Defeat is a state of mind; no one is ever defeated until defeat has been accepted as a reality.
I’m sure you have heard the proverbial story about strength and focus when a mom comes across their child trapped underneath something really heavy, typically a car, and they all of a sudden have super human strength and are able to lift the heavy object off of their child, saving their child from certain doom. Is this example or other examples of superhuman strength authentic? Did they happen?
There are documented cases of what is termed superhuman strength where typically someone can lift a large amount of weight when a life is in danger. So why are they able to lift more weight than they ever could in a normal situation? Some people call it the fight or flight scenario, or it is also referred to as being motivated by fear. Regardless, the mind is telling the body that there is a crisis and the body needs to react. The body reacts by the adrenal gland dumping large amounts of cortisol and adrenaline into the blood stream. The heart races, blood pressure rises and oxygen and energy are delivered to the muscles. Think of it like stepping on the accelerator of your car.
I’m sure you are thinking how this applies to fitness, working out. Don’t worry, I’m not floating some new idea where your trainer throws you into a crisis to increase the amount of weight you are using. That would be just too hard to do. What I do want to focus on is how the mind plays into this scenario.
A powerful thing
Let’s look at two measurements from a study: absolute strength, the force our muscles are theoretically able to apply, and maximal strength: the maximum force they can generate through the conscious exertion of will. This can be looked at as the force our muscles are theoretically able to apply.
Research has shown that the average person can only utilize about 65% of their absolute power when training, yet a trained athlete such as a power lifter can exceed 80%. Why is this? Is it technique, nutrition, or something else?
The research has concluded that the more intense the competition, the higher the performance will increase. If you have watched the Olympics you may have seen it where athletes are crushing their personal bests. World records smashed. I recently read an article that talks to how people tend to perform at a higher level when working out with a group. It seems that part of it is ‘we are all in this together’ mentality or the competitive attitude that they are not going to be beat by their peers.
So knowing this, the ability for the mind to increase our performance, how can we incorporate this into our workouts?
When we workout, whether it’s cardio, or resistance training, are we actually paying attention to what we are doing, or are we just going through the motions?
Today when I was running on the treadmill, my mind was busy thinking about what I could write today for a post. Different ideas were going through my head, I would analyze each idea and try to expand on it. Alright, got it figured out. I know what I’m writing about today. Then as my mind came back to why I was on the treadmill I noticed I was landing on my heels during my run. I had to consciously think about landing mid to fore foot to correct myself. If we lose thought of what we are doing, we probably are not doing it as best as we can.
When you are doing a pushup, or bench press, or any other type of resistance training are you thinking about the muscles contracting as you extend your arms, or is your mind wondering off to somewhere else, waiting for the exercise to be over? It’s common for this to happen. If you look at how elite athletes train, they have many coaches. Coaches for nutrition, technique, resistance training, and it wasn’t until not a very long time ago that coaches were hired to work with the athlete to visualize their performance and to focus on achieving their goals.
Someone realized that there was a benefit in having their athlete visualize achieving their goal, blocking out any thought of not achieving the goal. Did it work? I guess it did as most professional athletes and teams have on staff sport psychiatrists.
Getting back to how this can help us train, when working out try to focus on what you are doing. Focus on the movement, the muscles involved and executing the movement. With your mind actively involved, you will perform better. You will be able to exceed your performance from last time.
Now, before you get on me for focusing on numbers since I have been known to talk about not to get hung up on numbers, this is different. Think of the performance increase you will have if you are able to recruit more strength during your workout. It’s not necessarily about the increase in weight, or repetitions. It’s about the ability to do more with your body, taxing the muscles to a higher level which will result in muscular growth and increased performance. The same can be applied to your cardio workout. When running as an example, focus on your arms, your legs, how your feet are landing, is everything working together. When running at a sprint speed, are your arms pumping up and down helping to push yourself forward. Do you feel everything working together. For me, when I do this, it’s like I can feel everything clicking, everything coming together, working as one.
Don’t be surprised if you feel like you have just had the best workout.
One more thing. When you head into the gym or wherever for your workout, walk in knowing in your mind that you are going to kill it. Keep that in your mind as you progress in your workout. You may be surprised at the end.
Yours in health,