Here we have the final part of my “being mindful” series, and I have saved the best for last: Being mindful about your body during exercise.
It is so easy to completely blow a great workout when we do not pay full attention to exactly what our body is doing. One of the biggest slip-ups many of us make is when we get side tracked during exercise by chatting with others nearby, watching tv, or watching others. When we do this, we do not take full advantage of upping our heart rate, nor do we allow the opportunity for optimal muscular contraction. Put your mind to your body and only your body.
Now I am going to manly focus on strength training, rather than cardio, because I personally do very little cardio (I know shame on me…) and have been practicing this “mindful body” idea a lot lately when lifting.
This is all very important information to apply when you are training in the gym. When you are about to make a muscular contraction put your mind to that exact body part – keep your music strictly as background music to block out other potential distractions. Additionally, we want to focus on using the proper primary muscles for each exercise, and avoid recruiting secondary muscles which act as helpers to make lifting easier.
Be sure to ask: Where is the load(your weight) and what body part are you using to lift it? Put your mind to that body part, now close your eyes and envision that exact muscle (this is where it is a good idea to review some anatomy of the musculoskeletal system).
Okay so this one is a little more ideal for those who are not entirely familiar with the muscles that make up our bodies:
–Quick side-note Each muscle is made up of thousands of fibers working together to create a contraction (that’s as simple as I can make it sound)–
Envision those muscle fibers working together and contracting as hard as they can to produce a force and ability to lift the load. As you lift your load, envision those fibers contracting closer and closer until you have fully lifted.
Okay, so I guess that may sound a little confusing, so let me break it down with an example. Okay, let’s look at a bicep curl, and let’s say you have been using 5 lbs with fair ease for a while. You can get through 12 repetitions with a slight “burn” towards your final repetitions, but there’s one issue, you’re not fully paying attention to what is really going on inside your body to curl that dumbbell inwards towards you.
Put that 5lb down and look for something heavier, such as a 7lb or 10 lb dumbbell. Hold them in your hands, and do a quick anatomy review of the muscle you are working. In this case we are working on our biceps, which is made up of two heads of the biceps brachii muscle — the long head and the short head, and then there is also the brachialis muscle which is longer and runs beneath both heads(almost between your biceps and triceps).
For those of you who are visual learners like myself:
Now that we have some brief anatomy out of the way, grip your dumbbell tight enought that you wont drop it, but not so tight to where you are using other muscle groups to help out, like the forearm(this is what we are trying too prevent!). As you begin to raise that dumbbell, put your focus solely on your biceps brachii, and only that muscle as your weight is lifted higher and curled in. Think of those fibers contracting and coming closer together and envision that bicep bump “popping” up. Slowly lower that weight back down with as much control as possible…and there you have it: you just “upped” your bicep curl weight because you put your mind to it.
(side note: to really activate your biceps, stand against a wall to prevent your back from assisting your curl…yowzaa! Feel that burn!)
As you can see there is a VERY strong mind-muscle connection. When we channel and focus our thoughts onto one thing, incredible things are bound to happen:) Yes, yes, I understand this is a lot to think and pay attention to when working out; however, after you have practiced this a few times, it will come more naturally..not to mention it WILL help you focus on proper lifting form – which is crucial!
The more in-tune you are with your body the greater your progress and results. Think of it like school: when we “half ass” a course, we get by with a decent grade and then move on, but how much did we fully comprehend? When we work hard, study, and apply new material, we typically will succeed in a class and will be able to apply this material later on in life. So the same thing goes for training. When we do not pay attention to our workout, yeah we finish it , but are we challenging ourselves enough to progress? When we are in-tune and mindful of what is going on in our body, we are able to push harder and progress further. And that, is what gets us closer to our fitness goals — no matter how big or small.
Next time you are in the gym, really examine your body and the movements your are performing. Really allow yourself to get in tune with what you are doing . Ignore the other meat heads and cardio bunnies surrounding you – they’re in their own little world, and you should be in yours.