Work In Before You Work Out

Mental preparation is the key to a successful workout. That’s right. Just mindfully and with intention, visualizing a workout before you begin exercising has been found to yield actual physical benefits and can even make you stronger. The fact is that mental imagery of motor movement tends to use the same brain areas responsible for moving your body.

In one 2014 study, researchers asked people whose arms were in casts to imagine flexing their wrists. They observed that when the casts came off their arms, the muscles they’d thought about were twice as strong as those in people who hadn’t done the same mental work. Other research has found that doing “imaginary exercise” can raise your heart rate.

Additional research has found that surgeons that “work in” with mental practice using virtual-reality surgery, outperform those who do not do the mental work before doing the actual surgery. In another study, subjects imagined putting a golf ball into the hole before they took their shot. The people who imagined this had 30.4% more successful putts than those who did not.

It’s clear that “working in” with mental practice is one of the few natural activities you can count on to effectively enhance your physical performance when “working out.” The second time you do any activity, it becomes easier. Mentally seeing yourself do a physical exercise has the same effect – it makes the actual exercise even easier.

Here’s how to build the best base for your workouts by working in before you work out:

  1. Before you begin your physical warm-up prior to your work out, take no more than 5 minutes for working in with mental self-talk and focused visualization. Be especially alert to any negative or harshly self-critical thinking. These need to be eliminated by challenging and replacing them.

    Some examples are, “Be careful, you know how easily you can injure yourself,” may be challenged and replaced with “I don’t always injure myself, and I don’t know that I will so what am I getting out of predicting injury when I can just as easily predict enjoying the workout.” or “I’m fully aware of what I’m doing, and taking all of the right precautions, following all of the guidelines in this routine that I need to.”

    You can also remind yourself, “I am strong and powerful, and I can conquer this workout.” Be certain as you work in before your work out, that you are only focusing on you – no comparison. Remember, compare and despair.

  2. See yourself going through every exercise in your planned workout. You do have a planned workout, right? No? Ok, back to planning your workout before you go into the gym or jump on your Total Gym at home. Picture in your mind doing every exercise from start to finish just like Michael Jordan pictured himself with the game winning shot before the tip-off, or Tiger Woods sees himself taking every swing before he actually swings – the point is to picture yourself successfully engaged in the activities before you do them. Your mental images together with your actual physical strength will help you achieve your workout goals. Form a strong picture in your “mind’s eye” of all of your muscles engaged in every exercise you do. See the beast you’re becoming! Imagine the gym, others working out with you, the equipment you’ll be using. Hear your music playlist. You can do much of this on the way into the gym. Mental rehearsal will result in you doing a better workout – and that means more satisfying results, greater confidence and greater adherence.
  3. Be sure you stay fully focused, eliminating all distractions and fill your mind with deep concentration on the upcoming exercises you’ll be doing. See yourself resting between sets and exercises. Be sure you’ve thought through each of your goals realistically, free of unusually high expectations that may leave you disappointed in yourself. Fill your mindset with small, positive steps and carry out exactly what you’ve programmed yourself to do. Take the time to mentally feel good about how you did your workout or exercise before you even do it. This will make your mind feel more confident and you’ll actually smile every time you achieve what you mentally planned to do. Plan in your mind for every setback – see yourself needing to reduce the weight and plan in your mind what you’ll tell yourself if that happens.

There you have it, three steps to enhancing your workout naturally, by working in before you work out. No robes, no incense, no mantras, no sitting cross-legged, no special mats. It’s simple mind work. After all, fitness is 100% mental – your body won’t go where your mind doesn’t tell it to.

The opinions shared in this article are those of the contributor and not Total Gym Direct.

Dr. Michael Mantell

Michael R. Mantell, Ph.D. has been providing psychological and coaching services for nearly 5 decades and continues to empower positive change among his global clients to enhance life in every way. He is a highly sought-after healthcare professional coach, an executive and team building consultant, and a longtime specialist in cognitive behavioral coaching.

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