Today I finished my 4th workout, completing my first week of training in my new program (Fierce Definition with coach and mentor Suzanne Digre).
Reflecting on this first week, I’ve already seen benefits of starting back with a structured weightlifting program.
1. Mindfulness training
“Mindfulness” is quite a buzzword nowadays. Coming from Buddhist practice, in popular Western culture today, this practice of awareness in the present moment is being used in many different arenas, from psychology and counseling and teaching, to parenting and romantic relationships. The “father” of the introduction of the practice of mindfulness in Western culture, or at least in the United States, is generally accepted to be Jon Kabat-Zinn, originally a student of Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. Kabat-Zinn, a professor of medicine, is the founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
I doubt that many people would immediately associate weight training with mindfulness practice. And yet, knowing a bit about the practice myself (having nearly graduated with an MSW from University of Washington as well as having practiced Zazen, Zen Buddhist meditation), I can say with certainty that for me, weight training is in fact an excellent mindfulness practice.
Focusing on form, concentrating on the lift, the discipline required to practice and learn different types of lifts: all of these things require you to stop and be very present in the moment. If you’re attempting a heavy deadlift, you certainly don’t want to have your mind wandering. Fact of the matter, frankly, is that the lift itself won’t permit it: you are forced to stay in the moment, be very aware of your body, your surroundings, and your movements.
Weight training brings a very acute awareness to your body in space, what you’re doing in the present moment each second, and the energy required to lift heavy weights means that your mind and body must work together in a concentrated and focused effort. There’s no room then for anxious thoughts, wondering what you’re going to buy at the grocery store, or what appointments you have later in the day. Weight training creates a mental discipline and calming of the mind that I personally find quite similar to meditation.
2. Awareness around using food for fuel
Using My Fitness Pal to track my daily diet has been essential in coordinating my lifting and nutrition efforts. I have a specific macronutrient intake goal to hit each day, so the program calculating this for me is very helpful. In addition, the practice of logging my food after each meal keeps me very aware of what I’m putting into my body, how it affects my overall energy, and how much food I’m consuming. I’m also able to avoid careless late-night snacking when I hold myself accountable this way. Another benefit of food tracking is that you develop a healthier relationship with food. Rather than seeing your diet as a list of “can’t eat” and “have to eat,” you can see clean eating as a lifestyle choice. That way, rather than being totally restrictive which obviously isn’t sustainable in the long run (ie, “I can’t EVER eat X”), you’re able to balance and monitor your overall food intake so that even if you have to go “off plan” for specific occasions or if you eat something processed, etc., you don’t sit there and beat yourself up over it. You see the bigger picture of your diet as an ongoing mechanism for fueling your workouts and your overall energy, rather than a battle of you against food. Something my coach told us regarding a clean-eating mindset, that I really like and think of often, is: Don’t say ‘I can’t eat this’ but rather ‘I don’t eat this.’ I like that because it reminds me that this is a lifestyle choice, not a quick-fix or a temporary restriction. Clean eating is something that is sustainable for the very fact that it’s not restrictive but rather a way to provide your body with the optimum fuel it needs for weight training performance and overall health.
3. Discipline, consistency and routine
In our overly technological and super fast-paced modern world, the idea of doing everything “fast” and being super productive is prevalent everywhere. Connected to the idea of slowing down with mindfulness practice, I find that weight training also brings me an excellent benefit of adding valuable discipline, structure, routine, and consistency to my daily life. The practice of going to the gym on the designated days, following a specific plan, doing things for a specific reason in order to obtain specific results, all of which I won’t see on the same day or the same week or even necessarily the same month: all of this is part of a practice that goes outside of what’s encouraged in our current culture of immediacy. In my view, there’s a lack of “follow through” in our modern society and the way we’re trained by pop culture and the surrounding environment. New models of technology come out all the time and everyone is rushing, rushing, to get the latest gadget, know the latest status update, and the hashtag #FOMO is becoming a cultural concept!
Weight training requires discipline, dedication, and consistency. It’s a day-in, day-out practice. It’s not a quick fix, and it’s not a temporary choice. Although my current program is a 12-week program, I certainly have no intention of stopping this practice at 12 weeks. Rather, that will be a fork in the road where I’ll decide where my next goals lie and how to achieve them.
There’s really something to be said for slow and steady discipline and consistency. I find personally that this practice brings a very healthy mental balance to my overly hectic and fast-paced daily life.
These are just three benefits I’m finding after week one. There are several others but I’ll leave those for a future post.
What benefits do you find from your weight training program and practice? Share in the comments!