Posted on February 14, 2019 by Kate Gordon
You might not immediately associate mindfulness with a gym session but it could be just what you need in order to get the most out of your workout. Here’s why – and some tips on how to make it happen the next time you hit the gym.
Why be mindful?
We might think of the gym as a place to shut the rest of the world out or our workouts as something we need to distract ourselves from (especially when they’re hurting!). But practising mindfulness during exercise can help relieve stress, make you feel good and even give you a better workout at the end of the day.
The benefits of being mindful
Rather than being a source of additional stress – another chore to add to your already busy day – a workout is something you should benefit from. Sometimes, being able to zone out isn’t a bad thing: it can be meditative to put on some music and repeat a movement, allowing your mind to wander while your body works, in a form of body-mind relaxation.
When you’re distracted, however, it’s easy to lose the connection to what you are doing, and the sense of being present can be lost. If you’ve stopped paying attention to how your body feels, how do you know what you’re doing? And are you fully aware of how it feels as you do it?
Being mindful during a workout brings a number of benefits:
- A better connection with your body. By tuning into each exercise, the muscles you’re working and what is being achieved, you’ll get more out of every exercise and workout.
- Improved results. By paying attention to what you’re doing, your movements will be more precise and of a better quality and consequently so will your overall workout. You’ll get stronger faster.
- Fewer injuries. If you’re paying attention to what you do and how you feel, you’re more likely to notice when something doesn’t feel right. That might mean modifying or even skipping an exercise or even an entire workout, but it’ll avoid further stress or greater pain in the long run.
- Greater satisfaction. If you’ve paid attention, you’ll know how each exercise felt and what you got out of it, and you’ll finish your workout knowing you did your best. One study found that practising mindfulness during exercise resulted in greater satisfaction and as a result, people were more likely to show up for them more often.
How to be more mindful
There are a number of tactics you can employ to make mindfulness part of your workout:
- Set an intention
Before you hit the gym, set an intention for your workout. Remember, bigger goals aren’t going to be achieved by just one workout, so focus on one thing for right now. Examples might be:
- to improve your body with 20 minutes of cardio and/or strength training
- to finish your planned workout
- to work on a specific area of your body
- to challenge yourself in a new way
- to work on a specific area of fitness
Before you begin your workout, notice your energy level and mood. As you work out, take note of any changes in your breathing, heart rate and even yes, your perspiration. Don’t judge, just observe.
- Remind yourself why you’re exercising
Rather than rushing though exercise, consider why you have made this workout your priority and what you will achieve right now by doing it. This might include giving you more energy for the working day, sleeping better that night, deserving to take care of yourself, how much less stressed you’ll feel, and how good you’ll feel when you’re done.
Look at every day as a new day. Give yourself a pat on the back for your achievements. If you need to, give yourself permission to take a break and begin again.
- Slow it down
It’s important to give yourself permission to take the time that you have specifically set aside to do your workout. Don’t rush through each exercise. Instead focus on your form, the motion and the execution of the exercise. Is your posture good? Are you holding your core and the rest of your body in the right way? Feel your muscles working. You’ll be surprised how much you can get out of your exercise time.
- … and breathe…
Breathing is a great way – and the simplest – to relieve stress and bring you back to the here and now. If your mind is wandering or you’re clock-watching, close your eyes and take a breath to bring yourself back to the present. All you need to do right now is focus on your workout. All other activities and things on your to do list can be dealt with when it’s time, i.e. after your workout.
- Finish correctly
When you finish your workout, make a note of how you feel from both an energy and mood point of view. Thank your body for its ability to move and change. Make a note of all the good things about the workout and how good it feels when you’re done. Take time to cool down and stretch the muscles you worked. If time and your surroundings allow, lie down for some final relaxation and to feel the effects of your hard work.
Try being mindful during your next workout, paying attention to what you are doing and how it feels. Try to understand what it is about a workout that makes you want a distraction from it and what you really enjoy about it. You might find that changing how you exercise can inspire greater mindfulness and further workout satisfaction.