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The New Frontier of Mindfulness: Mindful Exercising

mindlessexerciseOver the last year or so, mindful eating has become a topic amongst many wellness professionals. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, mindful eating refers to eating with purpose and awareness. In short, pay attention to what, how much, and how you feel mentally and physically when you eat. Even in Get Real and Stop Dieting! I discuss the importance of mindful eating. What we haven’t seen very much of, however, is discussion around the idea of mindful exercising.

As an AFAA certified wellness professional, I’ve spent years witnessing mindlessness around fitness. Many people go to the gym with the philosophy that if they spend time in a place that has weights and cardio equipment, then they’ve exercised. Unfortunately, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Is a matter of fact, mindless exercising equates to a waste of your time: You put the time in, but don’t reap the benefits. If you exercise on a regular basis and are unsure if you fall into this category, here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  1. Exertion: During your workout, do you feel like your heart rate is high enough? Do you feel like you’re really working?
  2. Sweat: Do you sweat during your workout?
  3. Results: If you are trying to lose weight, build muscle or lose fat, have you seen results? Or, if you are trying to maintain your physique have you been able to?

If you answered “no” to any or all of these questions, it might mean that you are a mindless exerciser. In order to change this behavior, practice some of the following:

  1. Set Goals: Set goals for each workout. If you are doing cardio, choose a duration and intensity level that you know will ensure you are exerting yourself. If you are lifting weights or strength training, choose weight that will be sufficiently challenging. Make sure to stick with these workout goals, and don’t give in because “you don’t feel like it.”
  2. Be Present and Aware: Avoid auto-pilot during your workout. Pay attention to your form, your breathing and the level of effort you are putting in. Proper form and breathing can make a big difference in your workout. Even with cardiovascular exercise. For instance, are you hunched over or shuffling as you walk or run? Or, do you have good posture and are picking up your feet and taking long strides? Are you breathing slowly and deeply during your strength training exercises? Or, are you holding your breath or hyperventilating? Pay attention to how you exercise.
  3. Choose Distractions Wisely: Many of us get bored when we exercise, and as a result, use distractions to get through our workout. A lot of people will read as they exercise, but in my experience, I have yet to see someone read and get a real workout. If you need a distraction, try television or music. These are active distractions that require less mental concentration, enabling you to put more energy into your workout.
  4. Be Honest: Part of the challenge for those who practice mindless exercise is that they aren’t honest with themselves. As mentioned before, if they put their time in, they think they are getting a workout. Check in with yourself every 5 to 10 minutes. Ask yourself the following: Do I feel like I’m really working? Does my heart rate feel sufficiently elevated? Do I feel like I’m challenging myself? Does this weight seem difficult to lift? If you are honest with yourself, you’ll know if you are exercising to a point that is effective.

The more mindful you are during your workouts, the more effective they will become. You may even find that you need to spend less time exercising to get the results you are looking for.

Do you mindfully exercise? Have you ever fallen into the trap of mindless exercise?

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