How To Take Your Sweat To The Next Level: The Mind-Body Connection

 

Mindfulness and mindful practice is a force in today’s pop culture: from meditation to hygge (the Danish cultural phenomenon) to meditation apps and meditation studios, the world is pushing forward with strong momentum towards a more conscious lifestyle.

Humans are incapable of living without a functional brain; where dysfunctions in the brain can impact a person’s ability to live and lead a normal life. It’s no surprise then that muscle contraction and body movement depend and originate in the brain.

The basics to movement and muscle contraction is this: the Central Nervous System (CNS), which encompasses the spinal cord, the brain, and the nerves, is a quick communication channel that acts as the control center for movement and muscle activation.1 (Side Note: There are more complex depths to this relationship, but for my current purpose, this brief explanation is sufficient.)

The human body wouldn’t be this miraculous marvel if it didn’t have a brain and the same is true for the brain if the opposite were true. The brain’s capacity is limited to the body it belongs to. Exercise culture tends to focus a lot on aesthetic benefits, but if the body is nothing without a brain and if the brain is only limited to the body that it is in, then what’s more intriguing to understand is how exercise benefits from cognitive function and how cognitive function benefits from exercise.

A study by Duke University found that the prefrontal and frontal region of clinically depressed and older participants were enriched in an exercise-versus-medication study of 84 individuals.3 Those who exercised found improvements in memory, “as well as in executive functions pertaining to planning, organization and intellectual multitasking.” Neuroplasticity, the brain’s lifelong capacity to adapt and change, is part of the reason why this is possible. The relationship and dependency of the brain and the body are what is worth paying attention to because each plays a significant role in defining the capacity and capabilities of the other. The physiological reality is that without the brain humans are nothing.

Here’s why this is important & how this information can help you take your sweat to the next level by optimizing the mind-body connection:

1. To optimize my sweat time, I need to participate in mindful sweat sessions

As highlighted above, the body depends on the brain and the brain depends on the body. If exercise is treated as a mindless activity, where my mind is contemplating about what to wear this weekend versus staying conscious of the movements and muscles I am working, then I am falling short on optimizing on my sweat time. I am putting in the time and most of the work, but cheating myself from reaping the full benefits.

2. To optimize my sweat sessions, I need to think about the muscles being worked

It’s not necessary to know the anatomy of the whole human body, but the more I know the more it helps. Think of it like this, when I first started texting, I had to look at the keypad in order to type. After sometime typing became much more automatic. Now as I type on a touch screen, typing without looking is possible, but I am much more accurate with my texts if I look. This analogy can be applied in regards to muscle activation in exercise; especially when it comes to the more dominant muscles. Although muscle activation can happen quite automatically, especially if the exercise and movements are familiar, thinking about the muscles as I move will create better accuracy.

3. To avoid a plateau, I need to continue to stimulate my brain and my body.

Think back to when toddlers first learn how to walk. Learning how to walk was difficult for everyone. No baby came into this world knowing how to use his or her limbs. It took months of growth, months of practice, and more than a couple of tries before the mind was able to direct the body to walk.

Learning how to walk is the same as learning how to exercise correctly. We all started at zero at some point and everything needs to be learned, but once it’s learned it tends to become automatic. This is why I don’t believe in doing just one type of exercise. I am an advocate for cross-training because it is only natural for the body to adapt. If I want to optimize on challenging both my mind and my body, then I need to also challenge myself with varied types of exercise. The more unfamiliar I am with the activity, the more challenging it becomes for my body and my brain. Therapists and trainers working with older populations have even started to incorporate brain games to help improve overall reception to training.3

4. To help motivate myself to exercise, I should think about the benefits of exercise beyond aesthetics

Aesthetic gains win people’s attention, but aesthetic gains are such a small part of the real benefits of exercise. There’s what feels like an infinite list of the benefits: from physical health to mental well-being, to improved mood, and so much more! (Check out What Happened When I Added Weights and What’s To Gain With Strength Training).

