When you first start lifting weights or start performing a completely new exercise do you ever feel that you’re just moving the weight but not actually feeling anything within the muscle? Going through the motions of the lift but it somewhat feels awkward? Thats usually because the body is being strained and required to produce force in a movement that isn't consistent with how our body should move naturally. This is greatly improved over time through experience in the movement, and corrections in the form (movement dynamics).
However this topic isn’t directly about ‘form’ or ‘biomechanics’ although it is linked to the two, and is a technique used hand in hand to ensure you get the best BANG FOR BUCK out of your lifts.
What is lifting with intent?
Intent a form of mental state where the brain is committed in carrying out a particular action.
When someone is lifting with intent, they are in every sense, envisioning the muscles that are to be predominately used in the lift. This involves gripping the bar tight with a firm grip, bracing the core and maintaining centre of mass (COM).
Prior to performing the lift the individual should exert 5-10% of force on the bar, to activate the muscle fibres required.
Depending the the type of action; whether it’s a machine, dumbbell or barbell lift, the individual needs to secure their feet firmly on the floor and drive the power from the ground thorough to the limbs being utilised.
The movement should be controlled, smooth and comfortable, but explosive!
Why lift with intent?
When you lift with more intent, you activate more motor units (the combination of the muscle fibre and the motor neurone activating it) this in-turn leads to a higher percentage of the total muscle being activated, therefore leading to a greater force being produced.
Without intent in every lift, you could still produce the desired outcome but by exerting a lot more unnecessary effort in the wrong direction.
Lifting with intent will ensure that the muscle is producing the desired force to perform the lift without wasting any energy through compensation mechanisms in the body.
Do’s and Don’ts
Do - Think about each of the muscles to be used in the movement and their role!
Do - Grip the bar extremely tight! A loose grip will not reinforce that intent for efficient bar movement.
Do - Brace the core (Abs, obliques and lower back) and ensure you have a firm and stable centre of mass.
Do - Pre-activate the muscle fibres by exerting 5-10% force in the movement to be performed.
Don’t - Grasp the bar loosely.
Don’t - Be unbalanced in your base of support and centre of mass.
Don’t - Lose the structure of the core
Don’t - Swing weights to achieve the lift repetition
HOT TIP: If you’re coaching someone through a bar movement and you want them to achieve a greater level of intent, use internal and external cues to place the moment in an easier to understand context for the individual.
Internal cues - “brace your core”, “squeeze scapular together” or “squeeze gluteus during last third of squat upward movement".
External cues - “Bend the bar” (when coaching barbell bench press to achieve scapular control and greater power through concentric phase. “Push the floor away from you” (when coaching someone through a squat or deadlift).