Mindfullness is all the rage these days. People from Buddist monks to business leaders are all touting the benefits of being present in the moment. For many this includes meditation and attempting to “quiet the mind” but the process goes beyond simply sitting quietly and counting breaths. The philosophy can be summed up as: “Whatever you are doing, be 100% in the moment.” If you are eating food, chew slowly and actually taste it; don’t watch TV or read during your meal. This same philosophy would benefit many of us during our workouts — when you are lifting, be 100% in the lift.
I’m sure many of you believe you are focused on lifting but I want you to try and take that focus to the next level. Mindful lifting involves a focused awareness of your body and the movement of the lift. So many people lift with a point A to point B mentality – just complete the reps. But is that really what we are trying to accomplish?
Mindful lifting is deeper. As you lift, focus on the muscle group you are targeting and actually feel the muscle contract. Looking at the muscle can be very helpful here — those mirrors aren’t just for flexing. What you are trying to develop is a more direct brain to muscle connection. When you are doing curls your mind should be thinking about your bicep and attaining a full, deep contraction.
Mindful lifting will help you perform better reps. As you focus on that muscle group you will notice the subtle ways your body tries to “help” the lift. Perhaps you are not getting a full range of motion in your squats or bench press. Did your lower back come away form the bench while doing your shoulder press? That’s your body trying to get your chest involved to help the lift. If the point of a shoulder press is to exercise the shoulders (it is) then keep your back straight. Notice a little kip at the start of your barbell curl? That’s your body using momentum to “help” with the lift. Of course all of this helping isn’t really helping unless of course your goal is just to move weight around.
Try an experiment with mindful lifting. Take a fairly simply exercise such as a dumbbell curl or a tricep push-down. Using a weight you could normally get 10 reps with only moderate difficulty try performing 10 mindful reps. Focus on the muscle group throughout the range of motion and particularly at the top and bottom of the lift. At the bottom of the lift, pause and concentrate on beginning the movement with the targeted muscle. As you near the top, get one last squeeze in an effort to get every muscle fiber involved in the lift. You should feel a mindful set far more than your normal set with the same weight.
A mindful lift focuses on the targeted muscle group and performs controlled, proper reps a bit slower than a traditional lift. What I am saying may be controversial and will likely be disregarded by the real “Bros” out there, but when you are lifting, just lift. Don’t look around the gym. Don’t watch TV. Don’t even listen to music. Lift. Know what you are doing, how you are doing it, and why. Lift mindfully.