Thinking Through The Motion: Tips For Achieving Effective Muscle Gains

Aaron Savvy
Written By: Aaron Savvy
August 9th, 2011
Updated: June 13th, 2020
48.1K Reads
6 tips for boosting gains. Learn about the tie between form and performance, and why you should change workouts every 3-4 weeks.

Aaron SavvyAction of Contraction

Believe it or not, we’re all dummies! I do not mean that literally, but for the most part our bodies can twist and turn in almost any direction we so choose. Our bodies are an amazing instrument and if played correctly, the performance body’s performance can be astounding. So what am I getting at?

When we workout, we have all heard the saying “going through the motion” which simply means performing an exercise without really putting any thought into what we are doing. Although this might help you get through exercise it does not help you perform the exercise properly. The result? The body does not benefit and you cheat yourself from achieving maximum gains.

Instead of “going through the motion” we are going to change it up a bit and “think through the motion” in our workouts. Remember the body will move and do what the brain tells it to do. Ultimately when we workout we want to have harmony between our mind and body when it comes to hitting our fitness goals.

Let’s put this into perspective by doing an exercise. I want you to hold up your arm in the position of showing off your biceps. I want you to now squeeze and “contract” that bicep as big and as tight as you can for at least 2-3 seconds. That squeeze, that contraction, is what you should be doing on every rep you perform for each set of each muscle groups being worked on in your fitness routine. It is that “action of contraction” that tells the muscle what to do and ultimately how to look.

Without Form You Can’t Have Performance

I often see a number people make the mistake of being concerned with the amount of weight being lifted and paying less attention to the importance of form. Repeat after me “form is absolutely critical when performing any exercise.” Proper form not only helps with preventing injury but form is key for muscle isolation and muscle contraction, the two factors that help in maximizing muscle gains.

When it comes to lifting weights always remember you should be in control of the weight. The weight should never be in control of you. As a general rule if you are unable to feel contraction in each rep, then you should check the weight. The weight you have selected may be too heavy causing your body to compensate using other muscle groups to assist. Remember in order to maximize muscle gains we want to isolate the muscle group that we are working on.

For proper form and isolation start with a weight range where you are able to perform 10-12 reps easily. This will help you get in the habit of “thinking through the motion” when it comes to form and isolation. “Thinking through the motion” will put in you in complete control of each rep in addition you will develop a nice foundation of strength. Once you have mastered your selected weight range you can gradually increase the weight to help you improve on your muscle gains.

Don’t be Afraid to Go Solo

Too many times I will see people always work both muscle groups together. Don’t get me wrong, it is effective and muscle contraction is being made, but you can take it a step further and enforce it even more. For example: If you are trying to target your biceps by doing bicep curls try doing an alternate bicep curl.

Bicep curl

There are two benefits of this first is that an alternate bicep curl allows one arm to lift the weight while preventing the other arm from helping out. The second benefit allows you to train evenly train each bicep, allowing for 2-3 second contraction at the top of each curl and at the same time it avoids any sort of crutch. “Going solo” method is great for:

Take a Breath

As a trainer I often notice that people have a tendency to hold their breath when executing a lift or performing an exercise. Do not underestimate the importance of breathing through an exercise. Believe it or not proper breathing plays a pivotal role in helping building the ultimate physique. Breathing helps helps with power and stability during strength and endurance training, it fosters relaxation during mind/body and flexibility training, and it help with focus (“thinking through the motion”).

As you working out make it a point to completely inhale and exhale through key points in the set. For example when doing strength or resistance training, such as weight lifting, you should generally exhale on the exertion (or most difficult part of the exercise) and inhale on the recovery (easiest part of the exercise).

Change it Up

Don’t fall into the trap of stagnant and predictable routines. Challenge yourself and your body by changing up your routine ever so often. Changing up your routine helps you avoid the “going through the motion” process of doing the exercise and not thinking. Remember the more the body performs the same exercise, the more comfortable and relaxed it becomes.

The more relaxed it becomes the harder it is to see change. As a general rule you want to try something new in your routine every 3-4 weeks, this will force your body to adapt quickly, also it helps keep your work outs fresh.

Keep the Goal in Sight

Do you know your goal? How are you tracking your progress? What are you doing to stay motivated? As you progress you always want to make sure you have the goal in sight, more importantly you want to take steps to track your progress and make sure you are doing everything to stay on goal. Whether it’s having a fitness journal, or having a workout buddy who keeps you on point, understanding the goal is essential for helping you successfully transforming your body and taking your physique to the next level.

As you focus on “ thinking through the motion” you will be able to finally take control and as a result, see great changes in your body and more importantly muscle development.

