Get the best out of strength training with mindfulness

1 September, 2013
Get the best out of strength training with mindfulness

Mindfulness as a psychological concept is the focusing of attention and awareness, based on the concept of mindfulness in Buddhist meditation. It has been popularised in the West by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Despite its roots in Buddhism, mindfulness is often taught independently of religion. Clinical psychology and psychiatry since the 1970s have developed a number of therapeutic applications based on mindfulness for helping people suffering from a variety of psychological conditions, particularly for reducing anxiety, depression, and stress. Several definitions of mindfulness have been used in modern psychology; it refers to a psychological quality that involves bringing one’s complete attention to the present experience on a moment by moment basis, or paying attention in a particular way on a purpose within the present moment.

So, why not use this concept during your workout and achieve even more success out of your strength training. It may sound a bit hippy, but I’m not saying you have to sit in the middle of the gym floor chanting “Ommmmm” whilst you’re doing your workout; put your headphones on and put your mind into you’re your muscle.

Research shows that when you think about a muscle and use the part of your brain that is responsible for muscle activation; greater muscular activity and increased muscle contraction occurs there. For example, one study looked at how much muscles worked in three conditions: (1) thinking exclusively about the muscles that were working, (2) thinking about the weight that was being lifted, and (3) thinking about whatever the participants wanted. Results showed that there was significantly greater muscle activity in the first condition and more muscle activity during weight training corresponds to the muscles getting stronger. So, why wouldn’t you want to get the absolute best results from training by simply focusing and being mindful on the muscle whilst you’re working it; imagining the fibres working and pulling together, concentrating on the movement pattern you are using rather than just lifting the weights whilst your mind is elsewhere.

You come to the gym not only to get fitter/stronger, you come to escape from work, to get a relief from stress/anger, boost confidence and feel good about yourself, so why would you want your mind to be back at the place your wanting to escape? Being in the moment, enjoying your workout and focusing on the muscles to make your muscles experience the workout more fully allows you and your muscles to benefit; so a win-win situation. Also, using the powerful mind-muscle connection not only lets you stimulate a muscle more effectively it also reduces the risk of injury as you are concentrating on your form and technique and therefore will be getting even more out of the movements you are performing, as we all know technique/form is imperative to getting optimum results. For example: if you’re doing bench press, your brain instinctively wants to concentrate on the weight saying “move this weight up and down”, you need to rewire your brain to concentrate on the muscle and think “squeeze and release the chest muscles” instead, really feel those chest muscles working! Also, be mindful and concentrate on your breathing, inhaling and exhaling at the right times to increase your ability to lift better, look at any Olympic lifter, watch their timing of their breathing to help them lift and help them power up those bars, concentrating on this during your lifts is only going to make you lift stronger. To minimize any external distractions, manage your time so that your workout is a priority, which helps your mind be less agitated about other things you think you should be doing. If you start worrying about you should be doing at work, how you look at the gym or noticing the person next to you, remind yourself that you’re there to maintain and improve your health, not to see and be seen by others and not to be thinking about work and you will get so much more satisfaction from your workout, mentally and physically.

Be in the moment and self-aware, it’s good to have an end in mind but in the end what counts is how you travel. Enjoy the journey

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