In this article you will learn:
- Why is it that so many people step on the spot with their training
- What “flow” means and what role it plays in fitness training
- How you can get the most out of your workouts with the right mindset
- How you can train your mental strength
- How you can find the flow in training and develop more fun and enthusiasm for fitness
You know them, the studio goers, who do not make any progress in training and after a year they still train with children’s weights. Or maybe you are one of them yourself? Lack of progress, I know very well, affects a great many, and it creates a lot of frustration.
But what distinguishes the successful from the unsuccessful? What is the difference between progress and stagnation? What is this secret ingredient that many people lack, that some seem to know from the start?
The common misconception: Those who train successfully must “know more”. Insider knowledge that gives you a decisive advantage.
The reality is very different:
Especially those who achieve little or no training progress usually (at least in theory) know the most.
That is hardly surprising, because it is precisely the lack of progress that motivates many to deal more intensively with the matter. On the other hand, if things are going so well, there is little reason for it! Therefore, the best fitness coaches are usually the ones who initially struggled with the biggest problems.
This leads to the phenomenon of “program hopping”, the constant changing of training plans in order to find the ultimate plan that finally brings the hoped-for successes.
But the fact is:
WHAT you train (which training plan) is also important. Much more important is HOW you train.
The secret magic ingredient is simply the will, your inner strength and your attitude!
The mindset primarily determines your training success. You could have the world’s best training plan (strictly speaking, there is no such thing, but that’s another topic) and still train without any progress.
This is not fiction, but almost everyday for many.
The mindset is the first adjustment screw I have to turn with a client if I want to help him make progress. Because many simply train with a bad attitude. More precisely: Above all, there is a lack of mental strength and concentration.
All too often I observe how my thoughts are not fully focused on the matter and keep wandering. As a result, the training performance remains below the actual physical performance. This in turn means that only subliminal training stimuli are set , which is why no progress is made.
“Strength does not grow from physical strength – it grows from an indomitable will.” Gandhi
It is interesting to first look at what mental strength actually makes itself felt during fitness training. Because this allows you to quickly see where there is still a problem.
Mental strength is crucial for this:
- … to train regularly at all. The regular training stimulus is the basic ingredient of progress! On the one hand, this requires the right motivation and, on the other hand, mental strength, above all on “bad days” is crucial to keep up with it.
- … to unleash the potential of your body. The brain controls the muscles, that is perfectly clear. But this also means: the greater the will and concentration, the more muscles are involved and the better they work together to overcome resistance. Thus, only a strong will is able to call up the body’s already existing capabilities . Only when you use your power of thought do you train at your current physical performance threshold and only then are the decisive training stimuli set.
- … to turn the workout into a fulfilling flow experience. Fitness training is a classic flow experience! In other words, the training has the potential to do so. However, this potential is wasted for most of them. But only then will real passion and enthusiasm arise and only then will you be able to implement points 1 and 2 permanently. Because discipline alone is not enough in the long term.
It is also clear that this is much more than about building strength and muscle. It is more about unleashing the true potential of real fitness training! Many are not even aware of the extent of this potential, which is why some poor drip may speak of “superficial pumping”.
“Just tell me that you want to be more than just someone doing some perfectly practiced tricks up there on these rings. Tell me that you want to be someone who uses their whole mind and body in a way that most people would never have the courage to do. ” from my favorite film“ Peaceful Warrior “
How you can use this potential, turn your fitness training into a fulfilling flow experience and also bring your progress into the fast lane and train your mental strength , you will find out in the following lines.
You now know that the “flow” in training is ultimately a crucial ingredient for you to perceive the training as a fulfilling experience – and that in turn is damn important in order to train successfully and consistently sticking to it.
Before I can explain to you what to do and how you can apply the concept, we have to clarify what exactly a “flow experience” actually is.
The concept of flow goes back to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, an American psychologist. In his fantastic book “Flow, the secret of happiness” (belongs in every private library!) He explores the question of how and when people can be happy. Is that possible? Is that in our hands? Much in life is beyond our control, but when we ask ourselves whether we hold happiness in our own hands there is a clear answer:
“It is not a result of pleasant coincidences. It is not something that money can buy or power to rule. It doesn’t depend on external events, but rather on how we interpret them – Happiness is rather a state to be ready for. People who learn to control their inner experiences can determine their quality of life; this is probably the closest thing to what we call happiness. ”[p.14]
Happiness therefore does not depend on external things, but lies entirely in our hands. It’s about using psychic energy to have a fulfilling experience:
“The best moments usually happen when a person’s body and soul are stretched to the limit, in the voluntary striving to achieve something difficult and valuable. Optimal experience is therefore something that we bring about. A child experiences this when, with trembling fingers, it lays the last blocks on a tower that is taller than anyone else it has built so far; for a swimmer it may be an attempt to break your own record; for a violinist, it is perhaps an attempt to master a complicated passage. There are thousands of opportunities – challenges – for every person to go beyond oneself ”[p. 16]
That is the key point. We are in the flow when we challenge body and mind at the same time, train physical and mental strength in parallel, try to break boundaries and want to grow beyond ourselves.
