Yoga – Relaxing Under Tension
For awhile now, I’ve been telling myself that I need to start up yoga again.
Yoga makes me feel so good…after it is over.
In a way, it’s like foam rolling and stretching…even warming up and cooling down…people either love it or skip it because they don’t see an immediate benefit, like sweat pouring off of them and their heart beating hard.
You may not be gasping for air or have that feeling that you were just “destroyed” by a workout, but if you want something that will help your lifts and make you both mentally and physically stronger, yoga is it!
Very quickly though, I will note that there is a big difference from a yoga that is simply stretching and one that does force you to hold more strengthening poses that may cause a bit of muscle shake-age. Both have their place and can be very beneficial, BUT there is a difference between what you will get out of each.
The yoga that I prefer is one that, yes does have stretching, but more importantly creates a bit of muscles shake-age. (AND also to note…I’m not necessarily talking about one specific “type” of yoga. Sometimes people can take the same class and get very different things out of it based on how low they choose to go in their warrior pose….)
While both can be great for recovery and mobility and flexibility work, ones that force you to hold a low and strong warrior pose for a decent amount of time are going to create more strength both mentally and physically.
I believe that one of the best ways to create more mental strength (and physical for that matter) is to force yourself to do something longer than your mind tells you that you want to do it. Our minds will give up way before our bodies have to.
Do one more squat than you want to…One more push up…Run that extra sprint…
All those things push you just a little beyond what you want to do.
But personally, I don’t think any are quite as good at developing mental strength as forcing yourself to hold an isometric pose while your muscles start to shake just a bit.
Pushing yourself to hold that Crescent pose even when your leg is shaking is an incredibly difficult thing. You don’t get to move…AT ALL.
At least when you are doing that extra sprint or extra squat, you are moving. For some reason, getting to move makes pushing yourself to do an extra rep just a wee bit easier. It’s like because you are moving you can feel yourself getting closer to the end so you can hold out through that extra rep or so.
Whereas it is WAY easier to give up when you are simply holding a move while being super uncomfortable and just waiting for the time to pass. It is hard to keep calm while your legs or arms are shaking and your mind is screaming at you “GIVE UP!” and you aren’t allowed to move.
Continuing to hold Warrior I as your legs shake until that teacher (or timer) tells you to stop can be incredibly challenging. You just want to stand up so bad as your leg muscles burn.
And the best part is…your instructor is probably also telling you at the same time that your mind wants to give up, “Just relax and breathe.”
Just relax and breath….
As your legs or arms are shaking, as your mind is telling you to give up, just RELAX and BREATHE.
And the reason the instructor is telling you this?
Because your mind will give up before your body has to.
Your mind will start screaming at you all sorts of negative thoughts. It will make you tighten and clench muscles that don’t even need to be clenched. It will force your breath to become more shallow, labored and even “panicked.”
But if you just focus on deep calming breaths and keep your mind on trying to relax the muscles, you may just manage to beat your mind and successfully hold the pose longer than you ever thought possible.
If you want to reach your full potential, if you want to lift more or run faster, you’ve got to not only strengthen your body, but also your mind.
You’ve got to be able to be RELAXED UNDER TENSION.
So the next time you consider skipping yoga because it isn’t that hard a workout, think about what your body and mind really need.
My guess is that most of us out there aren’t getting enough mobility and flexibility work let alone ever really focused on working on our mental strength during our workouts….Physical strength yes…maybe even “pushing ourselves” but truly focused on relaxing under tension? I DON’T THINK SO!
So try adding in yoga once a week. It may just be what your body and mind need to take your performance (and even your health!) to the next level!
Are you mental?
Not only have I gotten stronger and fitter physically with a lot of my recent training, but I’ve also become mentally tougher.
And that mental toughness is honestly a HUGE part of why I’m stronger and fitter.
For one, that mental toughness means that I’m able to really explore how strong I am because my mind doesn’t tell me “I can’t” too soon.
Two, that mental toughness has made me feel even more capable and accomplished so that I feel driven to continue to push and work hard.
But more important than the fact that my new mental toughness has helped me become physically stronger is just the fact that I’m mentally tougher.
Which is why I’ve begun to realize that while the physical health benefits of working out are AMAZING, the mental health benefits are even better.
So how do you reap all the mental health benefits?
Do you go push yourself until you can’t move? Do you have to run a marathon or try to lift 100 more pounds than you’ve ever lifted before?
