You Need To Hear “Thrust And Squeeze” For Bigger And Better Muscle Growth: Here’s Why

importance personal training coaching better muscle growth verbal cues instruction

Overview 

Many of the people I know and train are ambivalent about verbal encouragement. Even I tend to get tipped off when it’s done poorly or when it degenerates into tiresome discussions. You allegedly come to the gym to train, but end up spending half or more of your time there gossiping, checking your feed, or posting pics on Insta. You’re doing it wrong and it will show on your body, in your mind, and through your pics. This simply will not boost your testosterone, increase your strength, muscle mass nor encourage you to workout hard. 

Learn More: https://www.dna-lean.co.uk/blog/increase-testosterone/ 

It’s not just you that’s getting scammed out of a good workout, but your partner(s) as well. As much as it is easy to succumb to it, lack of focus is even more contagious than you think. Before you know it, you’re doing everything half-assed, from work to talking with your friends, and spending quality time with your partner. Naturally, none of the results you expect or want will be coming your way. And then we tend to fire blame at others, the universe, genetics, and God-knows-what when the reason for everything is right behind our noses. 

As a coach and trainer, verbal encouragement is one of the pillars of my career. If I had to put a number on it, I’d say it accounts for approximately ¼ of an amazing workout, especially for the very last quart, which makes the difference between a good session and an outstanding one – that extra mile between marginal and fantastic gains. For the better half of my career, I only had my experience to prove this. 

Presently, however, science has empirically proven much of what it means to train effectively, so now I’m also able to rely on controlled studies and medical research to prove my point. These findings have demonstrated something that I’ve been practicing my whole career, namely that external focus will improve your rep range, performance, and lean mass growth, if executed properly. 

Confusion About Verbal Encouragement 

While bro science may be abundant, both in the media, as well as in the gym, it is a far cry from proper training advice. The information that guides your routines, how you eat, your rep-range, your posture, and even what you think and do throughout your training session must come from approved, authoritative sources. Even then, don’t think of it as an absolute. Science can and will often contradict itself. Take it with a pinch of salt and test it out properly over a long period of time to see if you get similar results. This is what I do and what I strongly recommend to all of my clients and peers. 

You’ll find reports in the media (less often than before, but still) that the most effective way to motivate your workout and improve your performance through motivation is silence. If by verbal encouragement we understand something that distracts you from your routine, makes you take unnecessarily long breaks, and overall introduces discontinuities in your stride, then yes, silence is better. Today, more than ever, bogus studies have become a holy grail for naysayers, people wanting to get some attention, or simply for those looking to maintain the status quo. 

When someone, be they a journalist or friend (and this includes yourself) cites a study, make sure to ask about the finer points of that research. This means knowing not only how many participants were involved, but whether they were both male and female, if there was a control group, if the information was adjusted to account for deviations, whether they took any amino acid supplements throughout – and if so, which and in what quantity, as these can facilitate additional muscle building. And so on. Accurate information takes time to discover and test, but when you finally get it, it is an immensely powerful tool. 

More often than not, people will try to emphasize the sensational aspect of something, rather the validity or veracity of what they are saying. As a trainer, I know that your degree of focus during your workouts will undoubtedly impact your performance and, by association, your growth. This is not a soft, marginal effect, but a visible, definitive one. Verbal cues and auditory inspiration help fortify our mind body connection and maintain our focus on the task at hand. And it’s not just random words – what you say affects how you think, as well as your performance. This is no longer just a belief. 

The Evidence Behind Verbal Cues And Performance 

I apply great scrutiny to the information I integrate with my services and experience, and I expect no less of you, as a reader looking to get an edge and reach their own physical or athletic ideal. Ever since the early 1990s, Bicker was able to prove that verbal motivation was consistently associated with increased physical performance. Her findings, the result of a multivariate analysis of variance, showed a whopping 39% performance improvement as compared to the control group, as well as a 33.5% increase compared to the subjects’ own control [1]. The problem with her trial was that there was too little information on the methodology involved, while the measurements themselves were purely observational. 

Sure, everyone can count more reps, but does muscle tissue activation accurately reflect these numbers or are they also the result of other factors, including placebo? For instance, we know that creatine can also be responsible for increased performance. If the Bicker study was everything we had, I’d be quite sceptical. Naturally, scientists sought to replicate Bicker’s findings, both from the perspective of psychology, which is more interested in the psycho- somatic connection, but also from the viewpoint of trainers and coaches, who are always keen on improving their methods. 

