Focus is one of the most important factors in the success of a bodybuilder, as important as nutrition or genetics.  You need to be 100% focused on your workout or you are wasting your time.   Most bodybuilders I see at the gym just go thru their workouts like each set was just something to check off their todo list, their minds are everywhere except on what they are doing.  Working out like that will not let you achieve your full potential.

There are two components of focus, what you do during your set and what you do between your sets.  When you are doing your set, your mind will be on two things and two things only:

  1. thinking about what muscles are working
  2. trying to ‘feel’ the muscle (more on this later)

During the set, no doing anything else.  No talking, no looking around, no thinking about what exercise you are going to do next.  Your mind is 100% focused on the set you are doing right now.  Lets talk a little about the first item, what muscles are working.  When a joint is rotating, a muscle is working.  If two joints are rotating then two or more muscles are working.  If you are doing biceps and your shoulder is rotating as well as your elbow then you are exercising your shoulder as well as your biceps.  By constantly thinking about what joints are rotating and what muscles are working you make sure you are focused 100% on the muscle you are working out.

Music and Focus

Music can play an important part in focus, it can work for you or against and make or break a workout. We have all seen this many times at the gym, the person who seems to be endlessly fiddling with their MP3 player or iPod/iPhone. They seem to lose track of time and take enormous breaks between sets or don’t seem to be working out at all. If you find music helps you focus and give you a good workout, fine, but here is my rule. No futzing with your music player at the gym – period! When you start your workout you push play, after that you are not allowed to touch it again for any reason. You can either leave the ear buds in your ears or take them out – those are your two options. Before your workout is the proper time to make a playlist, not during the workout. Why am I so uptight about this, because its incredibly easy to de-rail focus!

People ask what I listen to when I’m working out. I am a big fan of streaming music becuase I find that if I use my own music and playlists, I waste way too much time futzing and it interferes with the focus of my workout. With streaming music, its simple. I turn it on or off, just like a radio – no futzing or lost concentration. My tastes are varied but for workouts I like high energy music.

Between sets we are not going to:

  • talk
  • look for our favorite song
  • text
  • read
  • walk to the water fountain
  • stretch
  • do abs
  • daydream
  • look around and check people out

Between sets we are going to:

  • think about our last set.  Did we meet our rep goal?  Did we use good form?  Did it feel good?
  • think about our next set.  How many reps will we do?  How will it feel?  What is our reward if we achieve the goal or the punishment should we fail?
  • visualize.  Visualize how we will accomplish our goal, close your eyes and see what it will look like and how it will feel.  There are many good sports programs out there to help will visualization, check them out
  • practice muscle control, this will help us to ‘feel’ the exercise while we are doing it.   A car with loose spark plug wires doesn’t develop much power because the anemic spark cant fully ignite the gas, similarly, if your brain doesn’t have a good connection to your muscles you cant contract them fully.  The idea behind these muscle control drills is to improve the connection between your brain and the muscle so you can contract precisely the muscles you want and contract them 100%.  One of the early great bodybuilders back in the late 1800’s was Sandow and he had amazing muscle control.  He came up with control exercises that are still used to this day in various reincarnation, read about Sandow and his methods here.  Sandow had amazing ab control, if you want to see a modern day example of a bodybuilder with great ab control, check out youtube user sixpackbn‘s video.

Here is one example of how you can work on muscle control for pecs

  • hold a ball out at head level with your arms fully extended, elbows slightly bent
  • squeeze the ball trying to pop it.  Feel your pecs flex
  • now try and flex your pecs but only squeezing an imaginary ball
  • after you have master that, try and flex one pec at a time while the other is relaxed

I am a strong advocate of using lighter weights with perfect form but be careful not to use this as an excuse to slack off. You have to be 100% focused on what you are doing when you are using perfect form and higher reps because it can be too easy to just quit when you are bored or reach some arbitrary number of reps. It can take incredible focus to keep pumping out those reps and keep the mind from wandering, especially after rep 14 or so. If you cant focus intensely while doing the higher reps then you wont get any results.