Think about your last big social gathering. Chances are, someone gave you a half-hearted, obligatory hug. Those encounters are awkward at best, and definitely don't leave you feeling the love. Now think about the last time someone gave you a huge squeeze. You likely walked away feeling valued, important, and cozy inside. Well, ladies, our muscles are the same way. They need to be squeezed nice and tight in order to react the way we want them to.
Let's face it, we don't always give our workouts the attention they deserve. We tune out with our iPods, we gossip with our training partner. Sometimes there's no good reason at all, our heads just aren't in it. By not making this crucial connection, however, we might be shortchanging ourselves. Take a weight that is on the lighter side, and flop it up and down haphazardly. Now take that same light weight, and lift it with purpose. Notice how it feels when you focus all your energy on each contraction. Harder, right?
The easiest way it was ever explained to me, was to envision a small nut in the crease of the muscle you're training. Your goal is to crack the nut, so you've got to really be focused on that muscle to get the most from movement. Pause at the top, just long enough to burn, then lower it in controlled form. That's better!
Now that you've proven this effect with a light weight, imagine how much more you'll get from a weight that's really challenging. Fear not, ladies, you WILL NOT get big and bulky by doing this. You will get leaner and more defined, the more you put your mind on your muscle.
I'm a big believer in the power of the mind to do what the body thinks it can't. Muscle fibers don't have the ability to make demands. Contractions occur when the Central Nervous System sends out small electric currents, and the muscle fires back in response. So while your bicep may protest your chosen weight, if you're really focused, your brain will recruit the necessary fibers to hoist it up.
I know, I know...exercise is, for many of us, the only "me time" we have. Who wants to turn that into a something we have to think about as well? I find that the more focused I am on what I'm doing, the more emotionally fulfilling my workouts become. When I connect my breath to my actions and am aware of the entire movement, I'm able to tune out the chatter in my brain and unite with my body. Fat chance of that happening when I'm just shuffling aimlessly through the same old routine. Countless studies have proven that people are more committed to their exercise plan if the motivation for it goes deeper than appearance. What could be a more driving force than the pride and confidence that comes from doing something better than you ever have?!?
Next time you hit the gym, channel your inner nut-cracker and squeeze those muscles! Really tune into what you're doing,and envision the end result as you breath. Your mind, and your muscles, will thank you!
Erin stays busy pursuing her own fitness goals, and helping to educate and inspire those she loves to live healthier lives. A hair stylist by trade, she manages a salon, and is chipping away at a degree, ultimately in dietetics and kinesiology. She lives in South Florida with her husband and a “pound puppy” named Pedro.