Mathews McGarry is passionate about many forms of strength training, and spent years lifting, dragging and flipping all manner of heavy objects. After graduating on the Faculty of Exercise and Sport Science, he started writing about his experiences, and sharing advice for better life. Follow him on Twitter.
Every year, millions of athletes devote countless hours to physical training.
However, being an athlete is not just about overwhelming yourself in the gym. While factors such as commitment, discipline and genetics play a big part in your athletic career – being mentally strong is vital to your success.
In fact, a study on mental toughness, published in the Journal of Sports Sciences a couple of years ago, suggests that mental endurance may be the deciding factor between high achievement and mediocrity for the majority of athletes.
Most people still believe that meditation is reserved for Buddhist and “progressive” soccer moms. However, many powerlifters and bodybuilders who have tried it know about the benefits it brings.
Lifters use this ancient technique mainly to sharpen their mind and stay focused during the hardest training days. However, meditation can also help you shape your body.
A 2013 study by the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds has verified that meditation can create positive molecular changes in the human body.
A group of experienced meditators were examined in a controlled environment. The researchers found that the members of the group experienced reduced levels of pro-inflammatory genes after eight hours of meditation.
Interestingly, these genetic alterations are associated with the physical recovery from stressful situations.
Relaxing Muscles and Combating Stress
Humans have evolved to a point where they do not even need an actual trauma to feel stress, we simply anticipate a stressful event and experience anxiety. Most try to ignore stress altogether, but while you may learn to cope and live with it, stress can leave you with permanent health issues.
According to the American Psychological Association, stress makes your muscles tense up and if you are under constant stress, the muscles do not get a chance to relax and start to deteriorate.
Powerlifting is a high-stressor; more than ever when you are a competitor.
If that is the case, muscle relaxants such as Valium and Robaxin are not recommended at all, as they tend to cause urinary retention, dizziness and as we all know – addiction.
As you push yourself to the limit, both mentally and physically, a good post-workout meditation can decrease levels of adrenaline and slow your heart rate down. The faster you quiet down your mind and relax, the more you will recover; and the more you recover, the better you will train.
Establishing a Mind-Body Connection
Some days, you probably walk into a gym ready for work, but then, just as you start to wrap your hands around the iron bar, your mind starts racing. With your brain going a million miles per hour, you feel unfocused and exhausted, and what was once a promising workout feels mediocre at best.
On the other hand, you have probably had days where everything simply flows and you have a complete presence of mind.
Those days may be few and far between, but regular mediation séances should help you spend more time closer to the “zone”.
In his book “Finding Flow”, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes a mental state in which people feel complete immersion in an activity.
Most athletes refer to this state as being “in the zone”, but Csikszentmihalyi simply calls it – the flow state. This feeling of complete concentration can be achieved through short meditation sessions before and after a workout.
The sessions do not have to last for more than two minutes, so as soon as you are finished with picking out your gym outfit, sit down, clear your mind and focus on your breath for the next 120 seconds.
Strengthen Your Body with Meditation
We have already talked about how meditation can reduce your blood pressure and fine-tune your hormone levels, but recent findings suggest that meditation can also prolong your life.
Research from the University of California has revealed that meditators have a high telomerase activity.
This enzyme helps your brain build longer and stronger telomeres (protective caps at the end of our chromosomes), and the longer they are, you are more likely to live longer.
Try meditation out and leave a comment below your results!