Jhenny Penarrieta
Posted on: Mon, 09/23/2013 - 09:04

Great tips thank u

Posted on: Mon, 03/25/2013 - 19:25

Hi Aaron,
About a year and a half ago i started going to the gym. I tried to go 3/4 times a week but that wasn't always possible. At that time i wasn't paying attention to my food at all. I took a weightgainer though and gained over 15 pounds. I'm a skinny guy so after the gainer i weighed about a 130 pounds. In the months after that i lost 25 pounds even though i was eating as much as i can and at that time i did pay attention to what i was eating. Now i am again 130 pounds, but it seems i can't get any further. In the morning i eat oatmeal after that a healthy snack then some sandwiches, after that sometimes some eggs then i go to the gym i drink a protein shake afterwards i eat dinner and before going to bed i still eat some cottage cheese or yoghurt with fruit. But like i said i'm not going further then a 130 pounds .... How can i do this?

Samuel Harris
Posted on: Wed, 08/12/2015 - 14:14

Eat more buddy. Eat twice as much of everything. Juat remember, eating can be as hard or even harder than training.
Do it anyway

Posted on: Wed, 10/17/2012 - 03:15

Hi Aaron, I have recently switched to doing a full body work out on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. I would love to do more core exercises, push-ups and cardio, but I am not sure when I should do them? Should I perform these exercises on a different day maybe a Tuesday or Thursday? Or would I not be allowing my body enough time to rest?

Posted on: Thu, 09/22/2011 - 21:05


thanks mate...

and small point...breathing through each exercise cycle(than usual exhale during power stroke), so closer one is able to maintain regular breathing rate(16/min)the more it forces the core muscles(which forms the base platform so to say from which other muscles can lever off) to hold a strong frame and allows better controlled action stroke...and better results...

I know...its harder and one has to drop weight load to achieve this initially, but worth it as a strong core minimizes posture failure near fatiguing sections like end of repetitions, and when most injuries occur...but you can keep blood oxygen levels up during the set...try doing a heavy to failure set with an saturation monitor attached to see what I mean...


Posted on: Mon, 08/15/2011 - 12:06

Hi, Thanks very much, this will help alot. I have one more question how many exercises would you reccommend per muscle group? At the minute I do 2 for biceps, 3 for triceps, 3 for chest, 2 for lats, 3 for quads and hamstrings and 2 for calves, 5 for shoulders, because that includes front and side deltoidds, and traps. Do you think this is to much? Thank you

Posted on: Sun, 08/14/2011 - 07:55

Hi Aaron, I have a question, If your doing split work outs such as Back/chest is it better to complete all of one muscle group first. I.e all chest exercises then move onto the other muscle group which is back in this case? Or is it better to alternate between them? Thanks

Aaron Savvy
Posted on: Sun, 08/14/2011 - 19:50

Hi Shadow,
You can alternate, but for me, personally I like to focus on one muscle group first (back) and then hit the next muscle group. The reason for this is... If your alternating with different muscle groups, your'e going to lose that pump with the time alotted between exercises. Growth and development is creating that pump which assists in breaking down those muscle fibers. Of course when were resting (not working out) is when those muscle fibers are mending themselves back together, layering, hardening which ultimately allows our body to take shape.
When combining muscle groups, I suggest hitting a larger muscle groups first ie: Chest, back or legs, followed by a smaller muscle group ie: Shoulders, tri-ceps and biceps. Hitting two BIG muscle groups is a lot to handle. Effectiveness is A larger muscle group than a smaller. Remember to attack your core (abdominals and obliques). You can work your abs every day, because the response and recomvery time for core is quick. Hope this helps you.
Best, Aaron Savvy

Aaron Savvy
Posted on: Wed, 08/10/2011 - 18:03

Hi Jared,
Let's start with 80/20. 80% of how you want your body to look is going to be what you eat while the other 20% is weight training/cardio. It's all about coming clean with your eating. Protein: Lean meats, fish, tuna, egg whites, knock yourself out with veggies and good carbohydrates: brown rice, oatmeal. I would also limit yourself to the alcohol as it contains empty calories and no nutritional value. I would also drink no less than 4 liters of water a day. Avoid dairy and sugar. I would also contribute a commitment to hit the gym 3 days a week. 60 min weight training and 30 min cardio. Pace yourself and stay in the 10-12 rep range when weight training. This will allow you to be in control of the weight and the weight not in control of you. I suggest buying L-carnitine. As you eat clean and workout, it will aid in using your excess body fat and convert that into energy. I hope these tips help ya. You can always check out my website for additional tips and information
Good luck buddy :)
Aaron Savvy

Posted on: Sun, 08/14/2011 - 04:19

I literally can't thank you enough Aaron! This is an awesome start off for me and essentially answers all my questions! I will do my best and I will let you know the progress in a few months (I'm sure I'll see unreal gains by then) but thank you again :)

Posted on: Wed, 08/10/2011 - 10:26

Hello Aaron,

I am a 20 year old male, that JUST joined the gym due to laziness and a hectic university lifestyle. Over the years I have gained quite a big gut (beer, junk food etc.) and I want to get toned for the up coming summer in Australia. I was wondering how will I go about losing my stomach fat while at the same time toning the rest of my body (bigger biceps, bigger pecks, 6 pack, bigger legs) while not losing the muscle mass I would gain from doing weights?