Brain Workouts For a Better Body
© Joan Price. May not be reprinted without permission.
Want a sure-fire performance enhancer? Faster progress, more results? Researchers are now proving what the winners have always known: Put your mental power behind your muscles, and get ready for big time results.
Here are some mental training techniques that you can use to make every workout a visit to the mind gym.
Set Goals. Answer quickly: Why do you do your particular exercise activity? If you answered by defining your goals, good for you. If you're new to goal-setting, this process will get you started. It helps to answer the following questions in writing.
- What are your workout goals?
- What benefits will you get by reaching your goals?
- What barriers are hindering you from reaching your goals?
- What steps can you take to overcome those barriers?
- Visualize yourself achieving your goals.
Now take this process further. Define your goals for each workout session, and for each exercise within that session. "I determine before a workout of any kind what the purpose or goal of that session is," says John Martin, Ju-jutsu instructor with Combat Arts Institute in the Chicago area. "Then I make sure all preparation leading to the session, as well as every activity within the session, is consistent with that goal."
Rehearse. Mental preparation is as important as physical training, says sports psychologist and world class triathlete JoAnn Dahlkoetter, Ph.D. Mental rehearsal before a workout or competitive event will help you train your mind to handle every challenge, from keeping the ball away from your opponent to cycling switchback curves down a killer hill. Here are Dahlkoetter's mental rehearsal steps:
- Breathe deeply. Get into a relaxed state.
- Visualize the event in detail, especially the most difficult parts.
- Imagine how you'll overcome the toughest challenges. Mentally rehearse your options.
- Imagine what you'll tell yourself throughout the event. Include positive affirmations in short, simple statements in present tense, such as "My breathing is deep. My pace is smooth. My arms are relaxed. I am confident. I am successful."
"Act as if it's already happening the way you want," says Dahlkoetter. "The more specific your imagery is to the event, the better." This process gives pieces of information to your brain, which transfers it to your muscles, enabling your body to use that information.
These techniques aren't difficult to learn, but you need to practice on a regular basis. "That's the key thing -- to rehearse the mind just like you train the body," says Dahlkoetter.
Rehearsal is especially effective when training for a triathlon, marathon, or other endurance event. Go to the site at least six weeks ahead and study the course and the conditions. Try to memorize as many details as possible. Then practice these rehearsal techniques for 10 to 15 minutes each day until the event.
Focus and Visualize. You don't have to be an Olympic athlete to train like one -- mentally, that is. Sports psychologist Diana McNab works with Olympic athletes and specializes in mind/body training techniques. "Weight lifters and gym rats could spend half the time in the gym if they were 100% focused on what they were doing," says McNab. If you go to the gym to zone out, you may be limiting the effectiveness of your workout -- and lengthening the time it takes to see results.
Get more bang for your buck by visualizing the muscle group you're exercising. This doesn't just make you concentrate and work harder; it elicits an actual physiological response. Focus on the neuromuscular connection that you want, says McNab, and your results will skyrocket.
Visualization works for fat burning, too. "Get into your target heart rate range and literally visualize the fatty acids coming out of your Miller Lite love handles and being excreted out of your body," says McNab.
Exercising Your Right and Left Brain. Think about how you spend your day. Is your work logical, demanding, result-oriented and filled with deadline pressures? If so, you're working in a left-brain dominant mode. You need the balance of a right-brain dominant workout activity, says sports psychologist Diana McNab, who works with Olympic athletes and specializes in mind/body training techniques. Right-brain dominant workouts are non-competitive and expressive -- such as jogging in the woods, working up a sweat in a playful aerobic dance class, or calming down with yoga or tai chi.
If your work is artistic, creative and process-oriented, you're working in right-brain mode. Your workout needs to be left-brain dominant: structured, logical, result-driven -- such as counting reps, doing intervals, perhaps working with a goal-oriented trainer.
Are you a right-brain person living and working in a left-brain world, or vice-versa? If so, it's especially crucial to cross-train your brain through exercise and other recreational choices. This will help your work as well as your workout. "For you to do great work," says McNab, "you've got to combine the two. It's a matter of balance."