Part of a workout is putting your mind to it
While professional athletes have practicedtheir sport so much that they scarcely think about their moves, a novice's brain continuously tells their body what to do.
Beginners consider every move and use feedback from errors to improve. Just as you measure your progress by improvements in strength, endurance and skill, you can measure it by the quieting of your mind.
When working out, monitor how far you've come. During each weight-training session, for example, notice how the mental chatter decreases. As you progress, your routine should feel like part of a natural flow instead of a giant brain drain.
While working out, put everyday frustrations aside; tap into the sensory experience of your activity and respond to that. Paying attention to sensations consumes and relaxes you and helps you focus. Concentrate on a pleasant feeling you're experiencing in your workout.
Close your eyes and enjoy the stretch of your calf muscle during a yoga move or the push of your soles against the pool wall as you make turns in a lap pool.
The brain is usually versatile, but it's not good at juggling tasks when one of them is new to you or particularly difficult. Use this idiosyncrasy of the brain to improve your workouts. Occupy your mind so entirely with the physical activity that it can't entertain any other thoughts.
Set a specific goal for each workout. For instance, concentrate on a particular technique, such as perfecting the way your foot strikes the ground as you walk or run. Or work on improving your endurance or bettering your speed.
A big part of learning a physical exercise is forming 'motor memory' in the brain. Creating a mental video of how you're going to make a movement helps prime the brain for the actual effort and builds your collection of motor memories, almost as if you've actually done an extra practice session.
Before you exercise, close your eyes and create a mental image of the task. If a difficult step is coming up in dance class, imagine yourself doing it. Or, before doing a squat, see yourself executing it correctly.
Stay positive! Negative emotions can alter your brain's commands to your muscles. Self-doubt can throw off your timing, tighten up your muscles and reduce your range of motion.
So, censor the negative messages your mind tries to send to your body. Think uplifting thoughts - and if a negative one pops up, reframe it. Turn obstacles into opportunities. For instance, rather than cursing the wind-chill factor that makes your hike uncomfortable, think about how hiking faster to stay warm will improve your fitness.
If you make a mistake, don't obsess about it; look at what you're doing right and refine your efforts.
Getting leaner and stronger - and accomplishing almost anything - will seem easier when you put your mind to it.
Debbie Foerstner is certified as a fitness instructor by the American Council on Exercise. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.