Learn More: https://www.dna-lean.co.uk/blog/creatine-loading/ 

And boy, are there a lot of studies on the topic. After careful scrutiny of extant literature, as well as combing the fine print several times, I’m going to give you the boiled-down version. 

A 2011 study carried out at the Edge Hill University showed that externally focused instructions “resulted in significantly greater repetitions (…) than in control and internal focus conditions,” an increase that varied from 7% to 14.2% [2]. You can go ahead and add another 5% to this number, as internally-focused instructions actually decreased performance in the bench-press exercise for this investigation. They had effectively proven that it wasn’t just strength, but also endurance that benefited from external instruction. 

A highly influential review by Wulf of no less than 30 studies carried out from 1998 to 2012 definitively proved that in over 90% of published research on the impact of external motivation on movement, the former effectively increases “muscular activity, force production, cardiovascular responses,” as well as overall movement effectiveness [3]. Wulf’s findings, along with her research since then, is slowly but steadily penetrating the bodybuilding industry. What I advocate for, namely evidence-based personal training, is increasingly becoming the norm, as is shown by Schoenfeld’s 2013 editorial for the first ever issue of the Strength and Conditioning Journal [4]. 

With the help of EMG (electromyography), Schoenfeld reports that activation of the pectoralis muscle in resistance-trained individuals was amplified by as much as 22% in conditions of verbal encouragement when performing at 50% 1RM. This augmentation goes down by half when engaged in performance at 80% 1RM, which shows that there’s a diminishing return on the benefit of focus when training at heavier loads. The closer you get to 100% of your 1RM, the smaller the effect of verbal encouragement. Yet it is still significant enough to help both athletes and bodybuilders push their limits. 

These findings were, once again, thoroughly proven by Belkhiria et al as recently as 2017. The latter team used EMG parameters to observe whether verbal encouragement impacted maximal voluntary force (MVF) and the maximal rate of force development (MRFD) in any way. Their findings showed an impressive 55% increase in MRFD and a growth of 23% in MVF as compared to non-motivated conditions [5]. 

So we’ve essentially proven that encouragement helps us train better and elicit superior physical performance out of our routines. Given the right conditions, this leads to better growth and bigger gains. However, another important point that you should keep in mind is that the way in which motivation is achieved also matters. 

A 2010 inquiry led by Ruth Amagliani showed that, both in trained and untrained women, the participants demonstrated an additional 16% increase in force output when verbal encouragement was paired with visual feedback during maximum voluntary isometric contraction of the leg press [6]. 

Going against the previous findings that favoured external over internal techniques, a 2018 article authored by Schoenfeld et al supported that internal motivation was actually superior to external one [7] when participants were cued to think to themselves that they are “squeezing” the muscle. My contention is that, in the case of the latter study, improved performance was more due to the increased coherence of the cue with one of the two types of exercise performed as compared to the lack of consistency that might exist between the external cue and the activity involved. 

Naturally, Schenfeld’s team could not observe the same noteworthy difference based on attentional strategy for the leg extension as they did for the barbell curl. If you think about the mechanics of the two movements, the latter involves a concentric movement, while the leg press mainly requires eccentric contraction. It follows that “squeeze” would be better as a verbal cue for the first, while “get the weight up” is more appropriate for the second. 

Bigger And Better Growth For You 

So what is it that you can do to benefit from this cutting-edge research in terms of how the mind-body connection can improve physical performance? 

For one, it is imperative that you implement strategies to help you focus better during your training. This means that, when you’re in the gym, you turn down the volume of everything else and channel that inner-beast that wants to lift and push their boundaries. Upbeat music definitely helps, but verbal encouragement, both internal and external, are even better. This is partly the reason why personal trainers and coaches can be so effective. When we’re in the middle of something, our attention is often dispersed and we lose our focus on what is going on. Someone else, on the other hand, can bring a fresh perspective and help keep us on track. 

As a trainer with many connections in the bodybuilding industry, I get to see first-hand how well some individuals achieve momentous gains and performance when they are pushed in the right way, but also how much others can lag behind their potential when they don’t benefit from expert guidance. A gym partner can definitely help if they’re the kind to push you and keep you on track, rather than stall around and discuss miscellanea. You can hang all you want afterwards, but in the time that you spend in the gym, tell them it’s important for you to make the most out of your training interval. 