While pushing your physical limits can build mental toughness, you don’t need to push yourself to the point of complete failure (aka barfing, falling over, not being able to sit down to the toilet for weeks on end).
Mental toughness is built with small victories day in and day out. And the effects…well they go beyond the gym.
It can be as simple as you make it through the workout. Maybe you had to stop for a rest when others didn’t. Or maybe you couldn’t use as heavy a weight as your friend.
BUT YOU DID IT.
You didn’t give up.
And that small victory means everything.
Which got me again to thinking (and mind you this post was developed in my head at 4 in the morning so I apologize for all the changes in direction BUT….), is it more important to have absolutely perfect form or to prove to yourself that you CAN in fact do it?
This thought came up after a Saturday morning training session with another trainer at my gym. I HUGELY respect this trainer and he knows a ton about form, movement and imbalances so I usually am in complete agreement with what he says and even turn to him for some advice. (Just letting you know that I totally respect what he did in the situation I’m about to describe).
Anyway, we were doing box jumps. Form is very important to protect the knees but also to insure that someone doesn’t get injured jumping onto the box.
One of my clients was nervous about jumping onto one of the boxes even though she had done it the week before. Her form had been good aside from the fact that she occasionally got nervous about making it so landed a bit hard.
The other trainer made her use a very low box, which she easily did. She even easily did the box above it.
But then she faced the red box and she got nervous. She easily cleared it, but she landed a bit hard.
She could easily do it and with good form, but mentally she just didn’t have total faith that she would make it.
So he took her down to the lower box because she did land harder than she had on the lower box.
I, on the other hand, would have pushed her to keep trying the higher box.
Because she COULD do it. And I firmly believed that if she had the CONFIDENCE to do it, her landing would instantly have gotten softer.
While his reaction to her attempt at the red box were correct did that benefit her as much as it would have to DO the red box?
Her form wasn’t at all dangerous…just not perfect. So he had her do the low box to really ingrain the form. Which is great…
But lacked the added benefit of building mental toughness through accomplishment.
So what should you do?
In this case, I would have had her do the red box. Because it would have built her confidence and helped her continue to push hard day in and day out. Because she COULD do it…She just needed to believe a bit more in herself!
In this case, I would have had her do the high, intimidating box because she is FEMALE.
Yep…that’s right…I’m discriminating based on her gender!
There is a strength and sense of accomplishment that you get from pushing yourself in the gym – from doing something new or better than you did the day before.
This is definitely sexist, but I honestly feel that more often than not, women don’t push themselves in the gym. (And because society really doesn’t expect them to).
But the strength and empowerment that women can get out of working out….well I think that is irreplaceable.
So above all in the gym, I work to help women feel a sense of accomplishment because the strength they gain from that spills over into other aspect of their life.
It makes them more empowered individuals.
Anyway, after all of these ramblings, what do you think? Have you found that working out has made you mentally tougher and given you the strength to attempt things in day-to-day life that you haven’t before!?!
I’m not usually a wimp
So on Sunday morning, I grated off a chunk of my knuckle.
The grater went in nice and deep and the cut oozed blood all day and my knuckle swelled up.
It hurt, but what hurt more than the cut was the fact that I knew I had my battling ropes challenges starting the very next day.
How the heck was I going to grip the rope for 10 minutes and then even 20 minutes with a freaking finger that wouldn’t bend?
And on top of the fact that I now had this annoying little injury, I DIDN’T WANT TO DO THE BATTLING ROPES FOR FIVE MINUTES LET ALONE 20!
Have I mentioned before that I really really dislike any form of long cardio?
Well, I DO!
So between the fact that my finger hurt and I had to do cardio for a while, I developed a very bad attitude.
Usually, I’d consider myself fairly tough. I suck it up and do it.
But usually I also semi-enjoy the torture I’m putting myself through.
Speed work on the power ropes?
Sure no problem.
Endurance work doing battling ropes?
No thank you.
But I didn’t have a choice.
So I grumpily made my way into the gym and started pouting to Jeff and Aaron about my stupid finger.
I had the whole lip out and head down pout really going when Aaron said, “Ready?”
I wanted to say, “NOOOOOOOO!”
But instead I just nodded and picked up the ropes.
Five minutes in, I was whining to myself in my head. I was counting the seconds. It seemed like forever until I hit 1o minutes. My forearms were on fire and I couldn’t seem to get out of my mental funk.
At 10 minutes, I was done. It wasn’t AWFUl, but I was still dreading the 20 minute challenge yet to come.
