Whether you are training for the Olympics or just to improve overall wellbeing, a high level of focus is necessary to achieve your desired results. Moreover, when dealing with complex functional movements, such as jumping, sprinting or lunging, focus is necessary to ensure proper form and lessen the chance of injury. Unfortunately, many gym goers view their workouts as a daunting task and sometimes unknowingly (or knowingly) use distraction tactics to “lessen” the “pain” associated with a challenging workout. These constant distractions eventually lead to a lack of focus and inevitably less-than-stellar results.
Below are a few simple tips to help you regain focus during your training and get you closer to your goals. I do realize that many of the things listed are peoples’ only motivation to go to the gym, but if you realize the detriment it can have to your training, you’ll learn that giving up these distractions will be well worth it in the long run.
- Put your phone on airplane mode: 99.99% of the time there is no phone call, text, email, Candy Crush level or Facebook status that can’t wait an hour or two for a response (your parents and grandparents are living proof that we can get by without a smartphone). Yet time and time again we allow a chime or a pop-up to pull us away from our workouts and suck us in to somebody else’s life. Using the airplane function allows you to enjoy your favorite playlist (which research has shown may increase performance in a variety of cases) with none of the distractions of the outside world. If you are concerned with that slight chance that somebody is in dire need of your attention, such as your wife, child or parents (your boss can wait,) make sure they have the phone number of your training facility and to only call in case of an emergency.
- Reading is NOT fundamental when you are training: With the growing popularity of tablets, Kindles, and iPads, you can literally have a library at your fingertips. Unfortunately, focusing your mental energy on the latest New York Times Bestseller drastically decreases your ability to truly push yourself during an “intense” bike or elliptical workout. Research also tells us the more complicated the topic, such as global politics or economics (versus reading the funny pages), the less physical energy we expend during our workout. Furthermore, trying to read and run is flat out dangerous (but I’ve seen it done). The take home message here is save your reading for the coffee shop, the bus ride home or before bedtime. The only thing you should be reading is how fast you are running or how high your heart rate is. For the sake of brevity, the same applies to watching TV and movies (let’s call this 2a.) just DON’T!
- The Chatty Kathy: Sure, we know that during light exercise, we should be able to carry on a normal conversation with whoever wants to listen, but we also know light exercise is probably not going to get you where you need to be physically. The truth is, if you are chatting away during a run, a set of deadlifts or while holding a plank, you are completely disassociated from your workout. As a rule of thumb, think: light and moderate exercise = full conversation; moderate and high exercise = two to three work sentences; maximum intensity exercise = not a peep! If you have a training partner who likes to talk while training, I suggest you switch partners.
- Leave vanity for the red carpet: As great as it is to see your pumped-up shoulders after a set of bench press, watching yourself in the mirror can actually do more harm than good while working out. The main reason you should ditch the mirror is that it lessens our internal sense of balance and awareness (also known as kinesthetic sense), which also deteriorates as we age. The mirror allows you to depend on your vision as an indicator of imbalance, which doesn’t help us in the real world, where we depend on our internal senses to quickly detect small imbalances. Further, on very technical movements that require a lot of force or explosiveness (jumps, Olympic-style lifts), mirrors may slow your reaction time down as well as decrease the force you generate because you have to watch yourself go through the motion in the mirror. So instead of admiring your pump, turn your back on the mirrors, especially for movements that require coordination, balance, and high levels of force and speed. If you are concerned about form and mechanics, pull out your handy smartphone and record yourself, but please resist the desire to post on Facebook or Instagram until your workout is complete.
By making these small adjustments to your current training, you can effectively take your intensity and workouts to a whole new level leading to improved results and a better YOU!