Both in terms of internal and external verbal cues, it is essential that these remain signals or prompts, rather than be integrated into long sentences. This ensures you don’t actually have to process what is said. Remember, your attention needs to stay on task, which is the activity or exercise you’re performing at that particular time. 

More importantly, the research we currently have seems to indicate that the key to appropriate cues lies more in the level of coherence they have with regards to the type of exercise you are performing. The more appropriate the cue, the more likely it is that your mind is pushing your body to excel. For concentric movements, I recommend cues such as “squeeze,” and “crunch,” whereas eccentric actions are better improved by “push,” and “thrust.” When you’re taking a break, visualize the movement you’re performing, instead of letting your mind wander off. 

Although we do not commonly possess the technology to visualize on-screen how much force we exert when we perform an exercise in addition to the use of verbal encouragement (as was the case in the Amagliani investigation) we can try to conjure up a simplistic representation of what it would look like. For instance, you can imagine that the more reps you successfully complete and the more weight you lift, the higher the line would move on the scale of produced force. 

We are still far from being able to completely understand the way in which our mind can definitively and significantly push us beyond what we are usually capable of doing. Nonetheless, there is enough empiric research to change the paradigm of what it takes to achieve athletic success and, more importantly, the role that coaching and training play for these accomplishments – not just a small, more-or-less marginal part, but an integral and crucial aspect of performance as a whole. If you can’t afford someone to train you, you’ve got to do it yourself. 

Where Do You Go From Here? 

As tempting as it might be, my advice is not to run to the gym and keep repeating to yourself “squeeze,” “push,” and “pull” hoping to increase your 1RM by an additional 5, 10 or more pounds. Instead, I recommend you take the time to carefully consider the assumptions of this practice before you actually implement it. 

First and foremost, think about the fact that there’s an intrinsic mind-body connection that can help you lift, push, and pull not just more weight, but in a more effective manner and for longer periods of time. If you want to get your mind to be attuned to your body, you need to acknowledge this connection and do your best to nurture it. This means achieving an inner balance as much as it requires an exterior one. For example, mindfulness is a great way to do this. I couldn’t possibly elaborate more at this point, but suffice it to say that the topic has received significantly more academic attention and investigation than verbal engagement. 

Learn More: https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/how-to-be-mindful-without-meditating 

There is no doubt that the kind of verbal engagement I’ve exemplified in this article will help you achieve better physical performance and growth. This knowledge is particularly important and necessary for veteran bodybuilders, those who are within a stone’s through of their potential and are finding it increasingly difficult to make substantial gains. The best way to go about it is to test it with a coach that has a little experience with this practice and is savvy enough to be constantly improving their knowledge with up-to-date findings. 

Squeezing and pushing your way through reps and sets, you will feel the difference. It’s not just the studies and academics who say it, it’s also my clients and peers, people with whom I train and gain on a regular basis. Regardless of how much evidence I find on a particular topic, it doesn’t strike me as much as when I see it with my own eyes. You just need to say it like you mean it and hear it said with the same conviction and determination. 

That’s because getting your head in the game is not just a metaphor. It’s a training attitude that can make the difference in your performance, your gains, and your looks. 


List Of References: 

[1] Does verbal encouragement work? The effect of verbal encouragement on a muscular endurance task – https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/026921559300700303 

[2] Instructions to Adopt an External Focus Enhance Muscular Endurance – http://eshare.edgehill.ac.uk/2896/1/2011_RQES_Focus.pdf 

[3] Attentional focus and motor learning: a review of 15 years – https://www.researchgate.net/publication/271992035_Attentional_focus_and_motor_learning_A_review_of_15_years 

[4] Attentional Focus forMaximizing MuscleDevelopment: TheMind-Muscle Connection – https://bretcontreras.com/wp-content/uploads/Attentional-Focus-for-Maximizing-Muscle-Development-The-Mind-Muscle-Connection.pdf 

[5] Effects of verbal encouragement on force and electromyographic activations during exercise – Europe PMC Organization

[6] Type of Encouragement Influences Peak Muscle Force in College-Age Women – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4738869/ 

[7] Differential effects of attentional focus strategies during long-term resistance training – https://www.researchgate.net/publication/323740477_Differential_effects_of_attentional_focus_strategies_during_long-term_resistance_training


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