“Training is a physical activity, how is my mind going to help me get stronger?”
Well, in a whole host of ways, actually. Let’s get into it.
We generally think of exercise as a physical activity, and for many of us, our mind is elsewhere, as we go through the motions of working out. If this is you, I’m afraid to tell you, there is a huge pool of potential that you have not yet tapped into.
You could well be stronger than you realize. You could lift more weight, run faster, jump higher – today. Without becoming any stronger or fitter. How? Using the power of your mind.
You could also accelerate your progress, overcome plateaus and get more from your workout, without actually changing what you are doing in terms of exercises, sets, reps or weight. How? Using the power of your mind.
Let me explain the 9 ways harnessing your mind will improve your workouts:
1. Be Present
This is the biggest thing I can teach you. When you are present and solely focused; your workouts will improve vastly. Don’t bring your phone in the gym, forget about work and home life for an hour. Focus on what you are doing. Feel the movements, observe yourself in the mirror. Concentrate on your technique. You will get stronger, quickly, just by bringing your focus on to what you are doing.
You can do this in the gym or even before your workout. In the gym, before doing a set, sit quietly, close your eyes and run through the set in your mind. Keep the pace the same, feel the muscles firing and see successful completion of the lift in your mind. The more accurately you can visualize it, the more consistently you will perform it.
Studies have also shown that visualization outside the gym actually makes you stronger. Yes, just thinking about lifting, without actually touching a weight, can make you stronger. However, you must visualize the process accurately for it to work.
3. Tap into Your Mind-muscle Connection
Tapping into the feeling of your body working is what takes you from intermediate to advanced lifter (in combination with time and consistency). If you develop a strong mind-muscle connection you will contract the muscles harder, focus work on the target area more, and thus grow more. This means bigger, stronger muscles.
4. Get Inspired
Get some people to look up to. Inspiration is motivation on steroids. You can only do so much on your own, and having some idols, mentors, whatever-you-want-to-call-them, even if they’re “virtual”, can have huge power. Over the long term, inspiration is required because it can be the spark that lights the fire.. And having a broader sense of connection through individuals you look up to can give you the drive will get you in the gym, working hard, even when you don’t want to.
5. Find Your Desire
What are you fighting for? The thing that will get you pumped up every single time? When you are working towards a larger purpose, you will be able to ‘turn it on’ and kill it in the gym – on demand. You simply need to remind yourself why you are there.
Link your workout to your biggest and most meaningful life goals. Is your biggest priority to be a good father for your son? That’s what you’re fighting for. Showing determination, desire, strength, commitment – all traits you would want to impart in to your offspring.
Remind yourself why you are there by simply asking – what am I fighting for?
An anchor is a stimulus that activates a certain (response) set of behaviors. The stimulus could be something physical, a word, sound, action, thought or place. A common example would be the smell of delicious food will make you begin salivating and feel hungry – the smell of the food is the anchor that sets off the behaviors of salivation, hunger.
We can use this to create a routine that gets us in the zone, on demand. The very act of putting on your gym shoes could be an anchor, if it’s done consistently in a purposeful and methodical way.
Sports stars are great to watch to pick up on this. If you ever watch tennis, watch Rafa Nadal. He has a certain number of sips from 2 different drinks, certain number of bites from a banana. Then he gets up to serve, spinning his racket in a very deliberate and consistent way, while bouncing the ball in a certain pattern. All before he actually starts his serve.
You can do the same thing in the way you approach the bar, set your feet, take your grip, get your breath and set yourself.
The purpose of this is to train your nervous system into firing and being ‘on’ when you do this routine, so that every rep and every set is performed to the greatest capacity.
7. Empty Your Mind
Rep 17 of 20 squats. It hurts. Burns! All you can think about is the pain and how much you want to stop. Of course, this is not the most productive thought to be having. What if you could be so in the zone that you don’t feel the pain?
You can do this with your mind. Perform your anchor, visualization, remind yourself what you’re fighting for and as you perform the set, empty your mind of everything. Put 100% focus on squeezing the muscles, breathing, pumping reps out. Don’t count. This is important. If you say you’re going to do 10 reps, you will feel tired around 7 and do 10 in total. If you say you’re going to do as many as possible, and don’t count, you will often end up doing more.
8. Control Breathing
Between sets – what do you do? Sit around texting? Forget that. Focus your mind on your breathing. Get your mind inside your body and follow the oxygen around – breathe in, feel it rush into the diaphragm and disperse out to the muscles. Feel the oxygenation of the muscles and then breathe the carbon dioxide back out.
This is part visualization, part meditation. Take deep, controlled breaths and you will recover quicker between sets, be able to shorten rest periods and subsequently perform better. Plus, you will be at one with your body and better able to activate the muscles and perform exercises with perfect technique.
9. Use Your Beliefs
How much can you bench press? I bet you know. If I give you the bar with an extra couple of pounds on, but tell you it is what you think of as your max – what are the chances you can lift it? Actually, quite high.
Your belief will help or hinder you. If you are confident with a weight, you will lift it. If you think it’s too heavy – is more than you’ve done before – and you don’t believe you can lift it? Well, you won’t.
These are just some of the things your mind can achieve when it comes to working out. Give them a try and let us know how you get on.