Updated: Apr 27, 2019
Ok, so we all have those days when it takes every ounce of discipline to drag ourselves to the gym and push through our workouts. We can all relate to those times when you are just there going through the motions to burn a few extra calories. The real question is, do you practice mindfulness during your strength and cardio workouts? Are you present in the movement that your body is executing? Can you say that you experience a mind/body connection? If you can answer yes to that question after most workouts, then good for you, you've got it figured out.
The truth is, there is much more to working out than just the physical act. Having a well designed fitness program and clear goals is a great place to start. Once you have established what you want to accomplish and your motivation, its time to search for the psychological benefit. We talk a lot about mindful eating and mindfulness in yoga, but the benefit of mindfulness in your strength and cardio is undoubtedly the difference between making noticeable gains in your fitness versus "getting through another workout".
So the next question is, how do you create mindfulness in your workouts? Depending on your personality there are many ways to begin. For some people, you may find it best to "set an intention" for your workout. For instance, if you are just beginning your day, your intention may be to leave the gym feeling strong and energize to tackle what lies ahead. On the other hand, if you're just finishing a long and stress filled day, your intention may be to use your workout to "burn" that stress away and leave feeling strong with a clear mind. If you're not one for setting intentions, often times incorporating a gradual warm up will help set the tone and give you a clear focus (the right music also helps). During your warm up, take time to think about what your goals are, both for this workout and long term. Dial in on how you are feeling and think about your body in motion.
Once you have found your mental focus, begin your workout and make every exercise, every movement, impactful. Think about the muscles that you are recruiting to lift the weight or move your body. No need for an in-depth knowledge of health science to determine that a squat is meant to recruit the glutes ("buns") and the quads, or a push up should engage the chest and shoulders (at the very least). A basic understanding of exercise will give you all you need to be able to think about the muscles utilized for each exercise. Check in with your body and think about where you are feeling the impact. Using internal cues such as "engage the core" or "relax the shoulders" for example, can serve as a reminder to the form that is most effective and efficient for the exercise at hand. This type of psychological awareness or "mindfulness" is what will take your workouts to the next level and make you stronger both physically and psychologically.