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Training Techniques for Women

How Mindfulness Can Enhance Athletic Performance

Mindfulness has been proved to reduce stress, but let's uncover how it can also improve strength training.

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Mindfulness is all about being intentional with our thoughts, behaviors and building a brain-body connection during a task. When used as a therapeutic technique, mindfulness helps bring awareness to the present moment to calm our mind, accept our feelings and be in tune with our bodily sensations. Mindfulness has been found to help you get a better night’s sleep, make progress toward weight-loss goals, lower stress levels, manage chronic pain and reduce anxiety. But how can you use mindfulness to get a better workout?

Mindfulness has deep roots in Pilates and yoga and often starts with setting an intention for your workout. “I encourage my clients to set an intention before they begin their session,” says Christine Pieton, DPT, Pilates instructor and physical therapist. “This intention helps set the tone for what they want to accomplish during the workout and helps guide outcomes. Maybe it’s focusing on your breath when movements become challenging or noticing the feeling of your feet on the floor during exercises.” Setting an intention establishes focus from the very beginning and brings awareness to how our bodies are feeling in real time, which can help performance. 

How to Work Mindfulness Into Strength Training 

Although mindfulness is often thought of as a form of meditation, it also can be used in strength-training workouts. You can focus on how your body is moving in space, practice hyperawareness of sensations such as muscle fatigue or tension, and hone in on your thoughts and your breath as you perform each exercise. 

Here are a few key tips for working mindfulness into your strength program:

  1. Create a distraction-free environment. Use headphones to drown background noise, eliminate visual distractions and set up your workout station before you begin training. 
  2. Set a goal for your strength session. Your goal might be to lift a target weight, work each set to failure or nail your form.
  3. Go into each workout with a plan. Know exactly what you are doing and why you are doing it. Have a concrete plan before you start a workout, and know what movement is coming next.
  4. Visualize the movements before you do them. A great way to do this is to close your eyes and picture yourself doing the exercise with ease. By anticipating how your body will feel and how you will overcome challenges, you can better prepare for the actual action.
  5. Remember your “why.” Think about how this will make you feel afterward and the benefits of sticking with a good exercise routine. Revisit your goals before you start, and recite a positive affirmation if that helps. 

Using the example of a simple back squat, here are cues to consider for maintaining mindfulness throughout:

  • Ground your feet into the floor. Focus on pressing through your heels as you rise to stand. 
  • Perfect your form. Use visual feedback to notice if you are keeping your chest upright and your knees behind your toes. 
  • Focus on your breath. Breathe in as you begin each movement, and breath out forcefully as you stand up. 
  • Think of what muscles you are trying to engage. Visualize your glutes and hamstrings contracting and working together as you squat.
  • Stay present in the moment. Focus on the task at hand, and eliminate all other thoughts like what you have to do later in the day or what else is going on in the room around you. 

Mindfulness takes practice but eventually becomes easier. Over time, you may find you can lift heavier weights, complete more repetitions, target the right muscles or push yourself to fatigue. When it comes to building strength, continually challenging your body in the right ways can help you make progress, build muscle and get results. 

By maintaining focus during strength workouts and incorporating these key mindfulness strategies, you not only will be able to calm your mind during workouts, but you also may be able to better handle stressful situations in everyday life. This can help you reach your fitness goals faster while also improving your overall mental and physical well-being.