Get your mind on your workouts

By

Published:

 

Since the weather is cold and wet, many of you will be hitting the gym a lot more.

Well, did you know that neuromuscular facilitation can really make your workouts a lot more effective? Neuromuscular what? Neuromuscular facilitation is just a fancy term for "muscle smart," or teaching your muscles to contract more effectively.

You see, your muscles are under direct control from your nervous system. In order for your muscles to work, a nerve stimulus must arrive at the muscle, which will cause it to contract. So the coordination between your muscles and your neurological system is critical to maximize any movement or exercise.

Studies demonstrate that most strength gains that occur in the first month of someone starting a new weightlifting program are a result of this phenomenon. It has been coined the "learning effect" and occurs as the nervous and muscular system learn to work together as a team.

This muscle-nerve relationship can be used to your advantage to maximize the effectiveness of your workouts. A number of studies have been done to measure this effect.

One study had subjects perform a number of standard weightlifting exercises. The subjects were hooked up to EMG's to measure muscle activity as the exercises were performed. Stage 2 of the study had the subjects perform the exact same exercises with the same speed and same resistance so that they mimicked the first stage exactly. The only difference was that, the second time around, they had the subjects really focus on what they were doing. They had them concentrate on contracting the muscles that were supposed to be working in each exercise.

Basically, they had them put their mind into it. In this second stage, the amount of measured muscle activity significantly increased. So the message is clear: the mind-body connection is critical to maximize the work a muscle will do.

On a practical level, what does this mean for your workouts? There are definitely some exercises you can dissociate from. For example, you can get up on a treadmill, plug in a 9-minute mile and then allow yourself to think about your day or read a magazine or watch TV. You will burn the same amount of calories whether you focus or not.

But with weightlifting, focus is critical. We sometimes see exercisers sitting on a leg-press machine reading a magazine and just going through the motions. We feel obliged to tell them that if they put down the magazine and focused, every rep and set would be so much more effective and they'd see results much more quickly.

A lot of exercisers would find that, if they just concentrated while they were performing the movements, they wouldn't have to do 2-3 sets of each exercise. If it's a really good set, one set is often enough.

Wouldn't you rather get the same results in a shorter period of time? Would you rather spend 40 minutes or two hours in the weight room? Think of all the extra time you'd have if your workouts were more efficient!

An understanding of this entire mind-body scope has taken on a whole new level of interest.

A lot of coaches are realizing that on any given day, there are a number of athletes who could possibly win an event. The one who stands on top of the podium, generally, is not the one who is the most fit or talented but the one who tapped into the enormous amount of strength stored inside of our bodies. This untapped strength is only accessible if the mind can overcome any limitations or barriers.

For example, did you know that it was once thought that a 4-minute mile was impossible? It wasn't until that barrier was broken that others were able to tap into the strength that was always there. Within one year, another five or six people broke the 4-minute barrier -- and within another year, another 50!

We would astound ourselves if we actually learned to really effectively coordinate the brain and the body. Our physical capabilities would be phenomenal. So although you may not be gearing up for a 4-minute mile, learning to use your brain during your workouts will definitely take them to the next level and ensure you achieve incredible results.

Sherri McMillan, M.Sc. is the owner of Northwest Personal Training in downtown Vancouver. She can be reached at www.nwPersonalTraining.com or www.ShapeupwithSherri.com.