How Being Present Can Improve Your Training and Your Life

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Amelia Phillips

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What does being present mean?
Being present or being in the moment means you are free from any thoughts of your past or future. You are focused on what is happening right here, right now. People often spend less than 1% of their time in the present moment which can lead to stress, anxiety and unhappiness.

Why does it help with training?
Firstly, the physical outcomes of the session directly relate to how present the person was throughout. For example, a runner doing a 10km course completely present to their stride, will focus on technique, breathing, and rhythm, increasing their efficiency and speed, resulting in a better outcome. Alternatively, a distracted person may allow their technique to become sloppy and labored, losing valuable seconds every stride. Secondly, being present helps to stop distracting thoughts entering their head and most often these thoughts are negative. See 4.5 ways to change your attitude towards exercise. It also helps to prevent other distractions such as competitors, audience, etc. A perfect example of this is watching Roger Federer or Andre Agassi play tennis. They are focused, in the zone, which allows them to make fast, instinctive choices, without having to use the slower, judgmental, conscious part of their brain.

How can you become present during training?
It starts with focusing your thoughts on your body. For example, the runner may listen to their breathing, focusing on it’s rhythm. Once your mind is reasonably settled, start from your head and work down your body, feeling your position and checking everything is doing what it should be. The runner would start with their shoulders are my shoulders relaxed, arms swinging close to my side, relaxed but with a forward momentum. Am I breathing through my nose, out my mouth and deep in my belly? Are my core muscles engaged but not stiff? Are my legs running straight, no knocked knees? Am I using my glutes on every stride right the way through? Am I landing heel to toe, not flat footed?

Depending on your sport, there should be a list of technical questions you could ask yourself which will create a barrier for distractions. Keep going through that list, and before you know it, you will be in a peaceful state of mind, which is in the “zone”, and very present. If you get distracted, start your list again.
You may find you can do this for 10 minutes but then the distractions take over. This mental training is like fitness, the more you do it, the longer you can hold it for. Even if you pick one segment of your workout to do it, and slowly build up, that’s fine too.

Your ability to remain present depends on the health of your thoughts.
In any given moment, you can move from being fully present to being filled with upsetting thoughts that trigger emotions based on the past and future. It happens in an instant and is highly dependent on how healthy your thoughts are. If you lack confidence, you will begin negative self talk and doubt. Both result in failure and unhappiness rooted in past and future-based thoughts. It takes discipline to keep refocusing on your body and repel any distracting thoughts.

How can we apply this in other areas of our lives?
Exercise is a great practice pitch for being present as sessions lasting 30-60 minutes is great time frame to stay in the moment. In this modern era with a constant bombardment of stimulus, it is hard to stay focused on one thing for any length of time. Being present in training trains our mind to stay quiet and ignore distractions. People have likened this to meditation, and in fact, being present is most definitely an active form of meditation that brings with it all the wonderful benefits that spill into every area of our life. Practice being present in training and I bet you notice your concentration improving at work.

Here’s 6 golden rules for sticking to your workouts.

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  • Jules

    I find that if I am pushing myself hard, I can’t think about any else other than what I am doing. If I am running, I am thinking about making it through each step, making up the hill, making it through the minute. If I am doing weights, I am thinking about my technique, how I am lifting, the burn I feel in my muscles. Sometimes I try and think about something else, and I simply can’t. Any other thoughts get soon pushed out by my mind’s need to focus on what my body is doing. So I guess I am always ‘present’ when I train. Probably not necessarily constructively, as it’s often just focused on getting through it all. It’s why I never have the TV on the treadmill set on anything other than music – I simply can’t pay attention to any program.

    It’s only if I’m going easy can I think properly, watch TV, have a chat. But then it doesn’t feel like exercise, so I don’t feel satisfied.

  • Amelia Burton

    Hi Jules,

    It sounds like you train like a champion, great work!! A lot of people struggle with this focus that you seem to possess naturally. I bet you are very focussed in other areas of your life as well. I wonder if you have always been like this or if it has developed as you have grown older..?

  • NJ

    Jules, Great Blog you have here. I also noticed that when I am “present” during my workouts, I get more out of them. Just concentrating on the particular muscle that you are working on can make a big difference. N.J http://www.arc4life.blogspot.com

  • Tom Parker

    Great article. After going to the gym for a period of time you quickly start to realise which people are focussed on their workouts and which people are there just for the social occassion.

    Personally, I find that I’m quite good at staying ‘present’, although if I’ve had a tough day at work I do sometimes find it difficult to get into the right mindset. Also, I find that if I came to the gym planning to train a particular group of muscles but then all the equipment I need is taken re-focussing becomes quite difficult. I don’t know what it is but if I can’t do chest on ‘chest day’ it’s always lingering at the back of my mind.

  • Girl-Woman

    Hi Amelia. As a personal trainer, too, I respect your style.

    …adding you to Fitness Web Tour for the weekend.

  • Amelia Burton

    Thanks nj,

    It’s so true, you definitely get more out of your workouts when you are present. Keep up the good work! Oh and by the way it’s Amelia, not Jules !!

  • Amelia Burton

    Hi Tom,

    Yes I share your frustration when your workout doesn’t go the way you want it to. I guess it’s when you need to go to another level of focus. If you can consciously change your workout and re-adjust your focus then you will be even more present next time.

  • Amelia Burton

    Hi girl-woman,

    Thanks for adding me. I love hearing what other trainers are up to and learning from the best..

  • freaky

    Hey Amelia,

    Again, thanks. I love this. I think this one of the most important aspects in training.

    Also a good dose of attitude and determination.

    I have a short attention span, and struggle with a lack of motivation sometimes, but once I’m there, I’m completely in the moment and I enjoy listening to my body to push it harder each time.

    I also like making a deal with myself that I will do atleast one thing harder, or longer, or faster or heavier in my session. I feel so good afterwards. Seeing results helps, too!

    xx

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