Be Mindful with Resistance Training and Reap the Rewards

Jon Kabat-Zinn – Professor of Medicine Emeritus and creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School – states that “mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” From helping patients heal faster in hospitals to improving student’s concentration in schools – mindfulness research and utilization has become an effective alternative to traditional treatment methods and protocols.

In the health & wellness community, many people associate mindfulness with practices like yoga. But where does it fit with other fitness modalities such as traditional resistance or weight training?

A practice we use at BioFit – Therapy Based Fitness is the idea of Intention, or being intentional with every workout, every exercise and every rep involved with an individual’s fitness program. Being intentional means going beyond just moving weight. Too many times people only focus on moving a dumbbell or piece of exercise equipment from point A to point B for a certain number of times, and then move on to the next exercise. In this instance, they are missing out on a key piece of the exercise experience. If one is truly present or mindful with what they are trying to accomplish – which is not just moving the weight but actually feeling the muscles fibers shortening inside the body and controlling the weight in a certain direction – then weight training becomes more internally focused and the effects can be amplified. There are many ways to accomplish this – holding positions, closing your eyes, and slowing movements down to name a few – but the common denominator is to truly be aware of all sensations associated with what is happening during the exercise. 

In a study from 2004, participants were instructed on how to quietly visualize a lifting technique for 12 weeks at regular intervals. At the end of this study, the visualization group had improved their physical strength in this same movement by 35 percent without physically practicing it over that period. In another study, basketball players who visualized shooting free throws with an imaginary basketball improved their free throw shooting by 23 percent in 30 days without ever touching a basketball—just one percent less than a group that did a dedicated free throw improvement program.

Mindful resistance training is about preparing your mind for the task your body’s about to perform, and being completely present to the connection of your brain and your muscles. As this connection improves with practice, people can experience improvement in technique, increases in weights, decreases in injuries, and all of the other benefits associated with a mindfulness approach.