I must sound like a broken record to my clients. And rather rude. With each exercise I'm always asking them if they feel it here or there. I'll cut them off mid-sentence when they're telling me about their weekend and tell them to shut up and think about what they're doing (well, I don't say it quite like that).
There's a good reason for it. I want to ensure they are getting a good workout. A strong mind - muscle connection separates a workout that is merely going through the motions into a f**in' awesome one.
I recently read about an amazing study conducted by Guan Yue, an exercise psychologist from Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Ohio. In it he compared one group of people who went to the gym and worked out to another group who simply thought about working out. The results were pretty awesome. The group that went to the gym for 12 weeks saw a 30% increase in muscular strength. No surprises there. What was surprising was that the control group who only did mental workouts from the comfort of their lazyboys saw a muscular gains of 13% -- almost half of the gym goers. Wow!
I'm not, of course, suggesting you forgo physical trips to the gym in favor of developing your mind-control skills but rather harnessing the power of both. Yes, I'm talking about the power of visualization.
Here's a few of my tips of how to get the most of you workouts.
1. Think about the workout you are about to do. On the way to the gym or as you're changing in the locker rooms go over all the exercises you are going to do. Think about what each exercise is trying to accomplish. Which muscles are you hitting? What is the purpose of each exercise?
2. Get loose. Tight fascia and joints can really hamper your mobility, blood flow and the neurological pathways that the brain uses to send messages to the muscles. It's a mistake to jump into a tough workout without adequate preparation -- both mental and physical. I suggest foam rolling for 5 to 10 minutes to loosen up the fascia and muscles, followed by some specific mobilizations and activations that focus on the muscles and joints you'll be working. Use this time as an opportunity to "check-in" and connect with your body.
3. Do a warm up set. Your first set shouldn't be an attempt at smashing your one rep max. Have you ever noticed that the third or four set of an exercise is usually better executed than your first, even if the resistance is more? It's because you've already established a neuromuscular pathway. Your mind and body has already coordinated the move and knows how to improve on it next round. Always consider the first set a kind of warm up. Perform it at about 80% of the weight of the working set. Add extra resistance on subsequent sets.