Mind game: Mental preparation key to proper weight training

The most important aspect of weight training is the mental concentration that goes into it. Sound ridiculous to you? Its not! By increasing your level of concentration during your workouts you can increase the quality of your training and make more gains with less time spent.

In general we all work too much and our lives are busier than ever. We have so many responsibilities to deal with that all too often we switch ourselves onto auto-pilot during our workouts.

People everywhere are wasting too many precious hours of their personal time working out diligently but getting absolutely nowhere because of the fact that they do not apply a nominal degree of mental concentration to their weight-training. Think about it for a minute. Ask yourself what kind of gains or changes you have made in your body over the past six months?

If the answer is that your gains have been little or none then it may be time to turn up your concentration level and get your mind heavily involved in your workouts! This month we take some time to explore ways to use your mind to increase the gains in your physique.

Create a plan of attack
How many times have you walked into the weight-training area and just stood there looking around wondering where to start? It will help to plan your workout before you go into the gym.

There are some questions that you need to answer before you get started training:

What body parts you are going to train?
If you have a day-to-day record of your workouts you will be able to see, at a glance, which body parts are due to be trained.

Sounds like it should be simple to remember what you have trained and what needs to be trained but it is easy to forget. When someone asks you something like what you did for fun on the weekend how often do you draw a blank?

Remembering what body part you trained is the same thing. This does not mean that you need to write down every detail of your workouts although this also can be helpful. If you simply keep track of which body parts you train with Active Trainer's training log, you will make it easier to focus on what body parts still need to be trained.

Before you go into the gym decide which body parts you are going to train and the order that you are going to train them.

What exercises will you do?
Your body responds to variation so it will be important to do a different set of exercises or a different order of exercises each week.

Before you go into the gym think about which exercises you did the last time and then decide which exercises you are going to do for each body part.

Will this be a light workout or a heavy workout?
Before you go into the gym, think about what kind of workouts you have been having recently. Decide whether this workout will be a heavy workout or a light workout. You may be due for a workout using lighter weights if your training as of late has always been heavy.

How many sets and reps will you do?
Along the same lines of deciding how much weight to use is the decision on how many sets and repetitions you will do.

Sometimes this is important to predetermine so that you can avoid the possibility of overtraining the muscles. Make up your mind to do 2 or 3 great training sets and stick to it! Fight the urge to overtrain.

Mental preparation
We respond physically to suggestions that are made and digested mentally. For example, if we allow ourselves to think that we are going to have a difficult time lifting a weight then it will more than likely feel very heavy when we go to lift that weight.

This will happen even if it is a weight that we are physically capable of lifting. It is important to give yourself positive suggestions prior to a workout. By using an elementary form of self-hypnosis we can suggest to ourselves that we are going to have a great workout. It only takes a few minutes before you go into the gym but it can completely determine the effect of your training day.

Go through the entire workout in your mind:

  • Picture yourself doing each exercise.
  • Tell yourself that each repetition of each set will be excellent.
  • See yourself doing each repetition with excellent explosion, full contraction and perfect form.
  • Picture yourself doing each set to failure.
  • Feel yourself training only the primary muscles.
  • Tell yourself you are going to have a great workout!

    When you finally do get into the gym you will already have done your entire workout in your mind. You will have already felt the exercises. The exercises and the feel of the movements will be familiar. Your body will respond to the positive suggestions that you made to yourself.

    Concentrate on the task at hand
    It is easy to fall into a rut where you put your body on auto-pilot for your workouts. It happens all too often: You walk into the gym or go down to your basement and simply go through the motions of the exercises without actually training your muscles.

    Your mind may be somewhere else and in order to get through the exercises your body sends out signals to the auxiliary muscles to get involved in the exercises and the primary muscles do not get overloaded sufficiently.

    The more work that the auxiliary muscles are permitted to do means that there is less work the primary muscles have to do and suddenly you are wasting your valuable time in the gym.

  • Concentrate completely on each repetition. Do each repetition with perfect form using a full contraction on every rep.

    For example, when you are doing a set of 10 repetitions do them as a set of 10 single reps instead of falling into a rhythm of cruising through 10 reps without stopping. Concentrate on making every rep a perfect rep.

  • Time yourself between sets. If you have a training partner who is focused this may not be necessary. However, if your partner likes to gab or if you train alone, it will help to time your rest periods between sets.

    Under normal circumstances take a one-minute rest between sets or wait until your breathing returns to normal. If you are training with particularly heavy weight it will help to rest as long as 1-1/2 to 2 minutes between sets.

  • Train to failure. Do not save some for the next set. Your muscles will respond best to being pushed safely to their limits and slightly beyond.

    Take a few minutes to mentally prepare for your workout before you go into the gym and you will keep yourself from wasting hours of your valuable personal time. Good luck with your training! See you next month.

    Gary Udit is a certified personal trainer. He serves as the Chairman of the Pennsylvania District and Supervisor of the Mid-Atlantic Zone for the National Physique Committee, the governing body of amateur bodybuilding in the United States.

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