Slow Down to Speed Up: Mindful Exercise

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Slow Down to Speed Up: Mindful Exercise

Exercise is the best medicine on the planet.  It helps us to stay healthy, coordinated, and youthful.  It also helps us to manage stress and remain resilient.  Mindful exercise can add even more value to each of our workouts. Here’s how!
One of the biggest mistakes I see in the gym is people rushing through an exercise.  Whether it’s because they want to keep their heart pumping, their adrenaline is high, or they just want to get it over with, rushing through an exercise can cause bad form, and result in fewer physiological gains than going slower and perhaps even lighter.  For example, doing box jumps as fast as you can may be great for getting your heart rate up, but usually form really suffers, and by the end of the set or into subsequent sets, you need to take more breaks.  
“Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast,” is a military phrase I learned from one of my clients who is an E.R. doctor at the VA hospital.  When I explained to him that we would get more out of the exercise if he actually slowed down and focused on each phase of the exercise, he understood immediately what I meant, and taught me this little truism… “Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast”.

How To Go Slow:
Focus on “FORM” 
Form - Feet symmetrically planted, hips held straight and level, core engaged, proud chest, relaxed shoulders, finding length in the spine to the crown of your head.
Oxygen - Exhale when the weight goes up, inhale when it goes down. 
Motion - Push or pull through a full range of motion, from a fully flexed joint to an extended joint.  No choppy movements!
Focusing one form includes many components, from where the feet are placed, to how the hips are held, posture, and head position.  Then we become interested in how we will move, keeping in mind all of the above.  For example, in a box jump, we would like to begin with a cleansing breath, then descending into a 30-50% depth squat, with feet symmetrical, core engaged, shoulders relaxed, thighs slightly rotated out so the knees track to the third and fourth toes, weight should be felt in the hips, feet grounded.  To begin the jump the athlete backswings both arms symmetrically, and uses the momentum to jump to the top of the box, landing in the same position we started with.  I usually ask for a pause there, so we can do a quick form check, and then either step or hop down and repeat.  
As soon as we bring our attention to our breath, a lot of distractions fall away.  In general, before starting an exercise, take a deep, cleansing breath.  Try it now.  With your mouth closed, breathe in deeply through your nose, drawing the air deep into your belly, and back out again through your nose.  You may notice you are a bit more focused.  From there, in general, when performing lifts, we want to breathe out when the weight is going up, and in as the weight comes back down.  For instance, when doing a lunge, we inhale as our weight descends to the floor, and exhale when we push our body weight up against gravity. There are of course a few exceptions, but with focus,
I find people generally figure it out for themselves.  For instance, when squatting or deadlifting heavy weights, it’s important to retain pressure in the torso, so you don’t exhale until the weight is lifted entirely.  Or when doing compound exercises such as a squat to overhead press, it can be hard to figure out since the weight goes up twice in rapid succession.  In general, I encourage my clients to figure out for themselves what feels best; that way they are focusing on what they feel in their bodies while working through the exercises. It just creates more mindfulness.
Last but not least, do not shorten up the exercise.  Focus on pausing at the height of contraction (when the weight goes all the way up) for each rep, and going slow and controlled through the negative (when the weight goes down).  Doing this brings your attention directly to that muscle, and strengthens your mind-body connection, helping your muscles to grow and gain coordination.
By bringing our awareness to breath and form, we eliminate a lot of opportunity for injuries and force the correct muscles to perform their jobs properly.  Often when we move too quickly through things, our bodies “figure out” the path of least resistance, allowing stronger or more dominant muscles to take over, and reinforcing improper form.  Secondly, people are generally better at pacing themselves through their workouts when they do this, and don’t find themselves lying on their backs completely gassed 60% into their workout.  
While being gassed is a surefire way to spike your metabolism, it can actually impair your progress in the gym if it results in you completing less work than you can do with a bit more focus and composure.  It will also make you more likely to injure yourself over time.  
So, if you catch yourself feeling a little bit spazzy or uncoordinated in the gym, slow down.  Take a deep breath.  Break the exercise down into steps.  Begin with your foot placement, your hip position, the angle of your thighs and knees, keeping your core braced, posture, proud chest, shoulders back and down, remember the purpose of the exercise, and focus on the movement during each repetition.  Exhale when the weight goes up, inhale when it goes down.  Easy peasy.  Just remember: slow down to speed up, and focus on “FORM”.  
Happy lifting!

Posted: 8/18/2021 9:22:13 AM by Saturn Club | with 0 comments

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