The benefits of staying focused and present in our daily lives are pretty
well known, even if we don’t actively practice it as much as we should. But what are the benefits of staying present during a workout? What about the “black-out pain cave” Matt Fraser talks about, isn’t that how you get fitter?
Recently, the class workout had a 2k Row For Time. Before the workout started, I instructed the class to try to stay as present as possible throughout all 2,000m. Try to stay focused, pay attention to your pace, your breathing, pull length, timing and stroke rate. It was a lot to think about and most people’s response was along the lines of “ha, yeah, I’m just trying to survive”.
But the more we can stay present during a workout, the more intensity we can handle, therefore we become more-fitter.
Taking it all the way into “pain science”, our bodies perceive much lower levels of pain if we know that we are safe. Pain is also perceived on a two-way street; not only does the pain receptor send information to your brain, but your brain communicates a message back down to the location of pain and can impact the level of pain you perceive.
If we apply that to working out, you can imagine the “pain” of being 1,200m into a 2,000m row…your legs are burning, lungs are wheezing, arms are tired and you’re just kind of over it. From here, you can go into space-out mode where you try to distract your mind from what’s actually happening (start thinking about your grocery list, sing a song ect) but in response your body is going to slow down until that pain dissipates more (ie: lower intensity).
The other option is to take a deep breath and dial in your focus on your body and your mindset. Your brain has the power to quiet down those “pain signals”. In your workout, you’re just uncomfortable, you’re not actually in pain (unless you’re truly injured), so making sure your brain understands you are safe is a good start to resolving some discomfort. You’re not dying, your tired and burning limbs won’t actually fall off.
Instead of going into “ow this hurts ugh I’m so tired” mode, go into hyper-focus mode.
Focusing on your breath is one of the easiest ways to become present in the moment. Then, get specific about your movement patterns, your technique and staying on task and on goal pace.
Adding more focus brings you back to the present and forces you to stay on pace.
When we stay on pace, we get more fit. Instead of distracting ourselves, falling off pace, and spacing out for the final 800m, now you’ve dialed in your focus and held your pace, or maybe even sped up a little, and pushed your aerobic capacity and lactic threshold further. That’s how you change your fitness and that’s how you become stronger, faster and healthier.
Stay present, in life and in your workouts, and notice all the positive changes it can have on your fitness, health and overall wellness!