In understanding the essential connection the brain has with the body, it’s easy to see why I like to place emphasis on training beyond the physical body and beyond aesthetics. The mind is a powerful tool and if we want our body to optimize on function and health, it requires more than just physical health, attention to the mind and mental stimulation is also necessary.

Resources:

1. Hargrove, Todd. “The Central Nervous System.” BETTER MOVEMENT, 2008, www.bettermovement.org/blog/2008/the-central-nervous-system.

2. McGrath, Brent. “4 Tips To Help Train Your Brain For Massive Gains: Mind Muscle Connection!” Bodybuilding.com, 16 June 2010, www.bodybuilding.com/fun/4-tips-to-help-train-brain-massive-gains-mind-muscle-connection.htm.

3. Myers, Carrie. “Creating the Ultimate Mind-Body Connection.” ACE Fitness, www.acefitness.org/certifiednewsarticle/1748/creating-the-ultimate-mind-body-connection%20/.

 

 

Inch Your Way To Summer

 

When the idea of summer comes to mind-- BBQs, trips to the beach, and plenty of pool time comes to mind. Getting that summer bod is what a lot of us are after, especially as spring subsides or as the rainy season draws to a close for those of us living in the tropics. A massive reminder of that New Year’s resolution (which we might not have jumped on quite yet)! Summer parties, boat parties, and all the festivities which come along with summer is what might daunt us, but don’t let the change in season scare you.

If you don’t have access to a gym or any equipment, here are some of my favorite moves to get myself in the groove for summer (no gym memberships or equipment necessary)!

Exercise 1: Burpees! (YAY!) When chasing that beach ready body, burpees are my go to! It’s an all body workout that fires up a lot of the beach baring essentials.

Do 4 sets of 12-20 burpees with 20 second rests in between each set. Tip: If you don’t have a stopwatch, count up to 20 slowly (“One mississippi, two mississippi…”)

Choose according to your fitness level. Remember quality over difficulty is key here! It’s more important to get that posture right versus completing the more difficult version with faulty posture.

1. Start with your feet shoulder width apart. Squat down and plant your palms on the ground around shoulder width apart. Then jump backwards with both feet to a straight arm plank. Remember to keep the core engaged, spine straight, and clench the butt to keep the hips tucked in. Avoid arching the back at all times!

2. Lower the body to the ground, as you would in a push up. Tuck the elbows in and breathe in as you lower down. Imagine you had to hold paper in between your armpits. Squeeze those armpits tight and don’t let those elbows flare!

3. Right before your chest touches the ground, breathe out and push back up to a straight arm plank.

4. Finally, reverse the motion. Jump both feet in towards the arms into the starting squat position. Then jump upwards with both arms in the air and “wave it like you just don’t care!” Remember to land with soft knees! Absorb as much of the downward momentum by following through the motion and allowing the knees to bend into the starting squatted position.

If this is too difficult, follow the following steps (as seen below). Step 1 is the same as above.

2. Lower the body all the way to the ground. Rest the chest, thighs, and body onto the ground and release the toes to straighten up.

3. Then tuck the toes back in and jump both feet in towards the arms into the starting squat position. From there, jump upwards with both arms in the air. Remember to land with soft knees. Follow the momentum through and allow the knees to bend into the starting squatted position.

If both options are too difficult, instead of jumping with both feet together, move the feet backwards one at a time.

Exercise 2: Plank + Spiderman Plank Crunch which is a variation of the classic plank. I am a massive fan of plank variations because they’re core burners that you feel immediately.

Do 4 rounds of each exercise. For the plank, slowly count to 30 (“one mississippi, two mississippi...”). Then do 12-20  spiderman plank crunches. One right and left leg crunch counts as 1 rep. 1 round counts as 1 set of 30 second plank and 12-20 spiderman plank crunches. Take a 20 second rest between each round. You’ll end up doing 4 sets of 30 second planks and 4 sets of 12-20 spiderman plank crunches (for each leg).

