Author | DIAKADI Intern Ron Michelson I am predominantly goal oriented rather than process oriented and I look ahead to the finish line. Maybe it’s because I’m Taurean. Or more likely in looking ahead I just forget to be present in the moment. When it comes to goals and my workouts, it means the future is the mass I’m “supposed” to gain or the body fat I’m “supposed” to lose or the pounds I’m “supposed” to lift. It means if I don’t do these things to realize my goal, I’ve failed.
In becoming more process oriented, I’m learning to do my lift WELL. Well doesn’t mean I accomplish a certain weight, rather, it means I practice being totally focused on the moment at hand. My mind is in the muscle and I’m intently focused on my form bringing a winning workout and closer to my goal of competing.
In order to reap the benefits an exercise is designed for, one must “become” the exercise. In order to become the exercise, the first step is to learn proper form (technique). If you’re a runner, you have to learn how to pace properly, how to breathe properly. If you're a gymnast, you must learn to "block" to add height to your vault and your tumbling. If you want to remain mobile despite having arthritis, you must learn that proper alignment of the body (i.e., joint alignment) is crucial for pain free movement, and one must learn how to bend properly and efficiently for movement with minimal pain.
Learning form is done is step by step moments. For instance, in doing the squat there are several joints moving and many muscles working to accomplish one rep. In the beginning I learned proper squat form by sitting, however lightly, on a bench and then getting back up again. Over and over, with my hands out in front of me, just so I could internalize muscle memory of the glutes and hamstrings and learn how to use my legs correctly. I then added a broom stick to the previously learned squatting movement so I could practice keeping my torso upright and my chest out. During this time I kept learning to “visualize” how my form felt, with prompting from my coach.
Form needs to be attended to constantly as humans tend to fall out of good form. Old, bad habits re-arise or new ones pop up and these need to be tweaked (corrected) out of existence. A much deeper intensity of effort is experienced because ALL of the contributing muscle fibers that can be worked are being worked. It’s important to have someone tweaking your form; just looking in the mirror is not nearly as effective for catching every detail.
When I’ve really got my mind in my muscle, producing maximum intensity of effort, a moderate-weight work out is more effective than grunting out a few reps with overloaded weights and likely, safer as well. Rather than just throwing the bar around during bicep curls, I try to go at it slowly one rep at a time and with intention of form...I really concentrate on my biceps and I am completely in them. Remembering each rep is its own entity helps me to stay in the moment, to be focused and I tend not to think about how many reps I have left. Sometimes I cannot finish the reps goal because of the great intensity I just put myself through. Not finishing a set is very ok and on some exercises it’s even fine to do a partial rep as the action still ameliorates the muscle.
My benefits of focus, you ask?
Numbers, weights and that sort of thing are tangible examples of success in the fitness field. Recently, I deadlifted 315lbs for the first time, a feat inconceivable to me not even a year ago. Heavier weights are integral for my progress to gain mass but I’ve received additional benefits I wouldn’t have considered when I began lifting- a growing patience; that exciting, muscle building fatigue in focused application of maximal intensity of effort; self-respect to work WITH my body instead of beating it into submission. I’ve developed more faith in my body as it’s gotten stronger and although I still have much work to realize my goals, those goals will come through keeping my mind in my muscle and my focus on my form.