Leave the phone in your locker and treat the workout as active meditation
Note: This article focuses on applying these concepts to a strength training workout rather than an aerobic workout, primarily because the structure of a strength regimen lends itself to becoming a meditative exercise. However, I believe it could be applied to a consistent aerobic practice.
I understand that many people bring their phones into the gym to listen to music or track their workouts. But I see too many who stop in the middle of sets to answer texts or watch videos. This is crazy on several levels.
Form and timing make a huge difference
If you are using free weights or other lifting exercises, form is critical. It not only keeps you from getting injured but it makes each exercise far more effective. Timing is the second factor that can really amp up your workout quality, with proper rest periods between sets and exercises. In my case I have found that four sets with 45 second breaks between sets works for most exercises. At the end of each exercise I do a three minute rest. This consistent pattern ensures that you stay focused on the muscle groups you’re targeting, on pacing, and on balance, all contributors to consistent improvements over time. If you are randomly stopping to interact with your phone, all of this goes out the window and you will not realize the full potential gain from each exercise.
Consider your workout holistically
It helps to visualize your entire workout before you begin. In my case, I usually do this while walking to the gym but you can do it during warm-up periods before you ‘officially ‘ start your workout. My process is to decide what exercises I will be doing and in what order, switching them up from a menu of different options. For me a typical free weight workout is 4 sets of 7–8 exercises and ten reps per set. Weight is determined by what weight has me burning during the last set as I complete it.
Treat your entire workout as a meditation session
Mindfulness meditation has you quietly observing your thoughts without being distracted by them. A disciplined workout regimen can offer a perfect platform for incorporating mindfulness to stay focused on your workout.
Visualizing your complete workout before you start begins the actual process on a mental level. You can choose to see the entire workout as a period of concentrated active meditation where you use timekeeping, pacing, and visualization to complete an in-depth meditation session. It works on a mindful level because it is difficult to follow random thoughts or daydreams when you are managing weights in motion! The timing pattern mentioned earlier also becomes a part of this meditation session. I sometimes use a classic Zen breath counting technique instead of actually watching a clock or timer on a watch or phone. You simply count the number of breaths you’d take during your chosen length of break and count out breaths until it is time to start the next set, using a consistent count between sets and between exercises. In my case it is around 15 breaths per minute, so I count out 45 breaths between exercises (my longer rest period) to measure the three minute break I prefer.
Focus on pace and form while lifting and lowering
Many of the younger people in my gym, primarily males, make a couple of common mistakes during their workout. They typically try to lift far too much weight, requiring them to take breaks and set down the weights after 3 or 4 reps. Their form is distracted, especially if a part of their mind is on their phone interaction. Because they are carrying too much weight they do not complete their reps and sets consistently, and invite potential injury.
A lot has been written about concentrating on the primary muscle groups used during an exercises, feeling each as it makes the concentric and eccentric motion required to complete the rep. Concentric motions are when you compress a muscle, eccentric motions are when you decompress the muscle. This helps you maintain correct form and get the most benefit from the exercise. It also helps to to think through the timing of these two phases of the motion. I usually time the lifting portion as one pace and do the lowering portion for twice as long. I also try to not set weights down until all four sets are completed. This keeps a continuous load on the targeted muscle groups. This will be impossible if you have too much weight.
Adding up these mental exercise components requires you to be completely in the moment during your workout. You’ll see a noticeable improvement in your results without causing injuries. Leave the phone behind and use these mental tools instead.