Taking Clients to the Next Level of Concentration

by: Tom Seabourne, PhD

Taking Clients to the Next Level of Concentration How to use specific and effective mental techniques to improve performance during all components of an exercise session, from warm-up to cool-down. wouldn't it be exciting if your students could be more focused all of the time? Most regular exercisers know that mental preparation is essential to improving W Y T O M S ouldn't it be awesome if your clients could recapture at will the focus they experience during their regular yoga workouts? How about recreating the confidence they exude during relaxation exercises in their t'ai chi classes? In fact, physical performance and enjoying physical activity. Yet too few know how to hone their powers of concentration to advance beyond their current fitness level. The good news is that, as a fitness professional, you can teach people the skills they need to become more aware during all stages and all types of exercise. And these skills can be transferred to and will enhance other areas of your clients' lives. This article will provide you with some practical strategies you can employ to help clients attain a higher level of concentration. B E A B O U R N E , P H D September 2001 IDEA HEALTH & FITNESS SOURCE Getting Focused Many people already know how to concentrate on a single thing when exercising. For example, a client will focus on following a particular cue during a step routine or on maintaining correct form during a specific resistance training set. This single-minded concentration is exclusive in nature. That is, everything other than the center of attention is of lesser consequence. Concentration of this kind can be likened to a photograph in which only one part of the image is clearly defined and the background recedes in a blur. A higher form of concentration--what some might call mindfulness--is possible. While narrow concentration is exclusive, mindfulness is all-encompassing. Rather than making any one item the primary focus, the goal of mindfulness is to mentally stand back and see the bigger picture in an objective, nonjudgmental fashion. This requires clients to remain in the present moment when exercising, instead of fretting about their next movement or how many calories they are burning. Extending the photograph analogy, mindfulness is more like a panoramic view of the entire landscape, where no one object is more in focus or important than the others. This kind of enhanced concentration can be taught to clients in the same way you teach proper form and movement. And it can be applied to all phases of a workout and to different exercise modalities, such as indoor cycling, yoga and kickboxing. Sports psychologists use several different techniques to help athletes attain mindfulness. These strategies include association, dissociation, visualization, progressive relaxation and activation. For more information on these techniques, see "Moving the Mind" in the January 2001 issue of IDEA Personal Trainer magazine. more minutes until they can remain in neutral spinal alignment during the entire workout. Throughout your class or session, remember to provide postural cues for each exercise. And be sure to emphasize the importance of maintaining proper posture when not exercising. Suggest that your clients become more mindful of their posture while sitting and standing at different times of the day at work and home. Mindful Cardiovascular Training Mindfulness is vital during every aspect of the cardiovascular segment of the workout. Numerous distractions can compete with your cues and instructions, vying for your clients' attention. Many of these distractions are created by your clients themselves as they draw comparisons with their counterparts (e.g., "Everyone is faster than I am") or even with their own past performance (e.g., "I was faster last week"). Such distractions can become automatic, and your clients may not even be aware they are creating them. Make it a ritual to begin each cardiovascular segment of class by helping clients become more mindful. Do this by showing them how to replace their negative thoughts with positive affirmations. You can and should teach your clients to pay attention to their self-talk before, during and after their cardiovascular exercise. The trick here is to try changing those negative thoughts to positive ones before they snowball. Tell clients that if they start to 10 CUES TO INSTILL MINDFULNESS To help clients become more focused during workouts, employ some of the following strategies: 1. Instruct clients to relax tension in muscles not being used during the workout. 2. Suggest clients actively focus on their form. 3. Occasionally remind clients not to compete with other members of the class. 4. Ask clients to expend efforts that increase, rather than decrease, their energy. 5. Tell clients to pace themselves. 6. Remind clients to have fun with their movements. 7. Have clients focus on their breath during different segments of class. 8. Cue clients to maintain a neutral spine and remind them to keep the chest open during all activities. 9. Underscore that clients should focus on their immediate goals and take things one step at a time. 10. Remind clients to let distractions go in one ear and out the other. Have them concentrate solely on their present effort. Warming Up to the Concept To introduce your clients to the concept of mindfulness, start your next class or session by calling attention to breathing and posture at the start of the warm-up. Begin by having your clients take a collective deep breath from the diaphragm while raising their arms overhead. Then cue your clients to exhale and lower their arms, allowing all their muscles to relax. Have the class continue to inhale with arms up and exhale with arms lowered until participants feel relaxed and become aware of their breathing patterns. The goal is to get to the point where they are no longer thinking about the position of their arms or their breathing. At this point, your clients will begin to experience mindfulness. Ask them to continue to cultivate this relaxed focus throughout the remainder of their workout. Next, focus on posture. Ask clients to become aware of their spinal alignment while assuming a neutral position. While this may sound simple, staying in neutral takes practice and muscular endurance. Have your clients spend five minutes at a time during the warm-up in a neutral position. Each week, tack on two September 2001 IDEA HEALTH & FITNESS SOURCE RATING MINDFULNESS Have your clients record the relationship between their mindfulness and their workout performance by using these three steps: 1. Rate today's workout on a scale of 1 to 10. think "I don't feel like training," they should replace that thought with "I will warm up and then see how I feel." Or if their reaction to a particular move is "The burn is unbearable," they can switch to the thought "I can keep going for another minute and then stop." To extend the power of positive thinking, show your clients how to act with confidence when exercising, even when they do not feel self-assured. Remind them they should not be concerned with sets, reps or cadence. Every pedal stroke, knee lift or squat is an end in itself. Another helpful mental exercise is to ask your clients to think back to a workout they would prefer to forget. Were they exhausted, uncomfortable, in pain? Were they simply overdoing it? Cue them to recall as much as they can about themselves, their surroundings and their feelings during this particular experience. Then have them think back to their best workout. Did they feel confident and focused, or did they simply lift more or stretch further? Finally, have them compare these two scenarios. Did they notice any patterns in the negative and positive workouts? Once your clients can differentiate between a negative and a positive workout, they can cultivate and express the thoughts and feelings needed to self-direct future exercise sessions with a sense of confidence and focus. 2. Estimate your ability to remain mindful during today's workout on a scale of 1 to 10. 3. Compare your workout rating to your mindfulness rating. After a while, clients will notice that certain patterns become visible during workouts. Ultimately, clients will become proficient at rating their thoughts, feelings and actions, and this ability will help them replicate desirable focus levels during future workouts. Getting Pumped Like the other components of an exercise session, resistance training can be enhanced by applying mindfulness. Some ways to encourage this include:

IDEA Health Fitness Source , Volume 2002, Issue 8

© 2001 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

About the Author

Tom Seabourne, PhD

Tom Seabourne, PhD IDEA Author/Presenter

*Tom Seabourne, Ph.D. exercise science, Penn State Univ. Scholarship Athlete, University of North Texas, Alumni of the year. American Council on Exercise fitness educator of the year (2005) finalist...

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