That is exactly what we want to achieve in training, isn’t it? Of course, literally every workout doesn’t have to be a record attempt. Sometimes it can be approached more loosely, just to play with the dumbbells.
But these should be exceptions. The mass of workouts has to be a string of records try without ifs and buts!
That doesn’t mean that every workout is actually a record, a clear progression. That just means that every workout is challenging and you should try to excel!
Many approach training with a snore nose mentality à la “Don’t come today, come tomorrow” and that’s exactly why they step on the spot.
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One thing is clear: energy has to be invested in order to have a flow experience. It takes place outside of your comfort zone and is a matter of your will.
Many people seem to believe that you are born with a passion for training. So either the enthusiasm is there or not. It’s not like this! The fire can be kindled, I can guarantee that!
To be honest, I myself used to have little desire for training. In general, when I was young, I wasn’t particularly keen on sports, especially when the computer thing started to take off …
Back then it felt like a torture, a sacrifice, to keep my dream body (I didn’t even think about health back then).
Well, that was exactly what was noticeable during training. There my thoughts were mostly occupied elsewhere. I was never really into it because I did not enjoy it. No wonder! I did not fully commit myself, I was not ready to invest mental energy.
“In the optimal state of inner experience, there is order in consciousness. This occurs when psychic energy – or attention – is used for realistic goals and the abilities correspond to the possibilities for action. The pursuit of a goal brings order to the consciousness, because one focuses attention on the given task and at times must forget everything else. “[p. 19]
So it’s about aligning your activities with a goal, being completely in the present with the mind during the activities themselves – that is the basis of flow.
It also shows that you have to invest to be happy with your workout. Controlling your own attention is certainly no easy undertaking these days. It takes effort, effort and discipline.
But with time it gets easier. It becomes a sure-fire success, an automatism.
From this point on, fitness training often becomes the highlight of the day. It makes you forget all worries, problems and fears, arranges your consciousness, stimulates the blood circulation and metabolism, gets your hormonal balance going and ensures incomparable feelings of happiness when you achieve new, personal bests.
Fitness training offers fulfilling challenges in every unit and using them is above all a question of your attention.
During every training session, focus your attention on the here and now. Feel the muscle contraction, feel the movement.
It will probably take you some effort to bring your attention to the present during an entire session. Our minds tend to throw in thoughts about the future or the past over and over again – that is the source of unhappiness and demotivation.
Future and past overload us with problems and worries, whereas the moment is pure and full of energy.
Incidentally, this applies to all activities also beyond fitness training. I often notice this myself when I write, for example. When I think of completing an article or a chapter in a book, I automatically think of the long way to go. Of the many topics that still have to be processed and incorporated. The time it takes. Of what I could or should do instead.
But if my attention is focused exclusively on the current lines, I write in the flow. Then there is no demotivation, only the flow. All thoughts are focused on the activity itself and thus make it a fulfilling experience – there is simply no more room for negative feelings.
In doing so, I keep finding how much more productive, creative and better I am if no distracting thoughts about the future (“I’ll have to go shopping afterwards…”) find their way into my consciousness.
Back to training: Controlling your attention, focusing on the present, that is the key to train successfully and progressively as well as with motivation and enthusiasm (both are related).
Therefore it is immensely important to make yourself aware of your thoughts again and again and to direct your attention to the present.
The following techniques will help you to train your thought power and mental strength and to find the flow in training in order to stay motivated in the long term and achieve noticeably better results.
Before you start training, your everyday thoughts and worries must first be silenced. If you bring them into training, you waste a lot of potential, because they disperse your concentration.
Therefore the task before every workout:
Get a clear head and focus on the upcoming training.
The following routine, even if it may sound unusual at first, will help you (be sure to try it!):
- Find a sink and fill it with water (use your hands as a stopper if necessary). Visualize the water as all thoughts of the past and the future. Plans, problems, stress, dreams and foams, all of this is in this water. Pull the plug and watch the water flow down the drain – and with it all everyday thoughts. Let go of them, purify your mind with this visualization technique and calm your thoughts.
- Breathe deeply into and out of the lower abdomen 10 times. Put your hands on the lower abdomen and feel it rise with every breath. Feel the path of the cleansing breath, count the breaths and relax. Try to deepen the breath as much as possible and breathe evenly. If possible, only the lower stomach rises, not the chest and not the upper belly either!