1a. For the plank, start with a push up position. Making sure the hands are in line with the shoulders. Bend the elbows into a 90 degree angle. Rest the forearms parallel to each other on the ground with the palms facing the ground and fingers spread out wide. Remember to keep the elbows hugged in.

1b. Look down in between the arms with the head and spine straight. Keep the core and butt engaged, to make sure the hips is tucked in.

2a. For the spiderman plank crunch, remain in the plank position. Move the right knee towards the right elbow, then repeat the same move on the other leg. Keep repeating these movements until the 30 seconds are up! Remember to keep the non-moving leg engaged, along with the core and hip tucked in!

If this is too much, straighten up the arms into a straight arm plank and complete the same crunch motion (as seen below). Alternate option:

Exercise 3: Single Leg Bench Step Up is a classic to get the tush and hammies fired up.  

Do 4 sets of 15-30 single leg step ups for each leg. Take a 20 second rest in between each set. You’ll end up doing 4 sets of 15-30 reps for each leg.  

1. Place one foot on the bench. Make sure to place the whole foot on the bench without any overlap over the edge of the bench. Starting with one foot on the bench, look straight ahead with the back straight. Keep the weight on the heels and step up. Let the other foot hang behind. Avoid pushing off the resting foot when stepping up.

EXERCISE 4: Squat Jumps & Crab Walks are a mean tag team that’ll help get those legs and bottom ready for those sexy summer shorts.

Do 4 sets of 5 rounds with 2 squat jumps (1 squat jump on each side) and 4-6 steps in between. Moving from one side to the other counts as 1 round. Rest for 30 seconds in between each round.

1. Stand with the feet shoulder width apart. Squat down with the back straight and weight on the heels. Making sure the knees do not go over the toes. Spring up to a full jump with both feet extended and both arms swinging down. Land back to the ground on soft knees.

2. Stay in a lowered squatted position and start to move laterally from one side to the other. Start with the inside feet and take 4-6 steps in between. Then repeat the squat jump. Walk back in the same squatted position to the opposite side and repeat the jump. Avoid standing up. Push through the burn!

EXERCISE 5: Push Ups + High Plank Lateral Shuffles are great preparation for those shoulder bearing summer tops.

Do 4 sets of 4 rounds with push-ups at each side and 4-6 steps in between. Moving from one side to the other counts as 1 round. Rest for 30 seconds in between each round.

1. Start in a pushup position with the back straight, arms shoulder width apart, hands in line with the shoulder, and palms firmly planted on the ground with fingers spread out wide.

2. Lower the body down to the ground and hug the elbows in (making sure they do not wing out). Right before the chest touches the ground, push back up into a straight arm plank position.

3. Look straight down to help keep the head aligned to a straight spine. Once back up, start to move the hands and feet laterally. Move one feet first, followed by the hand on the same side. Repeat for 4-6 steps before doing a pushup at the other side, then move back the other direction. Keep moving until time is up.

For an easier option, eliminate the push-up from the sets. For a challenge, increase the number of push-ups by 1 each time you reach a side.

EXERCISE 6: Bench Dips are a friend to the skinny straps and shoulder revealing tops popular in the summer.

Do 4 rounds of 15-25 bench dips. Rest for 20 seconds in between each round. The farther the feet the harder the exercise.

1. Start seated on the bench with the back straight with both feet flat on the ground and hip width apart. Hold on to the side of the bench with palms flat on the bench and fingers hanging onto the side. Start to move the butt off the bench by walking the feet forward slowly until the desired distance is achieved. Note: The straighter the leg the more difficult the movement. If you’re going for the more difficult version, with legs straight, then rest on the heels with the toes pointing up.

2. Look straight ahead and avoid looking down. Keep the weight on the heels and start to lower the body down to the ground. Maintain a flat back throughout and do not bend over.

3. Finally, push back up right before your tush kisses the ground.

Whether you’re home or on the go, these moves will help you inch closer to that beach ready body.