How Mindfulness Can Help You Get a Better Workout

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We often want to distract ourselves from our workouts, but being mindful during exercise can relieve stress, make you feel good and even make your workouts better. 

We know that too much stress can infect every part of our lives and, there are times when our workouts may actually add more of the stuff. Think about those times when you set out to exercise only to spend the entire time clock-watching, rushing through your workout, and/or thinking about all the things you should be doing instead. Maybe you're workouts feel so miserable, you deliberately distract yourself with anything you can get your hands on—your iPod, a TV, books, etc.

When you aren't focused on what you're doing, you may lose that sense of satisfaction for a job well done and, not only that, your workouts may not be as effective. Think about it; when you're in a rush to be done, how careful are you with your form? If you added more focus to your workouts, more mindfulness to your exercises, you might get more out of them than you think.

The Benefits of Staying in the Moment

Sometimes, there's a benefit to zoning out during workouts. Putting on your favorite tunes and moving your body through a simple activity you don't have to think about — like walking, running, the elliptical machine, etc. — can be meditative. These activities allow your mind to roam free while your body works.

However, when you're too distracted, you lose that connection to what you're doing, that magical moment of feeling your own strength and power as you exercise. There's a flow that happens when we pay attention to what we're doing in the current moment, one that we may be missing out on with those distractions.

Mindfulness during exercise can also bring you:

  • A stronger connection to your body: When you focus on each exercise, the muscles you're working, and what you're actually accomplishing, you get more out of each exercise and each workout.
  • Better results: When you focus on what you're doing, you improve the quality of your movement and, as a result, the quality of your overall workout.
  • More satisfaction: When you know exactly what you're working, how each exercise feels and whether you're getting the most out of each exercise, you can end your workout knowing you did your best.

How to Be More Mindful In Your Workouts

Finding flow in a world full of distractions takes some work but, as Elizabeth Scott, Verywell Mind's stress management expert suggests, all it really requires is more "practice of becoming more fully aware of the present moment—non-judgmentally and completely—rather than dwelling in the past or projecting into the future." Here's how to do that during your workout.

1. Have a Purpose for Each Workout 

Too often we exercise to lose weight, but that isn't something that's going to happen during any one workout. We need something to hold onto right now. Having a purpose will give you something to focus on, something to work for and, therefore, something you can feel good about. Some examples of workout purpose are:

  • To finish your planned workout
  • To strengthen specific muscles (e.g., "I'm going to focus on working all the muscles in my lower body")
  • To challenge yourself (e.g., "I'm going to focus on working as hard as I can during my interval workout" )
  • To work out for a certain period of time or burn a certain number of calories
  • To work on a specific area of fitness (e.g., "Today I'm doing cardio to burn calories and build endurance")

2. Remember Why You're Exercising 

If you find yourself rushing through exercise, thinking of all the things you should be doing instead, remember why it's important to do your workout. Reflect on why have you made exercise a priority and how will this workout help you right now. Some ideas:

  • This workout will help me have more energy for my day
  • I'll feel really good about myself if I finish my workout
  • I'll sleep better tonight after this workout
  • I deserve to take care of myself, and exercise is part of that
  • I'll feel much less stressed if I exercise

3. Slow Down 

Remember, you set this time aside specifically for your workout, so give yourself permission to actually do it. Take your time with each activity, each movement, particularly strength training exercises. Focus on your form, on the upward motion and the downward motion. Think about your posture, your core, and the rest of your body, including the muscles you are targeting; focus on feeling them contract and relax. See just how much you can get out of your exercise time.

4. Remind Yourself to Breathe 

Breathing is the simplest way to deal with stress and bring you to​ the current moment. If your mind wanders during your workout or you keep watching the clock, close your eyes and take a breath to bring yourself back to the moment. You're exercising right now and that's all you have to do. You'll deal with the rest when it's time.

5. End on a Good Note 

Remember all the good things about the workout and how good it feels when you're done. Give yourself time to cool down and take time to stretch the muscles you worked. If you can, take a moment to lie down at the end of the workout for a final relaxation, your chance to really feel the effects of your hard work.

Sometimes, we really do need to zone out or just let our bodies go through the motions while the mind wanders. However, if you notice that all your workouts involve some kind of distraction, it may be time to make a change. Start by being mindful during the next workout. Pay attention to what you're doing and how it feels. Notice what it is about that workout that makes you want a distraction from it. You may discover that changing how you exercise can inspire more mindfulness and more workout satisfaction.

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