- Breathe deeply into and out of your flanks 10 times. Position your hands on your flanks just below your chest and feel how they expand to the sides with every deep breath.
- Breathe deeply into and out of your lower back 10 times. Put your hands on your lower back and feel the breath. At first you may hardly feel anything. M however, over time the breath becomes deeper, more targeted and clearly noticeable.
- Breathe in for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 4 seconds, breathe out for 4 seconds and pause for 4 seconds before you breathe in again. Guide the so-called “box” made by the Navy SEALs breathing “technique for 3-5 minutes. Always breathe as deeply and evenly as possible. Try to direct your breath into the lower abdomen, the flanks and the lower back (into the “ring”).
The breathing exercises help clear your head and focus your attention on the here and now. They are the perfect preparation for the workout. Make it a routine and enjoy the relaxation.
I know the temptation is to just get into your workout and skip these techniques. But really try it out! You will be surprised how much more power you can develop if you prepare and concentrate properly!
A small visualization technique was already part of the first step (focusing). Now it’s about the workout itself or about using the breaks in sentences.
The break time is one of the biggest shortcomings for many. Especially during the breaks, the mind tends to wander due to the drop in physical tension. So the meandering creeps in and it inevitably has a negative effect on the training set!
Declining concentration is a self-reinforcing process if you don’t intervene.
So here you have to take active countermeasures. In positive terms: This is a powerful lever with which you can significantly increase the effect of your workouts!
What can you do during the breaks so as not to lose focus? Visualize the next sentence!
During the break, all thoughts should be focused on the next sentence.
Imagine exactly the sequence of movements in the next sentence. Mentally play it through in great detail. Also visualize all associated feelings, smells, tastes and connect the feelings with optimism, with a positive attitude.
Imagine exactly how and that you overcome the resistance. This is how you plan your success.
In the last repetitions of a set, when it gets really difficult and, above all, mental strength is required, then it is decided whether effective training stimuli or below one’s own performance threshold are trained.
The visualization turns the tide in your favor because it bundles your willpower.
It has been shown time and again that there is a close interaction between exercise technique and training progress.
This is where the wheat is really separated from the chaff: beginners who step on the spot let their technique slip.
Advanced users, on the other hand, are particularly characterized by the fact that they have repeatedly refined and internalized their technique. You can get them out of bed at three at night and they will still do a clean front squat.
This point also requires mental strength . Because the more you do an exercise, the more you will tend to become inattentive. Carelessness comes of its own accord if you don’t actively counter it and strive to perfect your technique on the basic exercises.
Hence the urgent advice:
Perfect the technology wherever possible.
Try to tense more and more muscles. In addition to the agonists (main muscles), also include the antagonists (opponents), i.e. in the bench press in addition to the chest, for example, the back muscles. Also use the potential of the surrounding muscles, which act as synergists and give the movement more strength and stability.
Force can namely be transmitted – a principle that is Hyper-Irradiation calls.
The more muscles are involved in the movement, the more power can be developed.
For example, if you consciously tense your calves, hamstrings, buttocks, abdomen and back in addition to the quadriceps (front thigh muscles), you will gain significantly greater control over movement and be able to unleash more strength.
Any form of tremor and uncontrolled mini-movements are evidence of poor technique.
This leaves a lot of potential unused and you will train far removed from your actual capabilities. Because bad technique ultimately means that the muscles do not pull together in a coordinated manner, but sometimes also work against each other.
This of course leads to a loss of strength and energy and is ultimately the main reason that only subliminal training stimuli are set and your development stagnates!
Perfect the technology and make it automatic. If you have to think about how far your knees can go forward or how the dumbbell should go, you will disperse your concentration. In the sentence, it is important to feel the movement and contraction of the muscles and to maximize the build-up of tension.
You can see that progressive training is primarily a matter of the mind . Your inner strength determines how effective the training stimuli are.
We have to finally say goodbye to the outdated idea of a separation of body and mind and recognize that mental strength controls the development of your body, which is why mental training in sports is mandatory for professional athletes, but just can also be helpful for recreational athletes.
This interaction is also of a mutual nature: Just as mental strength favors the development of the body, the development of your body is a good training for mental strength .
That is, when you steel your body, you are also steeling your mind. This is what makes fitness training so valuable for everyone!
So my final advice:
Fitness training is not something you do on the side. It deserves and demands your full attention.
By that I don’t mean that it should rule your everyday life – hey, you must have a job, friends and family who are probably more important to you. What is meant is very simple: If you go training, then let yourself be fully involved. Training time is YOUR time! Everything else can wait until after the workout.