Ready. Mindset. Lift: Mindfulness For Optimal Workouts

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Today’s post comes courtesy of reader’s favorite, and my wife, Dr. Lisa Lewis. Both Lisa and Artemis Scantalides will be presenting their I Am Not Afraid To Lift (the Power of Mindset Edition) at Dauntless Fitness & Health in Severna Park, Maryland on April 2, 2016.

For more information and to register go HERE.

Ready. Mindset. Lift

Your day is chock full of tasks, distractions, and to-do’s. Between family and friends, your work, and your workouts, all those texts, emails, television, and other technology-based diversions force you to focus on one thing while doing another.

Multi-tasking is currently the norm in our busy western lifestyles, and although many of us feel that we’re highly skilled at attending to multiple chores and responsibilities at one time, research has demonstrated were actually not very good at it (Medina, 2014).

While attention deficits are higher and multi-talking is standard, the most popular intervention in psychology today is mindfulness.

Applied to many medical and mental health concerns, Mindfulness-Based Interventions (MBI’s) have been used to treat anxiety, depression, insomnia, disordered eating, stress management, (Dimidjian & Segal, 2015) and problems with attention (Zylowska, 2012).

Universally, it seems that regardless of how we struggle, one of the current ways to help ourselves is to get mindful.

But what does being mindful even mean? Good question:

Mindfulness is about being fully aware of whatever is happening in the present moment… mindfulness consists of cultivating awareness of the mind and body and living in the here and now… while mindfulness as a practice is historically rooted in ancient Buddhist meditative disciplines, it’s also a universal practice that anyone can benefit from… some of the greatest benefits of mindfulness come from examining your mental processes in this way, observing them dispassionately, as a scientist would (Stahl & Goldstein, 2010).”

Now, keeping the idea of mindfulness in mind, let’s take a look at your workouts.

Consider the time just before, during, and immediately after your training sessions.

1) What are you doing on the way to your workout? Singing in the car to the 90’s on 9 XM radio (my personal favorite)? Making a to-do list of things to handle tomorrow at work that you forgot about today? Listening to voicemails or catching up on texts? Worrying? Resenting? Inhaling your lunch?

2) When you arrive at the gym, what your the pre-workout routine? Makeup off, hair up, workout clothes on? Is there a special playlist? Magic lifting shoes? A sexy Zoolander look and pec flex all by yourself in the locker room mirrors?

3) And how about during your warm up? Are you focused on the present, noticing how your body responds to stretches, mobility drills, and foam rolling? Are you using positive self-talk to get excited about your deadlifts, or are you still in your inbox, mentally reviewing tasks and to-do’s?

Are you visualizing a perfect RDL, or the content of your refrigerator back at home?

4) Most importantly, how do you feel while all this is going on?

If you are half-awake, hungry, frustrated, or just downright not-feelin’-it, the quality of your workout suffers. More importantly, you miss the opportunity to be ready and present for a highly valued part of your life!

If you’re reading this article and making it to the gym to train regularly, you care. You’re into it. The point is, your values and goals should be on your mind and WITH YOU before, during, and just after your training sessions.

Mentally prepare yourself for your workouts by getting mindful, and practice staying that way before, during, and after your time at the gym.

Let’s review these four phases of your training, and how mindfulness can apply:

Mental Preparation

On your drive, walk, or subway ride to wherever you workout, begin to think about what you’ll be doing, and what you want out of that time and effort. As one of my private clients once taught me, create a space for the workout, with your thoughts.

If you love music, select a song or playlist that will boost your motivation and energy level. Tailor your playlist to your preferred energy level or “vibe” for the best workout for you (this may include Rage against the Machine or Nora Jones).

Remember your fitness or training goals, and connect with whatever affect you have about that (pumped, fired-up, ambitious, and so on). While you drive, change clothes, and otherwise get ready to being training, tune in to the content of your thoughts and feelings. “Weed out” anything unrelated to training, if you can. Make a conscious decision to be present during your workout, and focused on the processes and sensations of your time in the gym, as opposed to people, places, and things outside of the present moment.

Mental Rehearsal During Your Warm-up

Whatever your warm-up routine includes, consider adding a warm-up for your mind. Mental rehearsal, or visualization, enhances performance (Wilson, Peper & Schmid, 2006).

Used by professional athletes and Zen masters alike, rehearsing in your mind can be just as useful as in-the-flesh deliberate practice.

While your mobilizing and foam rolling, create an image in your mind of your “big movement” for the day. Recall an optimal experience you’ve had with this lift, or mentally rehearse all of the technical components of that lift. In my private practice, I routinely create a “script” with my clients so that they have a written narrative for these rehearsals.

Maintain Mindfulness – Be Ready and Present During Your Workout

As you move through your reps and sets, what’s going on up in that noodle of yours?

