There’s more than one road to Rome. You can select a traditional weight lifting program. You can choose a bodybuilding program. You can choose a bodyweight-only training program. The most important thing is that you select a program that you enjoy and are excited about.
Once you’ve selected a program to take you to your “Rome” (whether it be a deadlift PR, a personal best in a sport you love, or a new level of body composition you’ve never achieved before) the next most important thing you can do is maximize your potential results.
Just going through the motions only gets you so far. There are strategies you can apply to any workout program that will enhance the results you get from that program. No supplements, no extra training tools, no special workout clothing needed to grab the bonus benefits here.
By using these 3 tested & proven mental strategies you’ll get more results out every single workout. Why leave results on the table? Get your mental game on-point and snag all the results you’re after and fly down that road to your “Rome.”
1) Use mental muscle stimulation
Your thoughts can be measured in your muscles. Literally. A fascinating study that looked at how thinking might associate with muscle strength showed that by thinking about strong muscle contractions, muscle loss was prevented.
Researchers immobilized the forearms of study participants for 4 weeks to induce weakness & muscle atrophy (much like what happens when you wear a cast on you arm for a few weeks). They had one group of the participants think about strong muscle contractions in their forearm. Compared to the control group, the muscle contraction-thinking group retained 50% more muscle than their control group counterparts.
Muscle loss is a given when your limb is immobilized for a period of time. But the loss was less in those who used their brain to think about, and picture, their muscles firing.
Use this piece of science to make your workouts more effective by picturing your muscles working as you use them in your workout.
As you press away from the floor to return to standing from the deepest part of a lunge, picture your glute going from a fanned out, lengthened, position to a flexed, squeezing, position. Picture your quads firing like pistons.
As you exercise, keep your mind focused on what you’re doing in the moment to maximize the muscle stimulation.
2) Train one side to gain benefit on the other side
In a truly mind-blowing study on how the nervous system interplays between the mind and muscles, Paul Zehr & Katie Dragert showed remarkable results in training only one side of the body and netting effects on the opposite side.
In their study with stroke patients, Zehr & Dragert showed equivalent strength gains in the non-worked leg. Equivalent gains. For a side that did no physical laboring to achieve those gains. Called ‘cross-education,’ short-term high-intensity resistance training done on one side of the body translates into results on the other side of the body.
How can you use this data?
Be aware of the fact that you can make fitness gains on one side of your body via work you do on the opposite side. From time to time, exchange your bilateral exercise for a unilateral version of the same move. Take your squat and make it 1-leg version. Take your push-up and swap it for a 1-arm dumbbell floor chest press.
Avoid just ‘going through the motions’ when you’re working your stronger side. Push for good-form, challenging reps on the stronger side to stack the deck in your favor on the weaker side.
3) Write it out ahead of time
Decision fatigue is a real thing. Here’s how it works: you have a finite amount of energy for decision-making in your day. And every little thing that you don’t even realize you’re deciding on – which route you think will be least traffic-ridden to the gym, what music to select for your workout – on top of all the big decisions you make in your day, wears down your ability to make wise decisions during your workout.
And in a crowded commercial gym, you’re often also having to make decisions about what exercise to sub in if the equipment you wanted to use is already taken.
When you’re deciding whether or not you should do that fourth set of bent over rows, you’re more likely to make a sub-optimal decision (ie, ‘skip the rows! we’ve done enough!), if you’ve already had to make a bunch of decisions that wore your brain down.
You’re dedicating the time to exercise. Make the most of that time. Avoid scrimping and skipping out on valuable reps, sets, and exercises by writing your plan down ahead of time.
- What exercises do you need to do to move the ball forward on your goals today?
- How many reps and sets are you aiming for?
- If in a crowded gym, what alternatives can you sub in should you need to? (Do this ahead of time so you don’t waste brain power once in the gym.)
There’s a certain amount of work that must be done in order to get to the fitness achievements you’ve set as your goal. Regularly skipping reps, whole sets, or even entire exercises because your brain is feeling very ‘meh’ about deciding to do them is one way to ensure you slow the progress toward your goal.
Write your plan down ahead of time. It will be much easier to stick to the original plan, ensure you accomplish what you set out to do, and have a fantastic workout.
The road to your “Rome” is yours to select and walk. Boost your potential for getting there in a timely and successful fashion by using these 3 mental strategies to enhance your workout results. Your mind is as important in your workouts as your muscles. Partner them together to make big strides in your training.
Kate Galliett is the creator of Fit for Real Life where she brings together body, mind, and movement to help people become highly-charged and fit for real life. She coaches clients in-person, online, and through her foundational strength & mobility program, The Unbreakable Body. She holds a BS in Exercise Science and has worked as a fitness professional for 12 years. Her secret ingredient is always smoked paprika.
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