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How the Mind-Muscle Connection Can Help You Get More Out of Every Workout

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You know the phrase “mind over matter?” Turns out, it can apply to your workouts, too. One of the buzziest theories in fitness right now is something often referred to as the mind-muscle connection, and the basic idea is that just by thinking about your muscles moving your body through an exercise, you can help them work more efficiently.

Pretty much any trainer will tell you there are big benefits to be found in mentally connecting to your movement, simple as it may sound. “It can be very easy to disassociate from your workout by chatting with your friends or paying more attention to the instructor. But what we’ve seen is that if you focus on contracting the muscle that you’re involving, then you can get a better result out of it,” exercise physiologist and ACE-certified personal trainer Pete McCall, C.S.C.S., as well as host of the All About Fitness podcast, tells SELF.

There are a few different theories that suggest why brain power is such an important tool in getting the most out of your time at the gym—and while some are still under investigation, others make a convincing argument for channeling the mind-muscle connection in your own workouts.

First, it’s worth noting that neurological evidence shows that our brains play a major role in regulating muscle movement and strength.

“Muscles are a puppet of the nervous system, and a muscle that does not have nerves regulating it is essentially useless in terms of force production,” Brian Clark, Ph.D., executive director of the Ohio Musculoskeletal and Neurological Institute and professor of physiology and neuroscience at Ohio University, tells SELF.

This means that muscle movement begins in the brain, and it plays a major role in regulating strength—remarkably, the brain can regulate strength without you ever moving a muscle. Clark coauthored a 2014 study that found that participants with one arm immobilized in a cast could avoid loss of wrist strength simply by using imagery, thinking through the process of flexing their wrist.

Here’s how the connection works: “Whether you’re actually doing a task or just imagining a task, if you’re imagining it correctly, you see increases in the EEG signal, which suggests that the neurons are being activated,” says Clark.

This neurological signal is then sent down from the brain to the muscle you’re thinking about. The theory is that if you visualize an exercise and specific muscle movement as you do it, you can train the brain to send stronger signals, which translates to more muscle engagement, likely by either recruiting more muscle fibers or getting the fibers to work more quickly and efficiently, he says.

The jury’s still out on whether mentally moving through an exercise while you do it improves muscle recruitment on its own, but early research is promising.

Of course, as with all things that sound too good to be true, there’s a kicker—you’ll see bigger strength benefits actually working out than just thinking it through, stresses Clark (so you definitely shouldn’t give up that gym membership if you’re physically able to exercise).

But these findings give us a clue into how the mind drives movement, and new research is exploring the question of how thinking about your workout while you’re doing it can give you better results than just mindlessly performing the exercise alone.

Clark points to a few recent studies from other researchers exploring how mental effort affects workouts, including one published in June 2017. In the study, 18 young, healthy participants were put in a low-intensity strength training program for six weeks and divided into a high mental effort group, a low mental effort group, and a control group that didn’t exercise. The participants in the high mental effort group gained more strength than the other groups, even though the workout intensity was the same for both the high mental effort and low mental effort groups.

While promising results like these are buzzy among fitness pros who’ve been advocating for the mind-muscle connection for years, these are early, small-scale studies (the study above also didn’t test imagery directly), so it’s hard to say whether thinking about your muscles working actually leads to better performance, independent of other factors.

But until more research is published, there are actually some other reasons to think about your muscles as you use them.

Thinking about engaging the correct muscles during an exercise is an excellent path to better form, which does lead to better results.

Actively focusing on the muscles you’re trying to engage as you move through an exercise can be the difference between a “meh” rep and a killer one, exercise physiologist Dean Somerset, C.S.C.S., tells SELF. Take squats, for example. “If you don’t feel the glutes flexing whatsoever but you just keep pumping out reps, you might be working your quads and hamstrings, but you’re not getting the benefit that you’re actually looking for,” he says. “If you’re working on decent technique, it’s going to be a much more effective exercise.” Actually thinking about the muscles you’re trying to target is a simple but effective place to start.

By focusing on form, you’re also less likely to rely on the wrong muscles to get you through an exercise, which can lead to pain and injury.

Plus, simply picturing your muscles working can help you get in the zone.

From a psychological perspective, McCall and Somerset both say that a major benefit they see from implementing the mind-muscle connection is just feeling engaged with your workout (which probably means you’re working harder, too). “A big buzzword is mindfulness. When people are really focused on what they’re doing, they’re able to hone in on that exercise more easily. It’s a matter of quality—you’re intrinsically focused on what you’re doing,” says Somerset.

“When you see somebody focused on what they’re doing, you see a tremendous difference [in performance],” adds McCall. “It’s kind of like a form of meditation. If you focus on the muscles that you’re using, you just become more in tune with what your body is doing,” McCall adds.

Ready to try it? Here’s how to use put the mind-muscle connection into practice.

The good news about the mind-muscle connection is that it’s really as simple as it sounds. As you’re working out, actually picture your muscles contracting as you move through an exercise. For example, if you’re doing a bicep curl, imagine the bicep muscle contracting and lengthening as you lift the weight up and down. You can do this during pretty much any exercise or type of workout, says Somerset, but it’s particularly useful in exercises where it’s easy to drop into improper form (like rowing exercises and even running). If you’re not sure what specific muscle or muscles you’re targeting with a more complex exercise, ask your trainer or the class instructor to give you the lowdown.

Bottom line? A mental workout doesn’t top an actual workout, but there are benefits to doing both. It doesn’t take any extra time or physical effort to simply channel your thoughts, so there’s nothing to lose and only potential strength to gain.

You May Also Like: Strongest SELF Ever Challenge: Strength and Balance

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Health & Fitness

Eight Amazing Benefits of Teaching Yoga

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Every challenging occupation yields some sort of satisfaction, but the fitness professionals industry had an amazing 85% job satisfaction rate according to an Idea Health & Fitness survey.

Job Satisfaction
In the same survey, 98% of those interviewed felt that “My work gives me a feeling of personal accomplishment.” Lack of personal satisfaction is the most frequent reason why people leave a job. These statistics make it obvious that this is an extremely harmonious atmosphere to work in.

Also, check out: Danica Patrick has a strong Yoga game

For many of us who worked in the corporate world and shifted into the health and fitness industry, the energy felt in a health club, ashram, or wellness center is similar to being on vacation.

There’s always something to do, but the job itself is very gratifying.

Rewards of Helping Family, Friends, Students, and Co-workers

Your self-esteem improves as you find solutions for the pain management of others, ailments, fitness, stress management, positive thinking, etc.

The list goes on, as you continue your own journey of self-improvement, but the feeling of gratification you get from helping someone find the right path is beyond words.

You will always remember: That student who reaches their ideal body weight, the physically impaired student who finds that they, too, can live a better quality life, and the student who leaves your class without a headache or a backache they came in with.

Your Own Health
As a practitioner of Yoga, you have become more aware of your daily ups and downs. You monitor your breath, posture, moods, diet, and exercise on a daily basis.

As a Yoga teacher, you are setting an example to your students and teaching them to live a quality life. This path will enable you to live longer and live better.

There is no Shortage of Work
When the working world is in the “9 to 5” mode, you have many opportunities with Corporate Accounts, The Fitness Industry, Senior Centers, Medical Centers, Referrals, etc. This is when you to teach them, with any free time you have.

Once I became totally self-employed, there were more daytime off-site Yoga teaching opportunities than I had time for in a geographic area that has many active Yoga teachers and studios. One of my best students, who became a
Yoga teacher through our on-site program, inherited an area that I could no longer service due to time restraints.

The object is to contact them. This is where your post cards come in handy, if you don’t have a personal referral.

Continuing Education
Yes, learning new things keeps your mind stimulated and healthy. You will never tire of subjects to study, explore, and investigate. There are so many facets of Yoga, that one life span, is just not enough time to learn it all.

It’s not a race, but it is a journey. You will find friends, colleagues, and students who are on the same path. This makes giving, receiving, and sharing a wonderful thing along the way.

Time
You will have time to stop, think, breathe, relax, or meditate. You can always fill your plate beyond its limits, but you no longer have to.

You can determine whether or not you will be stuck in traffic during rush hour. You decide what hours you will work and what days you have off. You will come to the realization that your time is your own.

Independence
Everyone wants control of their own life, but very few achieve it. Being in business for yourself, can help you control your own destiny and that of your family.

Sure there are limits to what one person can accomplish, but it is better to try than to have never tried.

Success
No matter what you want, if you write down your short-term and long-term goals, you will make great progress toward them.

You should keep these goals in a place where you can see them daily and visualize yourself accomplishing your goals. You should be specific about time frames and ethical methods used to meet them. You can even use them in meditation.

Review your long-term goals at least once every season and every year.
Review your short-term goals daily. You will see yourself make rapid success in this way.

Lastly, goals do not have to be material at all. For example: You may want to start teaching Yoga in a year, and the following year, get a part-time Yoga teaching position. This type of goal setting is realistic and beneficial to mankind.

That is the key ñ If you choose a goal that will benefit others, you will surely achieve it.

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Health & Fitness

Stay Healthy – Learn To Meditate

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Wondering how people who live to be 100 with a great quality of life do it? In his book, “Aging Well,” Harvard researcher, George Vaillant, M.D., found out just what centurions do. They cultivate a sense of peace, well-being and maintain a positive attitude. How? Here’s one of their biggest secrets: meditation. What’s ironic about meditation is, it has just become known in the West as a healing technique, but it has been practiced for ages in the East. So in my quest to give you easy sensible ways to purify your energy, I’ll begin by defining meditation, then I’ll show you how easy it is to apply to your daily routine.

Also, check out: Effective Gain From Yoga

Meditation Defined
Meditational exercises primarily use the experience of the body and thought as a means to reconnect with the environment and its healing power. Meditation, when practiced frequently, has been proven to promote inner peace and wellness. Meditation is also a mental practice in which the mind is directed to one area, often the breath. It draws its energy from the human connection to nature and creates a sense of unity or one-ness with it.

This unit has been shown to increase communication with the spirit of the body. It has also been known to allow positive thoughts in and to stimulate positive physiological and psychological effects. Meditation techniques are easy to learn and can easily be incorporated into any lifestyle. If practiced regularly, meditation will bring balance to your body and mind.

General benefits of meditation and breathing exercises include:
– Deep inner peace
– Improved self-esteem
– Increased creativity
– Physical health/healing
– Reduced medical care
– Slowing/reversal of aging
– Reversing of heart disease
– Stimulation of the body’s immune system
– Reduced stress

I have found there is really no one right ways to meditate. Here are a couple of my favorite meditational exercises that will get you started. Remember, there is no wrong path here. Try these, or simply sit in silence for 20 minutes, daily. You’ll be glad you did.

Meditative Grounding Exercise
– Sit with your legs crossed in a comfortable (Indian-style) position with your hands relaxed on you lap. Close your eyes and imagine a beam of light dropping from the base of your spine through the earth and connecting you to its center.

– Allow this beam of light to expand in width until it is wider than your own body and envelopes it. This is your personal space.

This exercise places you totally in your body and reminds you that you are anchored to the earth. Remember, the more grounded you are, the more aware you are. Sense the presence of your higher self: listen to its voice.

Energy Cleaning Exercise
Now that you are grounded, it’s important that you cleanse this personal space. Often we collect other people’s energies and are not aware of it. We do this both through interaction with others and basic activities of daily living.

– To remove all foreign energies from your space, imagine holding a brush and sweeping away the debris.

– Allow the debris to fall to the ground and become washed away. Let the light from the previous exercise envelop your body and spread its healing energy to the edge of your space, forming a protective force field around you.

Cleaning out the area surrounding your body will keep you grounded, define your personal boundaries and declare your space. Then choose who and what you wish to enter you space, keeping disease and illness out.

Breathing Exercise
– Follow your breath as you slowly inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Count with each exhale until you reach 10 then begin again at one.

– If you find yourself past 10, acknowledge this and begin again at one from wherever you are.

– Imagine your body’s cells being replaced with fresh, pure oxygen and positive healing energy from this power source. Picture yourself exhaling old cells, stress, illness and worries.

– Let your thoughts pass through your mind like drifting clouds. Let them in and gently let them pass through. If the mind should harbor a negative thought, refocus on the breath.

– Thank any persistent negative thoughts for coming into your mind then gently let them go.

– Listen only for the positive, pronounced voice; the voice of your body.

Retrieve Your Energy Exercise
Since foreign energy often resides in your space, let’s also assume that you leave energy in other places. After completing the preceding exercises it is necessary to re-energize and call energy back.

– Imagine you have an energy magnet used to attract your energy back to you. Visualize energy flowing back to you, filling your body with light, health and empowerment.

– Allow a few minutes for the process.

Journal Questions:
1. Record in your journal any problem or trouble you may be having ñ emotional, physical or otherwise. Let problems go and give them over to your meditation.

2. Do you notice solutions coming to you throughout the day? Do you notice with regular meditation that your body and mind are becoming calmer and clearer?

Ideas To Consider:

1. Make time for your spirit daily. Exhibit behaviors and self talk that show your reverence for yourself.

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Health & Fitness

4 Muscle Recovery Methods You Need to Know

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Everyone who participates in daily, weekly, or even monthly workouts knows one thing: it takes a physical toll on your muscles. When you work out, you are literally tearing your muscles so that they will rebuild better and stronger. In order to have your muscles rebuild in a better form, you need to take care of your body during and after your workout. Here I will provide four tips scientifically proven to speed up the process of recovery to rebuild muscle.

Also, Check out: “A Better You” Your 7 Days Program to Self-Improvement

1. Get Plenty of Sleep
Although sleep and performance may not seem correlated, it is proven that those who get more sleep are better prepared for their workouts and can better perform protein synthesis during their time asleep.

2. Consume Protein Before Bed
By consuming a lightweight protein snack before bed, you are giving your body the nutrients you need to rebuild muscle overnight. This can lead to faster recovery since your body puts those nutrients to work more efficiently when there is more accessible to them.

3. Consume Protein in the Morning
Since you have already used up the protein snack you had before bed during your rest, it is time to refuel your body and start afresh the next day. Make sure that you consume enough protein throughout the day to be able to recover during and after your workout.

4. Drink Lots of Water
Of course, one of the most obvious tips to recovery is to drink water. Water is a man’s best friend when it comes to working out. Whether it is because you lose bodily fluids throughout the day from sweating or you are dehydrated, it is always a great idea to give your body access to a sufficient amount of water. If you are dehydrated and begin to drink only a bit of water, your muscles retain that water in order to recover. This can add a few pounds on the scale due to what is popularly known as water weight. This is the perfect reason to drink water as you go instead of trying to make up for a day’s worth of workouts in one cup.

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