By Blair Whitmarsh, PhD
Failing to warm your cold muscles before working out is akin to smashing your joints with a hammer. Rushing into the gym with barely enough time to get the workout completed can lead to cold muscles getting injured, or simply having a lousy workout. You know that a good warm-up can enhance your workout, but what about a mental warm-up? To be at your best, you need to be ready both physically and mentally.
It is a good idea to begin your mental preparation hours before a training session. The problem is that most people have no idea what to do. Daily distractions and a wandering mind can easily take your focus away from your workout. In fact, I believe that the reason so many people spend endless hours in the gym is that they have failed to mentally prepare for the intensity of a mass-building workout.
The mind must be developed and trained to interact with the body to reach peak muscular development. Most personal trainers and bodybuilders will agree that between 40 and 90 per cent of success in bodybuilding is due to mental factors. The more advanced the muscularity, the more significant the role mental skills play. Studies conducted with Olympic athletes have consistently shown that when physical, technical, and mental readiness are assessed, only mental readiness significantly predicted athletic success. Being mentally prepared to train can translate into increased muscular size and definition, which can be proudly shown at the beach or in competition.
During your warm-up, it is essential that you attune to the factors that can affect your workout:
1. The Gym Where You Train
The environment of the gym can distract, be neutral, or even aid you. The gym may be too cold or too warm, have archaic equipment, or be too small. Constantly comparing yourself against others or checking out the hot body at the squat rack will only distract you from reaching your goals. Give yourself a few minutes at the start of a training session to look around the gym. Once you start lifting, you can maintain your focus without undue distractions.
2. Your Equipment
In most sports, the equipment plays a crucial role in the success of an athlete. Fitness and bodybuilding is no different. If the equipment is not adjusted properly and is not in good working condition, it makes it very difficult to perform at your best. Make sure you look after the equipment in your control, such as your gloves, lifting belt, shoes, and clothing. Anything that is loose, broken, or worn down may distract or even lead to a possible accident.
3. The Purpose of Your Workout
Have you set goals for your workout? You should always know the purpose of each workout and how it fits into your overall plan for fitness development, as employing focused intensity will push you closer toward your goals. Program changes are very helpful but they are best done away from the gym. During training, stick to your purpose and work as hard as you can.
4. Your Training Partner
You know that you will need to be focused on your workout to have the best experience. However, your training partner may arrive at the gym with a desire to talk about recent events. Allow yourself time to chat in a free, unrestricted manner for a few minutes and then gently direct your conversation to task-related topics. Soon the conversation will undoubtedly be focused on your training goals.
5. Individual Mental Readiness
The final factor that you must harmonize before your workout is ensuring that you are mentally ready to lift. Every person is unique, and you have probably learned what it takes for you to get ready. Some people become highly anxious and require relaxation, some are too laid-back and require an increase in energy, some rely heavily on visualization, some enjoy stretching and massage, and others simply require loud, uplifting music. You only need to know what you need!
Blair Whitmarsh holds a PhD in Sport Psychology and is the Dean of Human Kinetics and Athletics at Trinity Western University in British Columbia.