By Roxanne Miller
Mindfulness seems to be the hot topic as of late as we slowly start to turn our attention inward as a society. It may not seem that way as many of us continue to work multiple jobs to maintain our current living standards, but if you stop and take a look around, you will notice an increase in the “new age” mentality as various yoga studios, spas and wellness centers are being welcomed more and more into our communities. But mindfulness doesn’t have to be restricted to meditation and yoga. Mindfulness can be applied to all areas of your life – even weight training! Yes, weight training. As a personal trainer, gym rat and future NPC competitor, I spend a lot of time at the gym lifting weights. That time to me is precious. Mindfulness has its place in the gym. When you are mindful – when you connect your mind to your body – that’s when you create change. When you realize that your mind and body are one, change happens. As you connect the two, with each rep, you are strengthening the two – they are two halves to the whole.
Let’s talk a little bit more about the mind-muscle connection when it comes to training. If you want to get all scientific, the brain actually releases a chemical neurotransmitter, Acetylcholine, to increase communication between the mind and the body (McGrath, 2010). As it crosses the synapses, or the space that separates the nerve from the muscle, it binds to receptors on the surface of the muscle fibers causing the muscle to contract (McGrath, 2010). Just like with any relationship, the greater the communication, the greater the response. So by improving the relationship between your mind and your body, you recruit more muscle fibers to help you perform an exercise, contract the muscle with increased quality and have a better workout overall (McGrath, 2010).
Make sense? Like zoning out and focusing on the flame of a burning candle, weight training can essentially become its own form of meditation as you become more aware of your body, your breath and your own inner strength. Interested in taking this approach to your work out regime? Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Don’t ego lift. Focus less on the weight and more on the quality of the movement. Personally, I know this can be a challenge because as a woman, I pride myself on my ability to train in beast mode and throw some heavy weight around. But when training for optimal muscle development, the ego has got to go. When your shoulders are poppin,’your arms are tight and your glutes are shapely, the fact that you didn’t hit your max squat weight yesterday isn’t really going to matter ;). Especially because taking a few steps back and using a lighter weight for quality reps will actually make you stronger in the long run.
- Eliminate the side conversation. I know, I know – we all like to be social at the gym and working out with a buddy makes the workout more enjoyable. You can still do that, but maybe as your dying on the step master J. Let your lifting routine be your time. Who are you working out for, your mom? Sister? Friend? Or are you walking into the gym to create a healthier life style for you? The latter? I thought so. So do it right! Socialization will come after you reached your goal! I’m Italian and talking is one of my many talents, so I completely understand the struggle! In fact, I will actually go to my second gym to avoid talking so that I can really focus on what I’m doing. It tends to feel a bit lonely, but I have a goal in mind and know that making my workout my “me time” has multiple benefits.
- Music works magic. Create a playlist that gets you in the zone. When I’m lifting weights, I prefer metal and rock, such as “Feel Invincible” by Skillet and “State of My Head” by Shinedown. When I’m doing plyometrics, bring on the top 40 so I can feel like I’m dancing (think Justin Timberlake “Can’t Stop This Feeling”). If I’m running, I try to listen to more meaningful songs that speak to me and keep me going. Current favorites for that include “Head Above Water” by Theory of A Deadman, “Airplanes” by B.O.B. featuring Haley Williams and Eminem and “Lose Yourself” by Eminem. It works. Get your head in the game. A good playlist is like when you are a dancer, actor, etc. and you’ve been practicing your performance for months. However, once you put your costume on, everything changes and it becomes real. Your focus increases. A good playlist will do just that in the gym.
- Know what muscles you are working and connect with them. Your body is a beautiful complex piece of art. Take your shoulders, for instance. You have a front, medial and rear delt. If you are doing a shoulder exercise, know exactly what part of the shoulder you are training and concentrate on that muscle performing the movement.
To summarize? FOCUS! FOCUS! FOCUS! Keep your head in the game. Focus on the muscles doing the work – envision them actually doing the work. Let go of ego (see – there’s that yoga mentality) and eliminate distractions. Give this a try – not just once – but at least a week or two! Not only will your body start to change, but your mind will as well. I tell my clients all the time, “what you do here is preparing you for what you can do out there. If you could push your body past the pain – past that feeling where you are going to break, you can do anything. Lifting is all mental. Imagine what you could accomplish if you could channel that inner strength that you find in the gym out in the real world, where things really get hard.”
- McGrath, B. (2010, June 17). 4 Tips To Help Train Your Brain For Massive Gains: Mind Muscle Connection! Retrieved July 12, 2016, from http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/4-tips-to-help-train-brain-massive-gains-mind-muscle-connection.htm
- Andrews, L. W. (2011, June 17). Weight Training? Put Your Mind to It. Retrieved July 12, 2016, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/minding-the-body/201106/weight-training-put-your-mind-it