Disengage Your Auto-Pilot: 4 Ways to Exercise More Mindfully

The FIRM Master Instructor Team by The FIRM Master Instructor Team | October 13th, 2009 | 1 Comment
topic: Fitness


By The FIRM Master Instructor Emily Welsh

You can work out every day or even hours a day and get little benefit if you are not fully engaged in the process. I have found that if I’m not paying attention to what I am doing when I work out, I move mindlessly through each set of exercises, not getting the best benefit from each repetition. I call this being on “auto-pilot.”

We all know the adage, “You can do anything you set your mind to.” It holds true for any exercise you do. Lately, I have been trying to focus more on what I’m doing and think about everything else less (which is hard for me, as you can imagine, if you know me at all). These are some of the “Jedi mind tricks” I’ve come up with to harness my mental powers and help make my body stronger and more fit.

Avoid distractions

This is hard for me as the instructor. When I am teaching, distractions are all over the room — 30 or so of them! But, no matter what is going on around you, it is possible to turn your attention inward at the same time. I don’t think about what I need to do the rest of the day or about how cute that workout top is in the second row. I simply concentrate on the movement — that’s it. If I am working out at home, I don’t answer the phone, I don’t try chat with my husband or kids, I ignore the dust bunnies in the corner calling out for the vacuum cleaner. These things can wait until after my workout.

Change what you think about

I like to think positive and negative: The contraction is the positive phase and the stretch or extension is the negative phase. Take a squat as an example: On the way down — the negative phase — you are stretching your glutes to the max, so focus on descending slowly, making your quads work harder to decelerate the movement of your thighs. On the way up — the positive phase — fully contract the glutes to straighten your hips and stand tall with good posture. Concentrate on both the positive and negative during every repetition, for every exercise, and you will definitely feel a difference!

Take your time

If you slow the exercise down, you achieve two things. First, you work harder because the pace requires greater control by the muscles. While not advocating the “super slow method” of working out, you can see significant increases in your strength simply by slowing down the moves.

Second, you work smarter because you have the time to “put your mind in the muscle.” Visualization is a powerful tool during a workout. I keep a mental picture of the musculature of the human body. As I work, I envision the specific muscle that is doing the work and how it moves while it does. It helps me “see” the contraction in my mind and then I feel it more in my body.

Finish every exercise

I have to move quickly to transition in class, but even though I am switching from one exercise to the next, I don’t neglect that last repetition! I give it as much time as I would the first one and make sure I feel it before moving on. I don’t want to cheat myself — do you?

The mind-body connection isn’t just for yogis! If you put your mind into it, you will get more out if it. Try it and see for yourself!

the-firm-logoThe FIRM Master Instructor Team blog is shared courtesy of The FIRM Believers Club, an online community that helps you reach your fitness goals. With maximum-efficiency home workouts, support and motivation from The FIRM Master Instructors, daily tips, personalized workout rotation calendars, and access to other members through discussion boards, The FIRM Believers Club provides all the tools you need to get in the shape you want.


  1. Bringing attention to what you are doing yields quality results. I agree with you that, in terms of exercise, paying attention to your form and slowing down will give you better results. Visualization is key as well, unfortunately many people don’t truly understand which muscles should or shouldn’t be working as they haven’t been given the proper education. As a physical therapist, this becomes even more crucial. Educating my patients and clients on exactly what muscles should be working, where they begin and end, and how the joints should move as a result, expedites their progress. Anatomy determines biomechanics which dictates movement which feeds back into anatomy. Keeping this cycle in mind will boost results of you and your students.
    Good article!

    Rick | October 15th, 2009 | Comment Permalink

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