“Man my shoulder is killing me today…but it is bench day, so I will just suck it up and push through the weight today.”
Raise your hand if you have said this to yourself, I know I have. But why?
It comes from the mindset of treating the gym like a personal torture chamber, going into the gym with an ego, and truly not listening to our body. Some may say this is the American work ethic at its finest.
Wait a minute, this has to be counterintuitive? Right?
Year after year, day after day, I work with people who continue to treat themselves as human pin cushions, not respecting or listening to what their body is truly saying when exercising. I am not saying that the gym should not be approached with tenacity or vigor, rather we should be mindful of our present state each and every time we enter the arena.
Mindfulness can be broken down into two categories, the mental and physical being. Although they can be talked about separately the two concepts in actuality are woven together and fuel each other respectively.
Let’s take a look at each perspective.
The impact our mental state has on our physical health and the ability to perform at the highest level when ever we enter the gym is severely understated in today’s society. Too often do we enter the gym or go out for a run with emotional baggage which may way us down.
Sure exercise is a great way to relieve stress and get the endorphins pumping, but exercising while under maximal mental stress can also lead to quick fatigue and injury.
So how do we address this?
Think of your workout routine as a tide which ebbs and flows. Take five to ten minutes while on your way to the gym to check in with yourself. See how you are feeling mentally.
Am I buried in work? Did I just hang up from an intense argument with a loved one? Am I jacked up riding on cloud nine and feel like I could conquer the world? All important aspects to consider.
On days where we are spent, shot, and or mentally drained, view the gym as a laboratory to experiment, play with new techniques, decrease the weight, and just have fun! Trust me – your squat RM will not plummet 90 pounds because you took time to experiment and decrease the physical load on the bar while respecting the mental weight on your mind.
On the flip side, on the days you are feeling great attack the weights! Push yourself for that new time, that new PR, that “WOW I just kicked that workout to the curb” feeling.
For some, taking five to ten minutes a day may not be enough to check in with how you are doing mentally. Others need more time to concentrate more deeply on valuable aspects of mental care to help achieve the physical edge we are aspiring towards.
I would suggest stepping outside of your comfort zone to go for a walk to reflect on your mental state, start journaling to get your thoughts down on paper, or even sit in a quiet place and try and block all thoughts of worry and stress from entering your mind.
A weekly regiment involving mental preparedness will not only help problem solve and clear your mind, it will also give you valuable perspective on how to approach your passion of physical fitness. Value the relationship between mental stability and physical performance and you will help guide yourself to new levels of personal success.
What can aches and pains teach us?
There was a time where I would get lost in the slippery slope of injury. “Why me? I am never going to be able to workout again. My days of working out the way I want are over.”
A more productive use of our time would be to view a period where we are not feeling 100% physically as a perfect time for self improvement. A time to sharpen our skills, sniff out weaknesses, and attack them to make ourselves all around better athletes.
If something hurts do NOT push through it. Change your routine, work around an injury, allow yourself time to recover. Explore different exercises and techniques which can help challenge, protect, and improve an injured area so that it does not happen again.
I will say it again, trust me your squat RM will not plummet 90 pounds because you took time to experiment and problem solve around an injury to help strengthen the area and let it heal. Having this perspective will allow you time to find small breakdowns in technique, muscular imbalances, and areas of overcompensation.
Having this fresh perspective will not only allow you time to recover but it will make you an all around better athlete. As the saying goes we are only as strong as our weakest link, so take the time to find those links and make them stronger. I will guarantee it will not be a waste of your time.
If you are having trouble talk to a coach, a physical therapist, an athletic trainer, a message therapist, someone to help give you a fresh perspective. Do not let pride stand in the way of learning everything you can about your body and how to improve!
Our goal is for our bodies to stand the test of time so we can continue to enjoy training throughout our life span, not to continue to beat them down even when our joints are screaming at us that they need a break.
The Combined Approach
Once we have combined the mental and physical aspects of training we can truly operate at 100% in order to reach our goals. Take the time to take care of yourself, fitness is a way of life and should never add stress to it. Experiment, have fun, and check your ego at the door.
“From the Uncarved Block comes the ability to enjoy the simple and the quiet, the natural and the plain. Along with that comes the ability to do things spontaneously and have them work, odd as it may appear to others at times.” ~ Benjamin Hoff in The Tao of Pooh