Preparing the Mind for Exercise
You need to prepare your mind for exercise. There are a great many physical challenges involved in maintaining an active lifestyle and keeping fit. There are a great many benefits – which, of course, is why so many people stick to it. However, fitness has never and will never be wholly about the body, or even largely about it. The mental challenges are just as important, if not more so.
And if there are mental challenges, you can bet that there are mental benefits too.
However, the mind often isn’t our friend in the fitness world, especially when we’re first starting out. This is benefit one – learning how to turn it from your enemy into your most potent ally.
All it takes, at least in the beginning, is a bit of appropriate groundwork. It is helpful to prepare the mind for exercise.
In the beginning
It can be easy to be enthusiastic at the beginning of any program, the outset of any goal setting, or during any new resolution making. However, this rarely lasts. Fatigue kicks in. Boredom can come into play. You can become despondent at a perceived lack of progress.
You may find yourself losing enthusiasm after the first few weeks.
However, if you’re overcoming an addiction, you will likely know that habits are key. Enthusiasm may get you in the door, but routine and planning will keep you coming back. Enthusiasm may give you your initial results, but sticking to long term plans and changing the way you think will be key to living a healthy life.
How you mentally prepare yourself for each workout is a big part of this. Approaching training with the right mindset will make you or break you, just as it may have done with many other things in life.
But how can you do this?
Well, medical interventions like cognitive behavioural therapy can play a large part. They can help you to build healthy habits out of healthier ways of thinking and approaching your life. However, there are some small, fairly humble things you can begin doing today that will help you to prepare your mind for exercise.
The following seven techniques and practices will all be helpful. Try them all out, figure out which ones work for you, and try putting them in place. You may find your training regime becomes a lot easier to follow and a lot more fruitful.
Prepare the mind for exercise: 7 top tips
1. Approach everything with intention
There is little so important in the fitness world than setting up a proper intention or set of intentions. It is common to see people turning up to the gym for the first time, full of enthusiasm, with no idea why they want to be there, aside from a vague notion of ‘getting fitter.’
To properly prepare your mind for fitness, make sure that you have a clear goal, a clear plan of how to get there, and a very intentional approach to every session, set, and rep.
Write down clear cut goals when you first set out. Make them SMART, if you can. Figure out what achieving them will look like to you. Does it mean gaining ten pounds of muscle, or losing two stone in body fat, or being able to run a 5 km race? Make a roadmap, allowing yourself rest periods along the way and adding in a few challenges.
Though the plan is important in itself, its main significance in this context is, obviously, what it can do for your mind. Read it at the beginning of each training cycle, or at the beginning of each month, as well as at the beginning of every week and before every session, if you need to. Remind yourself why you are doing what you are doing, where you have come from, and where you are going to.
2. Recover properly
With this in mind, set up rest periods in your training plan. These can be long, perhaps taking a week away from the gym every couple of months to recharge. They should also be small and frequent.
Make sure that you have at least 24 hours between strenuous sessions. If you have a hard run one day, go for a walk or gentle jog the next. If you lift weights on a Monday, make sure you don’t again until Wednesday (or, at least, not in the same muscle grouping).
Also make sure that you get plenty of rest. This is key to preparing the mind and keeping it prepared. Sleep as much as you can, aiming for 7-9 hours per day. Eat a healthy diet with plenty of protein to help your body rebuild. Take part in activities that help you to unwind and destress.
True recovery requires you to maintain an awareness of your body, your physical wellbeing, and your mental and emotional health. Make sure that you are listening to your body and being kind to yourself.
All this will help to stop burnout or extreme fatigue, which can be common in even the most sensible gymgoers. Keep yourself mentally strong and well balanced as you prepare your mind. it is the only way to ensure long term physical strength and balance.
3. Prepare your mind for breath work
Breathwork is key to success in any fitness context. After all, how far do you think you’ll get without an adequate supply of oxygen?
Mindfulness and breathwork are the best of friends. Use each to enable the other. Specifically, mentally prepare yourself for training – and mentally maintain the right frame of mind during training – by using correct breathing techniques.
Yoga can be a powerful tool, here. Learn basic ujjayi breathing, practice it for five or ten minutes before training, and try to stick to it as much as possible during your training. Aim to exhale steadily through any effort, breathing in calmly in the less strenuous portion of any exercise. Unless bracing intentionally against weight or resistance, try to avoid holding your breath.
The following video will teach you how to ujjay breath:
4. Learn your tempo
Timing is key with exercise. Of course, there is a performance element to this – you need to get your timings right to perform any given exercise correctly. There is also a tempo element – sometimes you will want to perform exercises quickly, with great power, where sometimes slow and tense is the way forwards.
Learn what timings you will need for each exercise. Get into it. Mindfully prepare before each set, each sprint, each circuit . This is what it means to prepare your mind for exercise. You want to flow through training, rather than acting robotically. Breathwork will come into it, as will the physical presence of your body. However, a lot of it is in the mind.
5. Prepare your mind for good form
Form is everything. It will keep you safe. It will allow you to elicit the results you want from any given exercise.
Most of it is a practice in mindfulness. Run body scans before each exercise. Focus on where you are feeling tense and weak, and where you are fluid and strong. Try to balance them out. Mindfully take yourself into the starting position, remaining aware of all the muscles and bodily systems at play. Make sure your posture is correct.
Don’t rush through exercises. Try not to focus on the burn, or how wrecked you can make yourself feel, or on how much weight you are lifting. Focus on feeling your body through it, staying safe and staying present.
6. Keep a log
Many people find an exercise log or diary helpful. This can be a simple list of numbers – speeds achieved, weights lifted, records broken and so on. It can be far more involved, more akin to a real diary, with thoughts and feelings from any given session. You can maintain it more like a gratitude diary, recording your progress and what you are grateful for.
You can write it before, after, or during training, or any mixture of the three, as you continually prepare your mind for exercise.
The main thing is to check in. Read a few pages before each training session. Get yourself into the habit of keeping tabs on how you are feeling, how your body is doing, what kind of state you are in. If you keep any kind of log like this, you will be able to spot longer term trends, and you will be able to remain mindful of your wellbeing and progress far more easily and efficiently.
7. Keep a clear head
Though training is a good way to clear your head of stress, it’s always worth trying to clear your mind before stepping into the gym. It is one of the best ways to maintain good physicality, safe practice, keep to all the rules above, and, in general, to stop your workout from breaking down.
Get rid of external distractions. If you can, leave your phone in your locker. This will keep a lot of the world’s stimuli at bay so that you can focus purely on yourself for a little while. Try meditating before training, even just for a few minutes. Breathe deeply, as above, setting yourself up for clarity and calm.
This will allow you to relax, both physically and mentally, and to stay completely present. A large part of maintaining an active lifestyle is giving yourself the space to simply be, and to enhance your self-control and self-discipline. This is a small but incredibly significant first step.
Positive thinking will also play a large role in preparing your mind for exercise. Don’t enter into your workout thinking you can’t do this or that, that you can’t be bothered, that you’re not good enough. On the other hand, don’t go in berating yourself, telling yourself you’re the best and you have to prove it. You’re only there for yourself, to be a little healthier. Be kind to yourself, allow yourself the space to be the best version of yourself you can be, and try not to judge yourself or tear yourself down.
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