Focus and intent are hard to study in a research setting, but all experienced athletes know that it is extremely important. It isn’t enough to just go through the motions. It needs to be done deliberately, with a specific intention. It helps to visualize the muscles being recruited and the points of contact against the supporting surfaces. Additionally, breathing in and bracing prior to each rep helps maintain truncal rigidity and directs the focus into your body. An experienced lifter does these things instinctively, and tries to work on their form with each rep. Once you’ve learned the subtleties of efficient technique and how to feel the target muscles, there is always something you can improve. While it helps to understand the anatomy and function of the muscles involved, it’s even more important to develop the skill of visualizing and feeling them working. There is an art to this, since you don’t want to get so hung up on it that you forget to lift heavy. In practice, what I do is use my warm up sets to slow things down and focus on problem areas. That way, by the time I get to heavier weight, my mind and body have already had a chance to feel things out.
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