Do I need to feel my muscles while exercising?

The trainer and author of the ‘Sports Advice’ sub-page, Igor Molot, wrote this ironic, research-linked author’s post for Zozhnik about the relationship between performance, equipment weight and thinking about your muscles during exercise.

To go to a workout, you need motivation. During the workout it is necessary to sweat, because it should be visible that you have been exercising, and even better to exercise until green snot – so that you can surely assess the effectiveness of the workout. And after training, of course, muscles must be sore, because if it does not hurt – not enough load. (If anyone does not recognise the irony – it is – note Zozhnik). I dedicate myself to all those who are eager to feel all their muscles during training and consider subjective feelings as a climax of training process.

Maybe, you have never wondered but… how do you choose certain exercises? A guy wants big biceps – he will choose Scott Bench Press. Why? Because the biceps are pretty intense! Why perform a heavy standing barbell lift when a). it’s hard b). the arms don’t lift, but the biceps don’t scream in pain at all… and I don’t care that in Scott the biceps can show the least activity compared to other exercises , but those magic sensations, what can be more precious?

A girl wants to get some ass – she performs different leg movements, with elastic bands to feel sharp sensations, and finishes with hyperextension with rounded back – “buns” just burn!

Sorry, have you ever done any heavy lunges? Oh, did you, with those pink dumbbells over there? Most girls have a purse that weighs more than dumbbells.

Everyone is trying to concentrate on working muscles, to get a burn, trainers always advise to do everything in half amplitude, not to lose precious muscle tension and so on.

On the one hand, pulling the owl on a globe, there are several studies showing that focusing on the working muscle can increase its activity. On the other hand, the researchers themselves say that this is only a 4-6% increase in activity, and not always.

However, activity increases at weights up to 60% of 1RM, i.e. at relatively light weights. But at heavier weights, at 80% there is no more activity in the head or in the butt! And here already lies the main point! If a person, for example, squats with a heavy weight, all his thoughts are about how to get up in order not to ‘tear the trousers’. If he’s doing a heavy bench press, he’s thinking about how far away the nearest person in the gym is, so that he can pull them out from under the bar. Exaggerated, of course, but I think you get the gist. Working with a decent weight one tries to concentrate on how to perform the exercise, not how hard the pecs or glutes are straining at the moment.

A whole systematic review suggests that the most important factor for increasing muscle activity is precisely the weight of the load. By the way, the same review also says that during the bench press, for example, the pecs and triceps work in much the same way. So what are you going to concentrate on on the bench press? And on the deadlift or squat, where many muscles are involved?

So it turns out that, in fact, a person can only concentrate on simple exercises with one joint.

So all your “you have to feel the muscle, you have to become a muscle…” seems to be some reason, just not to work with a decent weight, which will “strain” your muscles, regardless of whether you feel them or not. How many of you, for example, feel your glutes on lunges? Hardly. Why then do they make your glutes ache afterwards?

Also, people very often confuse joint/muscle discomfort with actual muscle work. For example, many people like to do upper block pulling behind their head, and they really think that their muscles work better this way. But the studies show that there is no difference in muscle activation between pulling to the chest and behind the head [8]. But it’s quite possible to twist the shoulder joints in an unnatural way and think that the discomfort in them is the work of the muscles.


  • Concentration on the working muscle can increase its activity, but only when you work with small weights, and increasing the weight is the main factor that increases the activity of the muscle. And it seems unclear which muscles need to be felt during basic exercises where many muscles are working.
  • You can tense your glutes during some ’round back extensions’, but they will not become more active from this, it’s a subjective parameter. You can also tense your glutes during some ’roundhouse’ biceps raises, but it’s unlikely to make your ‘buns’ grow.
  • Decide on your training goal – subjective sensations or actual development – and dance from there!

Be reasonable, everyone!

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