What is Mindful Exercise?
Being mindful during exercise means you are aware of the purpose of each movement and you are able to block out all the “noise” around you. Each repetition of the exercise is done with full range of motion and good core stability. You stand tall rather than tilt or slouch. Your target muscles stay engaged rather than relaxed.
The limiting factor (the point where you conclude each set) of each exercise is how long you can maintain perfect form, rather than simply chasing a certain number of repetitions. With mindful exercise, you treat your workout as if it is practice for your life activities.
Mindful exercise is hard work, as it is much easier to just do a large number of repetitions with mediocre focus and technique. The general rule of mindful exercise is that your goal is to do every single rep with great form. When you hit the point where your core or posture falls apart, you stop the set and take a break. If the target amount of repetitions is ten, then we want to be right on the edge of breakdown of form at that 10th rep. So we use just enough weight, or pick just the right difficulty of exercise to get to that “failure” by the 10th rep.
Bootcamp Mindset: The Opposite of Mindfulness
On the flip side of mindful exercise is what I call “bootcamp mindset”, where quantity takes precedence over quality of movement. This mindset encourages volume and eventually leads to overuse injuries. Maybe you do enough exercise to keep your body weight under control, but might have a constant rounding of the shoulders that makes you look older. Or maybe you are constantly having low back issues and just feel run down most of the time.
I often think of our program as similar to how an athlete would look at their training regimen. A golfer, a tennis player, or a basketball player conducts each training session with consistently good balance, core stability, and posture. They want to move efficiently and under control at all times. With enough repetition of great technique, it carries over into their games without even needing to think about it. A golfer would never train with a “bootcamp mindset” and neither should you.
Our workouts are your practice sessions for life activities.
Our “game” is life. Picking up heavy rocks in your yard (Romanian deadlift), carrying a heavy bag on one side at Home Depot (farmer’s carry), controlling a big dog on a leash (Cable anti-rotation), paddling a paddleboard (landmine rotations), going for a hike with the family (rowing endurance), or even playing pickleball with friends. (lunges, core, agility)
So each wall slam, each farmer’s carry, each lunge, and each back row should be done with mindfulness about how you are performing it. Is your weight balanced on your feet? Is your core always active and engaged? Is your posture good and spine neutral through each movement? Is your head up and eyes gazing forward, rather than down at the floor?
Being mindful throughout an entire workout is not easy. It is easier to simply get through the reps in any manner you can; maybe not going quite as low on each lunge or maybe slouching while on the rowing machine. You just want to get through your required exercises and check “workout” off your task list.
How to Exercise Mindfully
Because being mindful all the time is so difficult, I prefer to program reasonable quantities of movements. 10-15 Kettlebell swings might be the limit of how long you can be mindful and not risk injury. 30 minutes of exercise might be enough instead of 90 minutes. Everyone has different limits and that is ok. One day you may be mentally prepared for a long workout, and other days you just have enough for a shorter yet focused one. Forcing it or faking it isnt necessary. Quality of movement is always more important than duration of workout.
Every repetition of every exercise counts. If you start performing movements with less range of motion, you will gradually lose mobility and you miss out on the full benefit of each exercise. If you stop paying attention to your core and posture in the gym, then you will start slouching more and look/feel older outside of the gym.
Aging is inevitable but we can slow down the process and remain fit longer than most of us would have imagined possible. Our workouts are the constant reminder of the connection between our mind and body. Think of Thrive as your practice for the game of life. Practice consistently and practice mindfully and you will be ready for the game.