Mindfulness in Strength Training
Interested in getting more out of your Strength Training? Including Mindfulness in Strength Training has so many benefits - it just makes sense. Find out why and how to combine Mindfulness and Strength here.
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What is Mindfulness?
According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, "Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally, in the service of self-understanding and wisdom."
Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D. is Professor of Medicine emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, where he founded its world-renown Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Clinic in 1979, and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society (CFM), in 1995. Both the MBSR Clinic and the CFM are now part of UMassMemorial Health. https://jonkabat-zinn.com/about/jon-kabat-zinn/
So, Mindfulness is the act of paying attention; concentrating on the physical sensations of the body, on the breath, on the environment... You've maybe had the experience of being somewhere so beautiful, so peaceful that you spontaneously became aware of every sound, the softness of wind or water on your skin, the taste in your mouth, the feeling of the seat or ground under you.... Maybe you've held a brand new baby and been completely absorbed by their scent, the weight of the little body in your arms, how you are holding your own body to accommodate them, their every little sound and smile and wiggle... Maybe you've had a challenging experience, like balancing on something very high, that made you attend to every sensation and movement with great care.... These are all places where an experience of Mindfulness might spontaneously rise.
We can also practice Mindfulness, as JKZ says, with purpose; with the intention of self-understanding. Then it becomes a practice for self-improvement, not unlike meditation. Mindfulness, in my experience, is not exactly mediation, but it can lead to meditation.
Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally, in the service of self-understanding and wisdom. - Jon Kabat-Zinn
Why include Mindfulness in Strength Training?
Including Mindfulness practice in your Strength Training sessions is like a 2-for-1 special offer - more bang for your buck. You'll get a better workout for your physical body, and a "workout" for your mind.
By introducing Mindfulness into your Strength Training sessions, you get more out of the session for a better physical workout. Mindfulness reduces the chance of injury and overuse as you attend closely to your joints, muscles, and attachments while working. It allows for a more productive workout, as you focus on your movement and make the micro and macro adjustments for your most efficient work. By staying present, you use breath more effectively, improving lung capacity and breath control.
Introducing Mindfulness into your Strength Training sessions also provides key benefits for your mind. By purposefully attending to the present moment, you are able to step away from the worries of the day, further reducing short term stress. And by practicing awareness in the gym, overall focus and concentration improve. Lifting a weight creates demand on a muscle, and the body's response is to build a better muscle. Similarly, focusing on one task creates demand, and the brain's response is to improve concentrative abilities.
Practicing Mindfulness allows you to notice the effects of the endorphins released by exercise, which can positively contribute to your motivation for the next workout, increase your commitment level, and, ultimately, improve the sustainability of your program. Finally, Mindfulness, especially the "non-judgmental" aspect of Mindfulness, has been shown to improve the relationship to one's body, increasing appreciation and positive feelings toward self. By working Mindfulness into our Strength Training, we work with an eye toward self-understanding and wisdom, in addition to a healthier, more mobile body, which can lead to heightened feelings of self-acceptance and self-love.
Not a bad bonus for performing exactly the same Strength workout, just with a lil Mindfulness thrown in!
How can you include Mindfulness in Strength Training sessions?
Ready to include Mindfulness in your Strength Training sessions but not exactly sure how to begin? Start with these three steps...
Focus on Physical Sensations and Breath
Describe what you Notice
First, reduce and eliminate as many distractions as possible. If you are able to carve out a dedicated space in your home, garden, or yard, that is fabulous! Even if it is just a corner of one room. Go to a gym or private training space. Or make other adjustments to your physical space is just for your workout.
If possible, carve out time in your day when other obligations are not pulling your attention away - train when the kids are looked after by someone else, when pets are sleeping or otherwise engaged, when the work is put away, and other obligations are held at bay for a few minutes. Train when you can be reasonably content that no one will need you for awhile.
Turn off the TV, radio, music, and, phone...yes...turn off the phone and music. We know - many, many gyms crank the music with the stated purpose of getting you, "PUMPED!" But it is a distraction. Turn it off if possible. Leave your ear buds in the locker. Ask the trainer to turn off the TV. Or at the very least turn it all waaaaaaaay down, so that you can hear yourself breathe and move.
Focus on Physical Sensations and Breath
As you train, notice the physical sensations in your muscles, joints, and connective tissue. Notice how the work changes as you move through reps - the range of motion available to you, the amount of effort each rep takes, and the amount of weight you are able to use over the course of your program. Remember - this is a NON-JUDGMENTAL practice. The point is not to tell yourself, "Great job!," or "Not enough!" or anything else. The point is simply to tune in to your physical sensations, with sustained attention, and discover the feeling of the work in your body without running away.
Notice your breathing - the rate, volume, and quality of your breath and how it changes as you cycle through work, rest, work, rest...Are you breathing through mouth or nose? How does your breath sound, smell, and taste? Again, no judgement - no right nor wrong. Just notice.
Notice your mind. What thoughts pop up when the work gets challenging? Do you want to run away from the work? Do you feel like a charging bull or a run-away train trying to plow through the work to get to the other side? Do you suddenly hate your trainer to his bones?! Self-awareness and understanding lead to acceptance and wisdom.
Describe what you Notice
Good news! You have already done the work of Mindfulness! So this next part is bonus:
Put into words what you notice, either while you train or later. You don't have to speak aloud every single sensation and awareness that comes up. But you can describe some of the sensations you experience to your trainer as you work, which can be useful for both of you. Your trainer will appreciate the feedback and use it to refine the workout, giving you better cues. And you will hear and be even more aware of any adjustments that need to be made, for example by adding or reducing weight or reps. Go beyond, "This is tough." Try using phrases that start with, "I notice...," "I feel...," or "I need...."
Or you can take the sensations you notice and write them down later. This can be extremely motivating when you hit plateaus in your results, or are feeling less than keen about your next workout. When the numbers don't seem to be moving, you can look at the notes you've made about sensations and be reminded that you aren't there just to move the scale, impress your doctor, or hit another PR, but to feel and be your best self. It is especially useful if you keep a health journal, a work out log, or a habit tracker.
Learn more about Mindfulness
If you are interested in further study in Mindfulness practice, you might start with one of these books from Jon Kabat-Zinn:
Meditation for Beginners: This is a good introduction to Mindfulness practice; a good place to start.
Wherever you go, there you are: This is the classic guide to Mindfulness practice now in its30th addition!
Mindful Eating: A guide to redefining your relationship to food and finding the joy and life in eating well.
Arriving at your own door: 108 small lessons in Mindfulness; not so much an explanation of the practice as a series of daily reminders to be aware. Maybe a good place to start the day, or start your journal for the day.