(This article originally appeared in the July Issue of Men's Muscle and Health http://www.mensmuscleandhealth.com.au/)
Have you hit a plateau in your training? Are you lacking in motivation and direction, or being constantly plagued by injuries and other niggles?
Then there's a good chance that paying a bit of attention to your headspace, rather than your biceps during training could be the key to stepping your training up a notch. Here are 4 ways that addressing your headspace or mindset can improve your training.
Tune in rather than tune out
Slamming the iron around to your favourite tunes can not only help with the training buzz, but can also help motivate you to lift harder and heavier. But whether its Spice Girls or Slayer that gets your motor running, moving to the music could be hurting your training.
Research into the mind-muscle connection is becoming well established, showing us that paying attention to the ways our muscles contract during an exercise increases neural drive, and thus the amount of muscle activation. While the benefits of higher muscle activation patterns are obviously awesome, it doesn't stop there. I often see athletes improve performance in their sport just through having learned the skills of being more aware during their gym based training.
Incorporating this type of practice into your training initially can be frustrating, but the benefits are plentiful. Start simply, paying attention to the feeling of major muscle groups that are being targeted. As you progress, pay attention to stabilising muscles, opposing muscles groups and your breathing. You will find not only are your gym sessions more productive, but you will become more aware of your movement, posture and breathing during day-to-day activities.
Train with a purpose
Training is fun, and for many it is the only social outlet outside of work. Which is fine if that is the purpose that going to gym serves for you. But if you are concerned about progress in your training, or need to step things up a notch, you might like to question your purpose.
This can be taken on many levels.
All of my athletes understand that they need to be clear of their purpose and intention from the moment they step foot in the gym, if not well before. Setting a purpose or intention for training should enable you to aim towards something, whilst gaining the insight to remain present in the moment during your workout. Knowing what you are working towards, and why you are doing it is important for programming, keeping track of progress and knowing if changes need to be made along the way, or on the day.
Many people enter the gym with a map but no sense of where they are going.
When you get to the gym, ask yourself, “What am I training today, and why?”
If your motivation and direction are lacking, this may be the way to get things back on track.
Drop the “go hard, go home” mentality
Broscience culture is thriving in the gym, and is a big part of the reason why there is such a lag between published research and the gym floor. Many of the myths that prevail in the gym are based on old bodybuilding culture, and whilst there may still be truth in many of them, they don’t apply to every gym-goer, and we have certainly begun to uncover smarter ways to train.
Whilst feeling the burn and training to fatigue earns the high five from your mate, it might not be the best way to train. Training to fatigue can be a clever way to increase hypertrophy, but only at specific times and phases of your program. However, always training to fatigue is a good way to increase chronic cortisol levels and actually inhibit anabolic processes, with some evidence that repeatedly training to fatigue reduces the anabolic hormone IGF and resting testosterone levels. It’s also a sure-fire way to decrease the amount of weight that you can lift if you are training to fatigue early in your workout.
If you have been feeling tired or rundown, or your gains have plateaued, then dropping the “go hard, go home” mentality is a must.
This doesn't refer to the ability to put your foot behind your head. Sometimes you can’t get to the gym, or your regular workout. Rather than just give it a miss, it’s important that you still get a workout in, wherever you are. Often, being forced out of your routine can be just what you need to mix things up enough to create some variety and step things up. In fact at present, I am unable to get to the gym due to an injury, so I am thankful for the set of Torsion Bars that I have that allow me to continue to work towards my goals, whilst also taking a chance to remind myself to slow things down, and tune in to my movements, whilst taking the time to plan and repurpose my training.