Breaking your training plateau and bringing your fitness to the next level with mindfulness!
Many of you are probably familiar with the term “mindfulness,” which is appearing more and more frequently amidst popular health-culture circles across the globe. While “mindfulness” is most commonly associated with meditation practices or psychological health, let’s examine how mindfulness, and more specifically the incorporation of mindful strength training, can be applied to your routine in the gym to achieve exceptional results!
Mindfulness is defined as “the state of being consciously aware.” It refers to active examination of the present moment, including the internal and external sensations observed and/or experienced by a person. In regards to training, consider for a moment your own fitness routine. While we love dedication and consistency in training, the word “routine” itself can be indicative of a health plateau, stagnation, or a sense of “going through the motions” – in other words, a lack of progress.
How many times do we begin a workout and push through the day’s planned sets and reps without really giving active attention to each movement, to each engaged muscle? In this way, we are cheating ourselves and possibly hindering our progression by not granting each exercise the consideration it deserves.
Someone once said, “The brain is the most important muscle you can exercise,” a sentence that contains numerous levels of truth. Without getting into the nitty-gritty science of it, by being mindful of an exercise’s target muscle (or muscle group) throughout the entire motion, neural pathways between the brain and the connected muscle fibers are strengthened and eventually the muscle will contract harder and more readily. This increases the efficiency of movement and range of motion, thereby yielding greater force production, more power, better coordination, and improved endurance, just to mention a few!
So how do we strengthen the mind to muscle connection? The process is actually quite simple and does not require extreme changes to your usual routine; however, mastering this technique requires discipline, patience, and active focus. To begin, identify the target muscle (or muscle group) of the exercise to be performed. Before initiating the exercise, focus your attention on the target muscle, contract it and relax it. Now, with proper form, begin the exercise, focusing all your attention on the contraction of the target muscle. Maintain an active mind throughout the set and reset between repetitions if necessary. Don’t forget to breathe!
To illustrate this idea, let’s take a look at a specific example: the bicep curl. This simple movement is commonly seen in a gym setting, but we often perform the motion throughout our daily lives as well. Consider this: you pull a gallon of milk from the refrigerator. Although you have essentially just performed a bicep curl, it is likely that zero thought was given to the movement or to the muscle it subsequently engaged. The next time you reach into the fridge for a cool glass of protein-packed 2%, focus on squeezing and flexing the actual bicep muscle to pull the milk jug from its place. This is the mind to muscle connection: being consciously aware of how you are performing an action and what muscles are being used to complete it. This mentality should be implemented for every single exercise you perform. The same idea can be applied to posture. When taking a seat in your office chair, your glute muscles should engage (think squat form) and take the main “weight” of the action. Similarly, when walking up stairs, be aware of your muscle engagement and weight transfer. Pushing off with your heel instead of your toes will engage your posterior kinetic chain (glutes, hamstrings, and lower back muscles) and will reduce strain to the knees. These are the ways in which we build strong neural pathways to strengthen the mind to muscle connection. It can be as simple as a change of mindset!
So whether you are the beginner, looking to gain a solid foundation in fitness through strength training, the veteran bodybuilder, hoping to reverse old habits or correct bad form (and possibly find your inner Zen, eh?), or the mellow yogi, wishing to apply the power of your mind to other physical feats, developing a strong mind to muscle connection will benefit you in all aspects of fitness and allow you to better achieve your individual goals!
Get behind our fitness philosophy today by allowing us to design an individualized program for you! We are mindful of various lifestyles, so we offer in-home personal training for residents of Akron, Cleveland, Canton and the surrounding northeast Ohio area, and are able to design personal online programs as well to fit all your training needs! Please call or text at (419)-906-0204 for more information. If you have a question about this article or suggestions for future articles, please contact us at [email protected]