Everything in life has a mental component, even fitness training. It’s your brain that helps you muster up the motivation to lift a heavy weight. It also gives you the focus and determination to achieve your fitness goals. In fact, the mind is a limiting factor for many people. Too many guys and gals never start because they lack motivation, drive, and determination or have trouble channeling their inner exercise goddess. Somewhere within each of us, there is one! We’re made to move and work toward our highest fitness potential. But, reaching those goals is more than just physical. Any athlete knows that. Maybe it’s time to shift some of the focus of your training toward the mental aspects of prepping for a workout.
Planning applies to fitness too! Enter your workouts with a game plan. Doing so will give your sweat sessions greater purpose and focus. Review your bigger goals and know what steps you’re taking today to move toward them. Too often, people “wing it” when they train and launch into a workout without a clear-cut plan. You see this a lot at many commercial gyms and health clubs where people wander from machine to machine doing a little exercise on each one and wondering why they aren’t getting results.
Time to get it down on paper or into an app? A daily workout plan gives you structure so you enter an exercise session with a road map. Having a plan also means you’ll waste less time deciding what to do next. Before starting a workout, know what exercises you’ll be doing, how many sets, and the number of reps. Then, check off each exercise as you go. When you look back on your workout sheet and see those check marks, you’ll love the sense of accomplishment and it will drive you forward!
Before beginning a workout, shift your focus to the movements you’ll be doing. Spend 5 or 10 minutes before a workout quietly contemplating your upcoming workout. Envision the upcoming workout in detail and see yourself doing the movements in your mind with strength, intention, and impeccable form. Mentally rehearsing can help your performance! A study performed by researchers at the Cleveland Clinic showed that participants who strength trained boosted their strength by 30% while another group who lifted in their mind but never touched a weight increased their strength by 13.5%!
Here’s one that will surprise you. A study found that mentally rehearsing a motor skill led to similar improvements in performance as actually doing it! The mind is a powerful instrument for motivation and change. Harness its power to help you perform better on your workouts. The worst thing you can do is approach your workouts on autopilot or distract yourself by watching television when you exercise. Makes you wonder why so many health clubs have televisions on the wall! Just as you should eat mindfully, exercise mindfully too. Stay in the moment and don’t let your mind drift off course when you train.
Talk to Yourself
Similar to mentally rehearsing, positive self-talk can help you get more out of a workout. Some people find that reciting positive mantras spurs them on. According to Walter E. Jacobson, M.D., a cognitive psychologist and author of the book Forgive to Win, positive mantras and empowering self-talk help to reprogram our brains for success. They even help conquer procrastination. We’re constantly talking to ourselves and sending messages to our subconscious, even if we aren’t aware of it. Through conscious awareness, we can change those messages and reprogram ourselves for greater success.
How can you put this into action? Pick a few empowering mantras to repeat. Some popular ones are, “I am strong” or “I can do this.” Say your mantras mentally before you even begin a workout and continue mentally reciting them as you move through your exercises. The more you repeat motivational mantras, the more you reprogram your unconscious brain for better performance.
Know Your Barriers to Success
What is it that keeps you from successfully completing a workout? Are you too tired at the end of the day? Then, do your workouts first thing in the morning when you’re still fresh. Also, keep tabs on when your energy level is the highest and schedule your workouts for those times. Do you get bored easily? Rotate the type of workouts you do. Do moderate-intensity cardio some days and high-intensity interval training on others. Balance out heavy strength-training sessions with circuit workouts where you’re using lighter weights and constantly changing exercises. Skip cardio entirely during some sessions and do plyometrics instead. With so many options for getting a workout, boredom should never be an issue. If you’re missing workouts, identify why and try to change it!
Add a Little Background Music
Research shows music reduces the perception of how hard we’re working during exercise. So, exercise feels easier when you play upbeat tunes in the background. In fact, a study in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found that pedaling or running in sync with music can make exercise feel less strenuous. It seems to shift attention away from how hard your muscles are contracting and how fast your heart is beating. One word of caution though. Music is best suited for repetitive exercise, like running or cycling, as opposed to strength training. When you strength train, music may serve as a distraction that keeps you from focusing on good weight training form. Music shouldn’t distract you away from “being in the moment” when you strength train.
Know When You’re Pushing Too Hard
All this talk of brain power to improve performance doesn’t mean you should push yourself harder at all costs. Before a fitness training session, assess how you feel, your level of energy and motivation. Rate it on a scale of one to five and document it in your fitness journal. If you feel drained or slept poorly the night before, it’s okay to modify your workout to include more recovery time.
The Bottom Line
Don’t neglect the mental prep! What’s going on in your mind before a workout matters too. Use these tips to get ready for your next workout session. You’ll enjoy it more and also, hopefully, get more out of it!
· Neuropsychologia 42 (2004) 944–956.
· Forgive To Win!: End Self-Sabotage. Get Everything You Want. Walter E. Jacobson, M.D. (2010)