportions and shape, and the same applies here. If you said just how much you lift, you gave a number that holds no meaning, because nobody would know whether you did 3 reps or 21. And that’s a pretty big difference. Not speaking of the fact that in that given workout day, you may have been doing the exercise as a first one, while normally you do it as a last.

Here is test for you.

Take one routine you normally do, change nothing, just add three sets of 10 reps with 90 sec rest of pull-ups. In the first week, do this exercise as the first exercises of the day, so before you start your regular routine. Next week once you are fully recovered, do the same routine, but this time do the pull-ups as the last exercise, after the your routine.

You see where we are going with this?

There is just so many variables that will translate into you changing weights all the time on the same exercises.

Here is a short list of the stuff that will dictate how heavy you will be able to go:

  • Sets, reps done in the exercise (3×21 vs 6×6)
  • Rest after each set (30 sec vs 90 sec)
  • Regular sets vs Supersets vs Pyramids and other types
  • Frequency of your workouts and frequency of you training each muscle group
  • The sequence in which you will do the exercises in your workout
  • Sleep – how much you got the night before, the quality of that sleep

There might be a few others, but the point is to show you, that it’s important to detach yourself from the number on the plate or on the dumbbell and choose based on your workout structure.

A smart choice of the weight will help you stay away from injury and allow you to train your muscles properly. Which brings us to the last part of today’s lesson.

You Can’t Expect Your Muscles to Grow from Lifting

Not only that most guys believe that protein intake is the trigger for muscle growth, but they also think that the lift itself gives your muscles incentive to grow.

Well, not really. Your muscles don’t know how much you lift, what workout you use, how many reps you do, only your mind does.

The only thing your muscle feels is the repeated contraction against greater resistance, which makes it grow.

Big difference.

So, next time you are in the gym, make sure you don’t pick the heaviest dumbbells in there, thinking how amazingly strong you are going to look to everyone around you, but pick a reasonable one and focus on doing the motion with perfect form and really feeling the muscle contracting and working.

If you apply this advice you should see results in both strength and look.

Summary of Today’s Lesson:

  • Leave your ego out of this, preferably at the gym’s entrance
  • Try to detach yourself from the numbers on the plates and focus on feeling the muscle working rather then lifting some specific weight
  • Realize that muscles grow not because of protein intake or weight lifting, but because you are repeatedly creating strong contraction against greater resistance…weights are just a tool to create resistance
  • Understand that there are different workout structures and they will determine how heavy will you be able to go
  • Focusing on mind-muscle connection, feeling the muscle, contracting it in the fullest way possible is way more important than lifting the heaviest weights you can manage…form ALWAYS trumps weight…ALWAYS
  • Try several different workouts like AI 3.0, ATS or IXP to understand this concept in more detail, you will learn all this by experience
  • There is a difference between lifting and training, ask yourself: “Do I want to be a weight lifter or be in killer shape, what’s more important for me?” and act accordingly
  • Of course you still need to lift a reasonable amount of weight, doing curls with pencils will not get you anywhere (I know, stupid, but had to be said)

Talk to you soon,

Vaclav Gregor