Where’s Your Head At?
If you’re going to pay for a membership, spend the time and gas to get yourself to the gym – it’s worth considering the purpose behind each calorie you spend there. Setting goals for yourself is worthwhile – it’s much easier to stay committed when you know what it is you’re moving towards – and why. Because you might be training for any number of reasons, I’d like to offer some very general advice here.
We only ever have the ability to change that which we first choose to observe.
External Focus versus Internal Focus.
If you want an example of extreme external focus – consider the power-lifter. His joints are achy after years of training at extremely heavy weights. He’s wrapped them in spandex sleeves as a temporary analgesic for the meet. He smells ammonia seconds before walking up to the platform, and with maximum psyche – he tries to pull the heaviest weight he can off the ground. His training logs are filled with numbers – how much weight he has been moving. Or, consider the marathon runner. His training log is again filled with numbers of his times and distances. He measures the value of each session in terms of speed and distance.
Contrast this with the yogi, or the bodybuilder. Yes, the two have far more in common than you might think. Both pursue a deeper connection to the internal sensations during their practice. Both measure the value of each session by a sense of mindfulness in the desired part of their body – for the yogi it might be a stretch through their side-body – for the bodybuilder it might be a juicy pump in his inner quads.
Let me say that there are appropriate applications of internal focus and external focus no matter what your goals in the gym may be. For the average gym-goer, an appropriate external focus might be how long they stayed on the treadmill, and an internal focus would be on the muscles being fatigued while performing lat pull-downs.
External focus is a little bit easier to observe. If you want to stay on the treadmill longer – you check the clock and trudge along. Internal focus, in my experience, often requires some practice and time to develop. It’s not always easy to determine which muscle is producing the movement until you keep directing your mind’s eye within your own skin. However, if your goal in performing lat pulldowns, for example, is the contraction and stimulus for your lats to grow – you better be confident that it is your lats indeed contracting to produce the movement. Before you can alter the way in which your body is producing movement, you must first be able to collect clear information from your body about the way it is producing movement. The specific intent you apply will determine the tension which produces the movement.
Put your mind behind your movement.
Both external focus and internal focus are worthy. Simply focusing on the task at hand – be it a faster mile run or a better pump in your hamstrings – is the first step to making your training more conscious and fruitful to your goals.