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Mindfulness and Fitness: Why “Crushing It” at the Gym is No Longer Top Priority
by Kelsey Maloney

Mental wellness continues to take a front seat in many people’s daily lives due to the events of the last two years. And along with this, we’re seeing that mindsets towards fitness are shifting from wanting to “crush it” at the gym to taking a more mindful approach to working out. 

We know that gentler activities such as yoga, tai-chi, and stretching all contribute to lower stress levels and better focus, which is why they continue to rise in popularity as many start to look at fitness as a haven for both body and mind. And it doesn’t just have to be with these modalities that you find mindful movement, you can just take the techniques like controlled breathing and meditation and apply it before, during, or after any exercise.

“Both fitness and mindfulness are beneficial for our wellness, both separately and in combination,” says Dr. Amanda Paluch, kinesiologist and assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences. “Those who prioritize both fitness and mindfulness will likely see the best results in improving their physical and mental health and overall quality of life.”

In other words, fitness offerings that combine a good sweat sesh with meditation or stretching are taking precedence with the promise of decreasing stress and strengthening the mind-body connection.

Keep reading to learn more about why exercisers are opening their workouts to mindfulness techniques, the benefits of blending the two, and tips on how to integrate it into your workout routine. 

Why exercisers are taking a more mindful approach to activity 

The year 2020 brought on new stressors and many changes that continue today, including when, how, and why people get active. The days of “crushing it” at the gym are taking a backseat as people realize that an intense workout is less appealing when they’re feeling stressed. Instead, they want their exercise to double as stress relief and the best way to do that is by infusing mindfulness.

“Your ability to maintain attention and focus is at the core of being mindful, and like training the body, strengthens with consistent practice,” says Daniel Lucas, co-founder of Nimble Fitness, CSCS, Oxygen Advantage and Functional Breathing Instructor. “I believe many people have started taking a more mindful approach to their fitness because they’ve been forced to! They’ve had to adapt to training at home and get their movement in, in different ways. The pandemic put stress reduction to the top of many clients’ lists and mindfulness is a key component to lowering stress.”

The benefits of integrating mindfulness into your workout routine

Although there’s a benefit to hitting play on your favorite playlist and zoning out during a workout, being too distracted can make you lose connection to your movement and therefore make your exercise less effective and less mentally beneficial.

“Being present with our movements, nutrition, and approach to fitness will always bring better results,” says Lucas. “Being more mindful can help prevent injury, elevate performance, and ultimately better understand one’s self.”

Sweating mindfully not only improves your technique, but it can also improve your mental health. Having awareness of how you feel either before, during, or after a workout can help you understand the changes that happen during your exercise both physically and mentally. Plus, it allows you to truly embrace the endorphin-induced bliss that comes immediately following exercise. 

In addition, “being mindful may provide a unique opportunity to enhance enjoyment of exercise and in turn help you stick with your exercise goals, which ultimately would lead to better results,” says Dr. Paluch. Mindful movement allows us to tune into our bodies and get moving in a way that is intentional, which can lead to higher satisfaction of the workout as we know we just did something beneficial for our health. 

“At the heart of having a training mindset is training intentionally,” says Lucas. “Having a consistent meditation or breath practice is part of a quality training program and helps people strengthen the muscle that results in better mindfulness. The muscle between their ears!”

How to add more mindfulness to your workout routine

Set an intention. Before starting a workout, set an intention. Having something to focus on during a difficult part of the workout reminds you of what you’re working for, and therefore is something to feel good about. 

“Say something like, ‘I take a mindful approach to my exercise and life,’ says Lucas. “Recite this mantra every morning just upon waking. What I tell clients is why not get our subconscious assisting with how we want to live.”

Focus on your breath. Becoming more present with your breath helps bring awareness to your movement. “Breathe in through the nose and out of the nose and see how long you can maintain attention on the cool air coming in and the warm air going out,” Lucas suggests. “After practicing a basic breath practice you can then bring your mindful approach more intentionally to your training and every exercise in your program. In your next workout, pause before a challenging exercise and take a couple light, slow, and low breaths.”

Pay attention to your body during exercise. Practicing mindfulness during an exercise can be tricky as our minds tend to either zone out or for example, start thinking of our to-do list. Although this is normal, try bringing your awareness back to your exercise when you lose focus. 

 “If you are new to practicing mindfulness, try it for just a brief section of your workout,” says Dr. Paluch. “For example, for one minute, focusing on the feelings of your muscles or posture: from your big toe to the top of your head. As you get better at continually focusing on how your body feels, extend your time spent being mindful during each session.”

Find a quiet environment. To help limit distractions, try to find a quiet place to do your workout. “No music, podcast, audio book or TV,” says John Turnbull of Immortal Palm Internal Martial Arts. “Avoid those distractions which take your mind off of your body and the workout. Whether you find a quiet room, or out in nature.”

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This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.