It wasn’t even mental fatigue. Honestly, other than my forearms nothing even felt worked. It was all in my head.
When I went home, I kept telling myself that it wasn’t THAT bad. That 20 minutes wouldn’t be much worse.
But that didn’t change my attitude for today.
I walked into that gym as grumpy as could be.
But I started the ropes.
About a minute in, I wanted to drop the ropes. I felt tired. I didn’t want to do long cardio!
When Aaron told me I’d hit 5 minutes, I wanted to scream. AHHHHHHHH!
15 more minutes!?!
My forearms were already tired and my legs were even feeling it today.
I had such a bad attitude that I even told Aaron that I basically just wanted to stop.
He kept repeating positive thinks and I mentally told myself to SHUT UP! with the negative thoughts.
And something finally clicked.
I started cruising.
The last 10 minutes felt 100 times easier than the first 5.
And all because my attitude had changed.
I’d been such a wimp and once I finally got over the negative attitude, things got easier.
So all I can say from this experience is that working out and pushing yourself to reach new goals is about 80% mental.
Yes, your body has to be strong enough, but if your mind isn’t strong….you’ll never achieve your goals.
So tell those negative thoughts to SHUT UP and see just how much more you can accomplish.
I mean it….Don’t even let yourself say you’re tired and you may just surprise yourself with how strong you ACTUALLY are!
Does the spark ever fade?
So since college, I’ve only played tennis a handful of times.
And honestly, over the past year, I haven’t hit once.
I got involved in other things. Lifting became my passion. It is what I trained for.
And I didn’t seem to miss the tennis at all. Which was funny since I’d loved tennis and it had been a HUGE part of my life since a very young age.
I just didn’t seem miss it. I loved all of training that I was doing.
I even started to question if I ever really loved tennis. Almost every other college athlete I knew went through “withdrawal” when they first stop playing.
But then two weeks ago, I began coaching again and even started hitting.
Suddenly that spark I’d thought I’d lost was re-ignited. Suddenly I wanted to play again and be good.
I wanted to be a top player again. But why? I then thought, “Will I ever truly be able to be as good as I once was and do I honestly want to dedicate the time and energy to become that good again?”
My answer was simply, “No.”
I didn’t want to spend hours a day hitting to try to get back to where I once was. I mean what truly would be the point?
I have no chance of going pro or really making it a profession outside of coaching. So why waste the time?
Yes, I love the sport, but I can satisfy that love by hitting just even a few times a week (even if it is sometimes frustrating that I’m only a shadow of what I once was).
But even though tennis will never play the same role in my life again, the spark is still there.
And I know realize, the spark never actually even faded.
While I love tennis as a sport in and of itself, what my passion, what my spark was really all about was more than just tennis.
My love for tennis stems from my love of competition, of learning and mastering a skill. From my love of physical activity where you are solely dependent on yourself, your skill and your mental toughness.
Because of all the reasons I loved tennis, I feel in love with lifting and all of the competitions that go along with it.
Anyway, this whole thought process started when I was thinking about athletes who get injuries that prevent them from ever again competing in their chosen sport.
While it is most definitely than simply graduating because it is a FORCED separation, the point is the spark is still there in both.
The key though is to use that spark to become great at something else that fills the void.
Once an athlete, always an athlete. No matter your age, you never lose that spark.
Two Steps Forward…
I constantly remind clients to be patient with their progress. I constantly remind them that it isn’t just a clear upward progression.I constantly remind them that there are slight setbacks and plateaus.
For every two steps forward, there may be one step backwards.
Sometimes though I need to take the time to remind myself.
Since starting my progression on VersaClimber and the Battling Ropes, I’ve seen huge gains – gains in strength, speed, explosiveness and even mental toughness.
But today, I experienced my first “plateau.”
Whether it was slight fatigue, a lack of focus or a slight lack of mental toughness, I just didn’t have it today. My progress on the VersaClimber stalled.
I can literally taste success, I’m so close to my goal.
On Wednesday, I even thought there was a good chance I would hit it today.
I think I set my expectations just a bit too high and put a little too much pressure.
I wasn’t patient enough.
I hate being patient.
But patience is really key. If you get to riled up and put too much pressure on yourself, your biggest weapon – YOUR POSITIVE MINDSET – will go out the window.
I feel like I wasted a few sprints today because I had a negative mindset. I hadn’t hit my goal and instead of getting angry and pushing back and battling as hard as I could, I got down on myself.
