The state of your mind affects your movement, fitness, sensations of pain, and overall wellbeing, so training it reaps both physical and mental dividends, writes corrective exercise specialist Justin Price, creator of The BioMechanics Method.
As a passionate fitness professional, you have spent many hours, weeks, even years, training and developing your body to look, feel and function at its best. Your hard work has likely resulted in feelings of pride when you catch a glimpse of your reflection in the mirror. However, in all this time spent working on your body, have you neglected or overlooked the part that matters the most? What would your answer be if you asked yourself, ‘What would my mind look like naked’?
People often use the mind and the brain as interchangeable terms. In actuality, they are very different things. The brain is the control centre for the body. It sends and receives signals from inside and outside the body to help you act, react, and interact with the world. From a body functioning standpoint, the brain enables you to breathe, eat, sleep, and move so that you can exercise, recover and perform other important activities of daily life (Ackerman, 1992).
The mind helps oversee the brain, and establishes the quality of the messages sent from the brain to the body. The mind creates and processes your thoughts, feelings and emotions, which then influence the signals sent by your brain to your body (positively or negatively). The health and state of your mind, therefore, ultimately affects your movement performance, fitness capabilities, sensations of pain, and overall wellbeing (Ozanich, 2011).
Negative thinking in the mind produces emotions such as sadness, anger, depression and anxiety (Rankin, 2013). These unpleasant emotions change your brain chemistry and directly affect your nervous system. Feelings of uneasiness and worry, for example, have been linked to increased heart rate, increased muscle tension and sweating, increased recovery times needed after activity, and shortness of breath (Pert, 1997). These physiological reactions to mental processes and patterns negatively affect one’s ability to work out successfully and recover effectively.
As a fitness professional, you know that the musculoskeletal and neuromuscular systems can develop imbalances that affect physical appearance and movement capabilities. Similarly, the mind can develop bad habits and negative thinking patterns that can adversely affect the body’s performance (Sarno, 2001). Just as you would regularly assess the body for disparities, you must also learn to observe and evaluate the mind to understand its imbalances, compensations and weaknesses so that these issues can be corrected.
Corrective exercise for the body typically begins with some form of self-myofascial release. These techniques help identify and rejuvenate areas of the body that have been adversely affected by muscle and movement imbalances (Price and Bratcher, 2018). Corrective exercise for the mind begins with a similar process of identifying destructive mental habits and negative thinking patterns.
Step 1: Identifying and releasing bad mental habits
Just as one would search around the body with a foam roller (or similar massage tool) to uncover areas of tension with self-myofascial release techniques, the mind should be explored for problematic tendencies and stress.
Begin by paying attention to any recurring negative thoughts or emotions you have throughout the day. Make a note of these propensities in a notebook or journal. For example, you might notice that every time you are warming up for a run you have recurring anxious thoughts about the knee pain you tend to get after running a couple of miles. Alternatively, you may realise that you always feel guilty or demean yourself after eating a piece of cake or other desert. It doesn’t matter the subject of your thoughts, but rather the negative mindset that accompanies them. Whatever your mental tendencies, record them in your journal.
Step 2: Introducing new mental habits
Corrective exercise for the body typically progresses from self-myofascial release to stretching exercises (Price, 2018). Stretching introduces new ranges of motion to the body to enable new movements, improve physical confidence and facilitate better function. Corrective exercise for the mind employs comparable strategies to produce similar results.
Look at the list of negative thoughts and emotions you have written down. Now stretch yourself mentally by considering alternative and positive ways to think about the same topics.
In the runner’s scenario above, for example, recurring stressful thoughts about knee pain were identified. The optimistic alternative to this is to replace the destructive thoughts with a buoyant substitute such as ‘I have been integrating corrective exercise into my workouts consistently now for almost three months and the cause of my knee pain is being addressed. I’m confident that I’m doing a great job of making sure my knee doesn’t hurt when I run’.
Alternatively, in the eating scenario, a more positive way to think about having a piece of cake might be to say to yourself ‘It’s my friend’s birthday. I feel extremely fortunate to be celebrating their happy day and enjoying a piece of cake with them’.
Step 3: Reinforcing positive mental habits
The final stage of any corrective exercise program involves using strengthening exercises to reinforce those areas of the body that require it in order to maintain and/or develop optimal function (Price and Bratcher, 2018). The same goes for reconditioning exercises designed to strengthen the mind. In Step 1 of your corrective exercise program for the mind, you identified your negative mental habits. In Step 2, you came up with alternative points of view to replace your recurring problematic thoughts and emotions. In Step 3, you will reinforce your new mental habits, implementing these thought processes on a recurring basis by performing multiple reps and sets.
When you find yourself engaged in a negative thought process, replace it promptly with the positive one you have identified. As you would any exercise program, begin this transformation process gradually. Pinpoint one negative thought per day and replace it with a positive thought. As your self-confidence grows, increase the number of repetitions you perform each day of replacing destructive thoughts and emotions with positive ones. As you become more proficient, you will find that you recognise your negative mental habits more quickly and replace them swiftly before they become overwhelming and debilitating to your state of mind (and body).
As you work to improve the condition of your mind, your body will thank you. Positive and constructive thoughts about what you are doing (for example, to prevent knee pain while running) will manifest in the body via signals from the brain (in this instance as reduced, and eventually, no knee pain). Similarly, negative thoughts about eating (as discussed above) will inflame the gut and cause gastric distress. Replacing these thoughts with positive sentiments and emotions will have a direct effect on the way the gut operates, improving digestion, and ultimately the way the entire body feels and functions.
Developing a fit and robust mind requires hard work and dedication. However, by routinely identifying your problematic thought patterns and emotions and replacing them consistently with more constructive/positive mental habits, you will enjoy the incredible benefits that come with a healthy body and mind.
Click here to listen to Justin Price’s chat with The Fitness Industry Podcast, in which he discusses preventing clients from falling off the fitness wagon, incorporating advanced exercise skills into your PT services, increasing your professionalism and revenue, and the importance of simplicity.
Justin Price, author of this article, is the creator of The BioMechanics Method Corrective Exercise Specialist Certification powered by Australian Fitness Network (Fitness Australia-approved). The BioMechanics Method is the fitness industry’s highest rated specialty certification with trained specialists in over 70 countries. To find out more about how to become a corrective exercise specialist in The BioMechanics Method so you can help people alleviate their pain, move better and exercise without limitations, click here.
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