A couple weeks ago a new client came into the gym and his focus was to get into great shape. Never mind there were numerous red flags with his movement, he didn’t care. He wanted to lose some weight and get thin. I insisted he do a handful of 1 on 1 personal training sessions so that we could spend some time working with him to make sure he understood the movements, as well learn numerous mobility drills and warmups he needed prior to taking classes. During the first session I hear Jeremy (our trainer) say “You need to be more mindful when you pick the kettlebell up.” He just looked at Jeremy and said (with a heavy New York accent) “Mindful? what does that mean? I just want to pick it up and workout.” He seemed irritated and pretty confused. It was a real eye opener for me in many ways. Not that I am surprised people aren’t mindful when they train, but that they don’t even get that mindfulness is a part of training. I personally can’t train without being mindful, I have run out of luck when it comes to that so it just has to be a part of what I do.
Mindlessness is Status Quo
Myself and Sr. SFG Jeremy Layport were teaching a StrongFirst Kettlebell Course this weekend and we found ourself repeating over and overagain to be mindful to all the participants.
One of our participants jokingly said you guys are like under cover yogis with this mindful talk. We cracked up and said “yeah we are mindful meatheads.” I thought about it more and more and it really stuck with me. The fitness industry is full of mindlessness when it comes to exercising yourself to death. You don’t need any equipment to do so. Just slap a gimmick like a tabata bootcamp or trampoline exotica on your class and don’t stop moving/convulsing for an hour. Sure, your form sucks and your body is taking a beating, but who cares? You just sweat your ass off and “feel” destroyed, and that folks is all that matters. We are inundated with stupid memes that talk about “Pain is Weakness Leaving the Body” and to pretty much stop listening to ourselves and just check out. This could be one of the most reckless things we could possibly promote as a fitness professional. The truth is, pain is a signal telling your body something is up and you need to listen. Puking during a workout is your body telling you to stop, not to push through and finish. Now let me put a disclaimer, if you are world class athlete getting paid 30 Million Dollars per year and you are in a big game, or if you fighting in the UFC you could probably justify taking things to an extreme at times, and even at that if you continue to destroy yourself with training your career will probably be a lot shorter than it could be. Even in these situations many world class athletes don’t get a pass on being mindful. Now let me also say that getting into shape after years is going to cause discomfort, sore muscles, and have you walking a little funny for a couple days, that is the stuff you are going to have to get through, but if your workouts are so intense that you can barely make it through and you have drill instructor telling you to push past your limits and cheering you on if you puke, you need to walk the other way. We laugh at videos like this but this goes on millions of times per day in gyms all over the world.
Training is a Practice
As one that competes in Powerlifting I treat every set and rep as if it was a near maximal effort. As I set up my first warm up set I practice everything from wedging underneath the bar, to my breathing, and walking the bar out. It is actually easier to get injured on a light warm up set due to not taking it seriously than practicing a near maximal attempt. I have to check in with myself after each set and make sure all is working properly. Why do I do this? Well I have been injured over the years by being young, dumb, and mindless and I can’t afford to destroy my body with training. I have big goals to lift bigger weights as I age, so being smart has to be part of the equation.This mentality doesn’t just pertain to lifting heavy weights. It can and should be carried into any exercise practice. If you are a runner, are you just checking out and running till the endorphins kick in, or are you paying attention to your gait, your stride, and your posture. I can’t tell you the times I have had corrective exercise clients come to me that have said “I felt the pain in my foot at mile 1, but I had to get my miles in for the week so I toughed it out the entire 9 mile run. Take a guess how that turns out? These conversations usually happen after 3 months of no running and intensive physical therapy. If you are swinging kettlebells are you just doing half assed swings to get extra work in or are you developing power with each rep? If you are at your boot camp, are you doing full push ups or are you compensating with half reps and a dipped back just to survive the workout? If you are doing Crossfit then do your best not to buy into the group mentality to push yourself into exercising into an oblivion. Remember, winning a workout really means nothing unless you are in the games. You can do whatever you choose to do, but exercising and training just to survive through them at the expense of form and healthy movement is a great recipe for injury and high drop out rate. Ignoring and having a lack of respect for the concept of practice never pays off. Just ask Allen Iverson: