How Staying Focused While Working Out May Improve Your Fitness Level

Have you ever had a moment during a workout when you cried?  And I don’t mean crying because you are in pain.  I am talking about crying because of the connection between your body and your mind.  Working out is an experience.  It is a spiritual moment with your body.  Physical fitness and exercise is a period in time when you connect to the perfect design of your body.  Exercise allows you to connect with how your body breathes, moves, and works.  It is a moment with yourself.  Catharsis doesn’t happen every workout.  It is rare.  It happens when you connect to your body in a way that is an expression of love and respect for what your body can do.  

Catharsis is known in the field of psychology as an emotional release.  After a cathartic moment there is sense of relaxation, release, and renewal.  Catharsis, although more common to the process of psychotherapy, can happen during physical fitness.  Physical fitness is more than just burning calories, “being skinny”, weight loss, sweating, and throwing some weights around.  No physical fitness is about connecting the mind to the body. Allowing your body to connect with your mind during physical exercise may improve your fitness level and your life!

It is important to mentally connect and stay focused during a workout.  In fact paying more attention to your body and the muscles being used during your workout may improve your fitness.  Researchers found that Individuals that paid attention to their body and the muscle being worked not only enjoyed their work out more but had better outcomes (Neumann & Brown, 2013). Another study asked volunteers to focus on their bicep during a bicep curl exercise and researchers found that attentional focus influenced muscle activity and eventually improved fitness outcomes (Neumann & Heng, 2011).  Staying focused during exercise requires you to think about the muscle you are working and this type of mindfulness has many benefits.  But it is so easy to be distracted.  When you are at the gym there  maybe lots of people, there is music playing, there are sounds, and there are mirrors everywhere.  Paying attention to these external factors keeps you from focusing on what your body is doing.  Perhaps lack of focus or focusing on other things and other people keeps us from seeing the full rewards of exercise.

Mindfulness is defined as paying attention to the present moment experience with an attitude of non-judgmental acceptance (Adams, et al., 2013).  Mindfulness is paying attention to what you are doing in the moment and not thinking about what others are doing or what you will be doing in a few minutes.  Mindfulness has many benefits.  It helps reduce stress, it relaxes the body, it improves thinking, and as we have learned today, it can help the body improve physically.  

But again we so easily get distracted.  Sometimes it is things within ourselves that can keep us distracted.  If you are in the gym and you are focused on time, the number of calories burned, or you are focused on what other people are doing you can lose sight of what your body is doing.  Here is how you can stay mindful while exercising:

  •  Think about what your body is doing.  
  • Think about the muscle that is lifting or moving.  If you are on a bike picture your legs and the muscles of the front of your leg.  Imagine them filling with blood and imagine them fill with power to push the pedals around and around.  Imagine doing bicep curls and see the muscles of your arm red and strong because they are full of blood.  Feel how the weight feels as you bring it up, and think of how the weight feels as you bring it down.  Feel how the weight feels on your hand and feel how your bicep muscle moves as your arm moves up and down.  
  • Focus on your breathing.  The air comes in through your nose and moves down to your lungs.  With each breath you take while working out your lungs get stronger.  Each inhale gives your body the oxygen it needs to send more blood to the muscles that are working.  Think about how with each exhale you are getting stronger.  Every time you exhale air you are releasing hurt, anger, frustration, and pain.  
  • Close your eyes while doing the exercise if you have to.  This will help you block out the other distractions and focus your mind to think about your body.  

This connection to your body will help you breath better, move smoother, and concentrate on the exercise.  Bing mindful while working out will help you shut off thoughts of negativity and will keep you from judging your body in the mirrors.  Being mindful in the gym will help you honor your body for its strength and power and allow you to connect your mind with your body.  

Try practicing mindfulness and focus while you exercise and see how your workout improves.  Better yet, think about how you are improved.  

References:

Adams, C., Benitez, L., Kinsaul, J., McVay, M., Barbry, A., Thibodeaux, A., & Copeland, A. (2013).  Effects of brief mindfulness instructions on reactions to body image stimuli among female smokers: An experimental study.  Nicotine & Tobacco Research, 15(2), 376-384. 

Neumann, D., & Heng, S. (2011).  The effect of association and dissociative attentional focus strategies on muscle activity and heart rate during a weight training exercise.  Journal of Psychophysiology, (25)1, 1-8.  

Neumann, D., & Brown, J. (2013).  The effect of attentional focus strategy on physiological and motor performance during a sit-up exercise.  Journal of Psychophysiology, 27(1), 7-15.  

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