If you drift away from your pull-ups and into your upcoming work presentation for the finance team, just notice it, recognize that your PowerPoint slides about the TPS report have nothing to contribute to your goal, and return to the present moment.

If this feels difficult, mentally rehearse the exercise, and use self-talk to consciously think your way through the movement.

For example, you could use one of my favorite coaching cues from Arteims, “Get tight to Get light!, and focus on those words during the execution of your pull up. Remember that mindfulness is a practice – not a perfect state at which to arrive and never leave.

Review the Data

Upon finishing your workout, you may quickly move on to the next task, begin to think about a pressing errand, or free fall into worries and stressors outside of the gym.

As you grab your bag, jump in your car or on the train, and move on with your day, try to take at least 60 seconds to evaluate what just happened.

How did it go? Just like a scientist reviewing the data, you have a fresh set of experiences to observe.

Anything ouchie or awesome today?

Did you increase your weight or reps on an exercise?

If it was a tougher workout than usual, or just no fun, what could have been contributing factors?

These observations can help to acknowledge elements that help and harm your workout quality, and to identify new goals for future performances.

Many of us go elsewhere during our day.

Focusing on the future and worrying about what may happen brings anxiety; reciprocally, thoughts stuck in the past bring us regret, disappointment, and feelings of depression. The present moment is where it’s at!

When you are at work – be at work. When you are with your loved ones – be in the room and tuned into the conversation. When you are at the gym, keep your mind in your body, on your weights, and aligned with your goals and the process of achieving them.

You may be reading this and thinking, “easier said than done!!”

Remember that we are what we practice doing, and so your mind is currently automated to go and do wherever it is going, and whatever it is doing; to change that pattern requires deliberate practice and conscious effort on your part – just like changing a hip hinge pattern.

If you decide to practice mindfulness before, during and/or after your workouts, remember that you are developing your mental muscles. It will take time.

On stressful days, or days when you are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired (HALT), you may return to your automated thoughts and foci. Try not to judge that. It’s just data. You can notice it, let it go, and come back to your present moment and the task-at-hand.

Remember that your workout belongs to you – not your boss, your significant other, your kids, or the other important relationships that often hijack our thoughts. Compartmentalize your thoughts so that you can think about your body, your health, and your fitness while you are actively working on that part of your life. And always, always, remember to enjoy!

Dimidjian, S. & Segal, Z (2015). Prospects for a clinical science of mindfulness-based intervention. American Psychologist, 70, 7, 593-620.

Medina, J. (2014). Brain Rules. Pear Press, Seattle.

Stahl, B. & Goldstein, E. (2010). A mindfulness-based stress reduction workbook. New Harbinger Publications, Inc. Oakland, CA.

Wilson, V., Peper, E., & Schmid, A. (2006). Strategies for training concentration. Book Chapter from Applied Sport Psychology, Williams, J. ED. McGraw-Hill, NY.

Zylowska, L. (2012). The mindfulness prescription for adult ADHD: an 8-step program for strengthening attention, managing emotions, and achieving your goals. Trumpeter Books, Boston.

Did what you just read make your day? Ruin it? Either way, you should share it with your friends and/or comment below.

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  • Rachel

    Love Dr. Lewis posts! To Lisa: any tips for when visualizing makes you anxious? As in visualizing myself making a PR but then hearing my internal hater saying “no you can’t do that, you’ve never done it before, why would this time be different?” and lots of other smack talk. I tend to be a more anxious person so I know I need to get better at positive self-talk, but I’d love to hear a professional opinion if you have any thoughts. Many thanks.

    • Lisa

      Hi Rachel!

      That’s a fantastic question – more of an “advanced level” question :). If visualization is provoking negative thoughts, the first thing I recommend is to practice some “thought stopping” (a CBT technique). This means you notice the smack talk starting, and then have a thought like, “oops! There goes that schmackity-schmak, I’m going to put the kabash on that!”. Or however it would feel most genuine to talk to yourself. The next step would be to insert a “reframe” (also CBT) – which would be a rational, positively oriented statement. It doesn’t have to be intense or optimal-goal oriented. It could be something like, “I’m practicing, I’m working hard, and I know my hard work is getting me closer to my goal” (again, with whatever language feels most genuine for you).

      So, identify the negative though. Then thought-stop. Then reframe the thought. And then repeat, repeat, repeat! Remember that negative thoughts are most often “automatic thoughts” and so to unlearn that automatic thought, and get something else to become automated, you need to practice!

      Let me know how it goes Rachel!!

      Lisa

      • TonyGentilcore

        “oops! There goes that schmackity-schmak, I’m going to put the kabash on that!”

        This made me laugh. You sound like an 80s rapper…..;o)

        • Rachel

          Haha you guys are great. Thank you so much for your answer, I will definitely give that a try!

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