Written by Cee McDermott, CPT, mindfulyoufitness.com
Photo by Jacob Lund/shutterstock.com
Meditation used to be thought of as a practice reserved for yogis. And if your workout routine’s sole purpose is to carve out muscle and build strength, meditation may not even be on your radar. After all, which muscles are you really challenging by just sitting there, chanting “Om”? But with mental health and mindfulness now at the forefront of the health and wellness industry, meditation has gone mainstream, and can be found everywhere from classrooms to boardrooms. And it turns out, harnessing the power of your mind can even improve your fitness game, and if you’re not implementing these methods, you may be missing out on the all-important mind-muscle connection in your workouts. Here are a few ways that meditation and mindfulness practices can bring your strength training to the next level.
1. Focus and Grit
Those who practice mindful meditation on a daily basis tend to be stronger willed, and often possess a winning mindset that helps their performance abilities. In fact, a study of Scandinavian elite athletes found high performing athletes’ brain activity reflected brain activity of those who practiced mentally stimulating meditation. So if your brain is stronger from meditation, it also means your brain is able to assist your body in getting stronger, too.
2. Improved Recovery
Meditating activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which calms the body and speeds up recovery by lowering the stress hormone cortisol, easing muscle tension, and even decreasing the sensation of pain. We all know that strength building can decrease stress, but combined with meditation, you can boost your recovery both mentally and physically.
3. Better Muscle Fuel
Breathing deeper brings oxygen into all parts of the body. At the same time, increased oxygen intake delivers vital nutrients to the muscles that you are working. By practicing the breath work associated with meditation, you will find yourself automatically coming back to your breath, but in a more efficient manner than just huffing and puffing your way through a workout. There are even breath meditations that you can use during your workout to help you push through.
4. Increased Pain Tolerance
Power through even the toughest sessions using your meditation techniques. A 2017 study showed that just ten minutes of meditation, even for a novice practitioner, significantly increased pain tolerance and threshold, and decreased anxiety associated with pain. Pain anxiety can lead to injury, so by practicing meditation, you’re also keeping yourself safe during your workouts.
How to Get Started
Just 1-3 minutes of daily meditation can get you started. You can sit in a comfortable position or lie down on your back with arms by your sides.
Close your eyes, or keep them open with a soft gaze. Focus on your breath coming in and out of your nose. Your mind will begin to wander off to your to-do list, to your emails, or your social media account. This is normal and expected. Now that your brain finally has your attention, it’s only natural that it wants to keep the chatter up. Recognize that you are having these thoughts, and come back to the breath.
Consistency is key here, so daily practice is necessary. Try practicing for one minute in the morning before pouring your coffee, or right after you park your car. Add a few minutes to your sessions each week.
Need Some Guidance?
Download a meditation app, such as Insight Timer, and find a guided meditation. Some apps consist of relaxing sounds and music, while others are ultra specific—there are even meditations for athletes, and for reaching peak performance. You can also use a sleep meditation if you need help hitting the hay.
Stay the Course!
Any way you choose to begin your practice, aim to stick with it for about three weeks. This is around the time most clients start to notice a positive change in mental clarity and improvements in their workouts.