When we exercise we often think about just the physical elements, overlooking the importance of the role our mind has to play. But if you only focus on the physical you’re missing out on some important gains and that can be the difference between a good body and a great one.
Learn from the professionals
In professional sport there used to be an approach that said the only way to get fitter was to ‘do more’. That (thankfully!) has now changed. The focus is now on quality rather than quantity. Quality means thinking about exercise as a whole body experience — calling on both your physical and mental strength to get fitter.
When elite runner Eliud Kipchoge achieved a world record sub two-hour marathon in October 2019 he attributed some of his success to his self-belief and mental preparation, saying: ‘If you want to break through, your mind should be able to control your body.’
We should all take note of Kipchoge’s approach and unleash the power of our mind when we exercise.
Pilates and the mind
It’s no coincidence that one of the six principles of Pilates is concentration. Joseph Pilates (founder of the Pilates exercise method) believed it was vital for his students to focus intensely on the movements their bodies were performing in order for them to reap the benefits of Pilates.
When your mind is fully focused your brain and body are working in harmony, helping you perform every repetition of very exercise to the very best of your ability. For example, when you are performing an exercise like the single leg circle you must work physically and mentally to keep your pelvis level and your shoulders relaxed whilst you carefully circle your hip.
So how can you involve your mind in your Pilates workouts?
Your sense of effort is influenced by physical signals, such as muscle fatigue, but also by how your brain interprets those signals. When you’re in class those last few repetitions of a single leg lift will feel harder if you tell yourself that they feel harder. However, if you focus on how well you’re doing those last few leg lifts will feel easier. This is why I give words of encouragement during class. I want to help you get your head in the right space so that you finish each exercise strongly and with confidence.
When you’re not in class it gets harder to remain motivated and fully focused. This is where self-talk comes in. Self-talk is when you use positive words and phrases to help you perform an exercise. Self-talk is personal and what works for one person will be different for someone else. When I’m working out and things are getting tough I say to myself: ‘Come on girl!’. Dialling into your unique words and phrases when a workout starts to get hard will help you achieve things you didn’t think were possible and make exercise more fun. Trust me. 😉
Visualisations are when we use our imagination to take ourselves to a different place or experience a particular feeling, heightening our experience of something.
Studies have shown that mentally performing the actions needed to perform exercise help sports people play better. The changes that occur in the brain when we mentally practice an action change the brain in the same way as actually performing the action.
Many professional athletes use visualisations both in their training and when they compete. Golfer, Jack Nicklaus has said: ‘I never hit a shot, not even in practice, without having a very sharp in-focus picture of it in my head.’
I use a lot of visualisations in class — sometimes I ask people to imagine a piece of string coming from the top of their head or that a set of headlights is shining from the front of their hips — I’m trying to help people think their way through their Pilates by giving them a clear picture of what’s trying to be achieved.
The next time you’re in class or watching one of my videos, do your best to embrace the visualisations I give. By doing so you will get the very best from each exercise you perform.