That is probably the single worst thing I could have done.
I let my mindset change to a negative one – I let myself listen to my fatigue and make up reasons why I wasn’t able to have reached my goal yet.
I made up excuses instead of just pushing with everything I had.
But I won’t let that happen again. I now have a couple of days of some active rest and then I’m back at it again on Monday.
No self doubts.
Just a positive mental attitude and a knowledge that I’m going to give everything I’ve got until I get there!
So I love circuit training. Maybe I’m ADD but I hate doing one thing for a super long time.
I find it easiest to push myself when I know I have only a circuit amount of reps before I can move on to the next thing.
But recently I’ve been experimenting more with doing ONE THING the entire workout.
Not just like running or VersaClimber or CARDIO…But one exercise.
Like crawling, kettlebell swings, kettlebell long cycle or battling ropes.
I just do the one activity for the whole workout.
It is torture.
And I don’t do this every day nor would I want to.
BUT mixing in one exercise workouts does have its benefits.
For one, it adds variety to your workout routine.
Two, it truly pushes your body to ultimate failure.
Three it works on your mental toughness.
I usually set a timer. You can set it for anywhere between 5 minutes to an hour depending on what you’re doing or hope to accomplish.
I then force myself to do the single activity for the entire time WITHOUT taking any breaks. (Of course sometimes my body truly fails and I have to rest for a second, but my ultimate goal is not too.)
It is difficult to keep pushing until the timer goes off because after a while everything is truly so fatigued that you don’t think you can mentally keep pushing yourself.
But you have to!
That is the one thing I like about these workouts. Unlike circuits where the harder I push the quicker I’m done, I can’t change how quickly I’m done. And for me, that is mentally tougher to handle.
It has also show me how sometimes I give in and rest too quickly on exercises during circuits.
It’s not that I’m taking a ton of rest, but where as I used to think I was tired at 20 kb swings, I now realize even though my body is really burning at that point, I can actually hang on for at least 100.
Granted during the circuits I am doing other exercises that are making my body more tired, but mentally now I also have realized that I wasn’t pushing myself near as far as I could actually go.
So aside from the one exercise workouts being physically challenging they do really have a mental benefit that for me has been amazing.
So if you really want to try something new (and variety is very important to your workouts!!!) and you want to challenge yourself mentally, try a one exercise workout!
Try to choose something that is challenging…you can do the exercise for any length of time that is just a little longer than you think you can handle. You don’t want to set your timer for an hour and just cruise!
And once you set the timer…DON’T GIVE UP!
Today one of my orientation task was to read an IR blog about Mental Toughness, which made me think about my hill sprints at “Big Red” yesterday.
Honestly, I wanted to give up halfway up my first hill sprint. My lungs were burning, my legs had gone straight past the burn into shaking and I wanted to just start walking.
My mind was convinced my body was saying, “I can’t do anymore. I need to walk.”
But my mind didn’t give in. My mind kept my body moving all the way to the top of the hill.
And then my mind made my body do that two more times even though my legs would have been happy had I sat down and not moved the rest of the day after the first sprint.
I didn’t let my mind give up so my body kept moving.
Mental toughness is what pushes your body past that initial pain and fatigue. Mental toughness is what makes you push through to the finish even when your muscles are screaming. Mental toughness is what makes you successful.
Clients will tell me all the time, “I can’t do anymore.”
But their arms won’t have collapsed. Heck most of the time, their arms won’t even be shaking one little bit.
Based on the physical signs, I KNOW they can do more.
But they feel the burn so their mind is telling them their body can’t do anymore when it actually CAN.
They aren’t mentally tough.
But mental toughness is something that needs to be trained as much as the physical does. You won’t reach your fitness or health goals if you don’t train your mind as well as your body.
And to become mentally tough, you don’t have to push your body to absolute failure. I’m not asking you to go and workout till you barf. Or take on a “Big Red” sprint when you still feel uncomfortable with sprints on a flat.
All I’m asking you to do is push a little further than you did last time.
If you thought you could only hold a wall sit for 30 seconds, next time don’t let yourself move until you’ve done 35 seconds even if your muscles are burning.
Once you’ve done 35 seconds, next time shoot to hold it longer. Even just one or two seconds longer.
Each time push a little further. Test your mental toughness just a little bit more.
Each time you push a little further, you expand your limits and help your mind to realize that you CAN do more.
Keep pushing and testing your limits. Your mind will become tougher and you will find that your goals are more easily within your reach!