Strength train like a yogi
One of my recent focuses for my training has been to bring more, well, focus into my strength training sessions. It’s something I’m usually “pretty good” about, but when my schedule gets busier and I’m juggling more things, it’s easy to get distracted or enter into a training session with my mind elsewhere. Maybe I start checking my phone on rest breaks, or I start thinking about all the other things on my to-do list, or I get into an animated conversation that would be better served for after my training (especially since I normally train with my husband and business partner).
I started coaching strength for several years before I started practicing yoga, and ultimately decided to complete yoga teacher training. One of the things that really drew me in to yoga was the ability of a good teacher and a well crafted class to help guide the students into letting go of outside distractions, and focusing completely on the present moment. These concepts I already knew to be important in training, but it seemed to me that experienced yogis excelled at embodying these ideas by doing things like starting each practice with closing your eyes and consciously bringing yourself into the room, by continual reminders to stay connected to the breath, and by keeping awareness on alignment of the body and engagement of muscles.
I know that when I step onto my mat, it means something. It’s my time that I am gifting to myself to focus only on what’s right in front of me, and improve my well being in mind, body and spirit. Guess what? This gift to yourself doesn’t have to happen only in a yoga class. It’s really exactly the same for other types of physical training too! I believe you can absolutely get amazing mind, body and spirit benefits when you hit the gym with focus and a sense of purpose.
Ok, I’m not saying your strength or cardio training sessions need to be done without leaving the space of 24 x 68 inch rectangle, with the lights dim, in complete silence. After all, there is nothing like the camaraderie of training partners to cheer you on, encourage you with a high five and make you laugh with a well timed joke! However, there is a lot to be gained from a yoga-like focus in your training.
Now, I know most people head to the gym to blow off steam from a long day at work, or because they just want to look and feel a little better than they do now, or because they know they “should” even if they don’t really want to. So why does all this even matter to the average gym-goer? Here are some personal observations I’ve made about cultivating a better focus in my training:
1. I get better results, plain and simple. It should go without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that obviously your training sessions will be more safe, with less risk of injury when you are focused. And when your mind is attuned to the task at hand, and you are focused on things like breathing, alignment, generating tension etc., your skills will be getting better with each training session. When your skills get better every training session, you get stronger, burn more fat, get more balance, gain flexibility or whatever your goals are.
2. I’m reinforcing to myself that taking care of me is important. Your training sessions are not just a necessary evil or another thing to cross off your to-do list. They are an opportunity to connect mind, body and spirit, and show yourself that you matter. A gift to self!
3. It’s fun! It might seem like all this focus stuff would suck all the fun out of your workouts, but it’s actually the opposite. When you are getting better results, doing things you couldn’t do before, and feeling your self confidence boost, how could that not be fun?!
Here are a few ideas to incorporate some greater focus into your training sessions:
Get centered and bring yourself into the room. One of the ways we like to encourage this at Breakthrough is by starting every training session with a “breathing reset”. This is not just a chance to connect to deep relaxed breathing – it’s also a time to get your mind focused on what you are about to do, and let go of whatever your day has been up to this point or whatever will be happening once you leave the gym. And if you are someone like me who has the potential to get distracted by your phone, it’s best to leave it in your bag and away from your training area. Facebook will still be there in an hour.
Continue to connect with the breath throughout your training. Make sure you are using the proper breathing match and techniques to whatever exercise you are doing. And use your rest intervals to check back in with deep relaxed breathing as well as “fast and loose” drills.
Take time in your set up for each exercise. Don’t just run over to a piece of equipment and hope for the best. Make sure you know the most advantageous way to set up in terms of strength and alignment, as well as how much weight you are supposed to lift and how many reps you are supposed to do. Set your mind to the task at hand, and be ready for something awesome to happen!
Use both your sets and your rest intervals to check in with any technical elements you are working to improve. We all have days where we feel “off” for some reason, but most days you should end your training sessions better than you started in some way – either physically stronger, mentally more dialed in, or just feeling more energized and positive.
Whether you are stepping up to a barbell, a kettlebell, a running trail or a yoga mat, make it mean something. It matters, because you matter!
Strength, love and focus,