Many have heard the phrase “be mindful” before, but arguably few among us know what it means to be mindful. Mindfulness (being mindful) describes when a person focuses on only the present moment, and exactly what they are thinking, feeling, and experiencing and then to calmly explore that sensation. In some ways, mindfulness is similar to meditation. However, being mindful does not mean always sitting down with your eyes closed and saying “ohm” repeatedly. Instead, mindfulness can be experienced by simply focusing on your breath, or what your body is doing at that present moment and can be done anywhere at any time. The next time you are training at the gym is an excellent time to try some of the following practices and see how much they can improve your workout, or even your satisfaction from your workout.
For starters, think of “breathing in the moment”. Anyone who spends a regular amount of time in the gym, whether doing cardio, strength training, or any other physical pursuit recognizes and understands the importance of how our breathing impacts our exercise. Runners may try to breathe on alternating strides to avoid a side stitch, while someone lifting weights will focus on maintaining their breath through a rep on a compound movement. This breathing pattern becomes an afterthought, and is almost ingrained in an athlete after they do it enough.
On your next training session, begin your warmup focusing on your breathing. Focus on the way the breath fills your lungs and expands your chest, and how it leaves your lungs emptying them just as it filled them. Try to stay focused solely on that feeling, the in and out pattern of your breath and only that. You will find the first few attempts at this you may find your mind wanders all over, which is quite common. Once you notice that your mind has drifted, simply move your focus back to your breathing. For the duration of your warmup try to remain focused on your breathing. Prior to starting your working sets or full speed workout, take a minute and mentally check to see how your body feels. Allow yourself to feel the reduced tension in your muscles and feel more relaxed and better prepared for your training session.
Now, let’s focus on “form is function”. Form is crucial to any workout, ensuring we are doing the activity as safely and efficiently as possible to maximize its benefit. A runner may keep tabs of the number of strides they make per minute to find the ideal pace needed for their goals while someone training for strength may have different cues for each compound movement they are executing. In both scenarios attention to the body’s form is required. Just as you focused on your breathing during the warmup to your workout, now we will pay close attention to form for the workout.
For someone performing a squat there are multiple steps involved with the execution of the movement. Focus on approaching the loaded barbell, and the steps utilized in preparing just to unrack the bar. If you watch world-class lifters, they address the bar the same in every warmup set and it looks identical to when they are attempting to execute a personal best lift. They may start with the same hand on the bar first, feeling the rings, then the next hand finding its grip point. Next, they will slide under the bar beginning to align the bar across their back where they start to tighten their grip and back muscles in preparation to receive the weight of the bar. Then, they will begin to place their feet, and once their feet are in a stable and firm position, they will brace their cores and stand the bar up, allowing the weight to settle onto their backs. Finally, they will do the walkout to get the loaded barbell away from the rack, allowing them the ability to squat. At this point, there have already been multiple cues noted that may have become ingrained in the athlete and the compound movement itself hasn’t even been executed. However, focusing on those cues specifically every time you lift will allow you to be more consistent in your execution of the movement.
You will often hear coaches yelling cues to their lifters during a competition and you can remind yourself of these cues silently in every workout you do. By focusing on each cue for the entirety of the set you are working on, you will stay more connected to your body. You will better understand exactly what your body is telling you for each rep, and you may even be better able to notice if one glute isn’t firing as much as the other without having to rely on a video of the session or a coach or trainer to point it out. By focusing on the form, you will find the movement of that exercise flows better and that you are getting more efficient. Being present on each rep or each set allows you to give yourself better biofeedback into what you are feeling. You will likely have less “misgrooved” reps because you are focused on each cue and will find you feel better overall at the end of your training session because of how in tune you were with your body and the movements it performed.
As you wind down your workout doing your routine whether it be stretching, light cardio, or just removing the weights from the bar and thinking about what you are going to eat, return to your breathing. While focusing on your breathing, do a mental check in with your body, taking note of how each set of muscles feels. Check in with the joints throughout your body. Notice how your breathing is slowly returning to normal as your body is returning to homeostasis after the exertion you have just put it through. Allow yourself to appreciate the released endorphins and the overall positive feeling you have from finished a good workout. Appreciate that you have done something to take care of your body and allowed for increased longevity. Instead of the workout having been a struggle to maintain focus and finding yourself frustrated at the end, you will likely feel better about the workout and be able to have a more positive mindset for the remainder of your day as well as looking forward to the next training session.