In the Zone - Learn how to Concentrate to Improve your Training

In the Zone

Success in the Gym is a Combination of Training and Knowledge

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You stride into the gym ready for an awesome workout. Chest first, and after an hour of presses, flys and crossovers, your mind is beginning to wander. Bi's are up next, but you suddenly feel like you lack the concentration to put your money where your muscle is. Training another bodypart is simply out of the question.

Sound familiar? I bet this has happened to you once or twice. Your body's ready for more punishment, but you can't retain the focus you need to get there. Not only that, but blowing off that second bodypart messes up the rest of your week's routine. Well, here's good news for those of you with the bodybuilding version of attention deficit disorder: You can gain control and make every rep and set better than the last if you know how to slip into "the zone."

Getting There

Learning to maintain a mind-body connection is essential for kick-butt workouts. Laura Creavelle, IFBB pro and three-time Ms. International, says: "I'd rather not train if I can't concentrate. It's absolutely essential that you feel that mind-body link," Having the discipline to stick to a workout schedule and seeing progress are the first steps to being able to concentrate on your training and maximizing your energies in the gym. Laura explains, "The more muscle you have, the more you feel." Proper form and technique are crucial, but don't think you have to max out on every set to feel your muscles and in turn increase the mind-body connection. "It doesn't take a lot of weight to learn to focus on your body," Laura notes. "It's how you execute the lift that's important."

Sport psychologist and author Robert M. Nideffer, PhD, who worked with the 1984 and 1988 U.S. Olympic teams, describes the zone as the place where the mind-body connection is realized and concentration is fine-tuned. In his book, Psyched to Win (Leisure Press, 1992), he refers to the importance of internal and external focusing of attention. While internal focusing is the process of analyzing and adjusting your thinking, then soiling out what works and what doesn't, external focusing is when your performance becomes automatic and you're in complete control of what you do.

The successful bodybuilder can quickly shift from internal to external focusing of attention, from thinking too much about the set to doing it. The thinking part translates into feeling, increasing the mind-body connection with every rep. Yet you don't just feel the burn of the lift, you focus the pull of your lats as you do chins or the contraction of your pecs as you bench.

Making It Work

So, how do you learn to concentrate, to shift from internal to external focusing and get into the zone? Nideffer suggests choosing any technique that meets your needs and works for you - something you can relate to every time you're in the gym. He provides these tips:

Cue words can impact you in an emotional way and translate into physical strength. Maybe it's a word like big, strong, power, tight or explode. If none of these strikes a chord, decide on a word you connect with. Nideffer suggests using two words as triggers, repeating them in your head as you prepare for and execute a set.

Awareness. Learn to stay in the zone by becoming aware of the things around you that might distract you from the task at hand. What pulls your attention away from what you're doing people talking or walking in front of you while you train, the person next to you lifting more than you? Identify the problem and learn to avoid that thought pattern.

Here's an example: Sit in the gym and tune into the music for about 30 seconds. Then pick up a set of dumbbells and, instead of hearing the music playing, replace it with your own music of biceps, biceps" with every curl. Repeat your cue words over and over until you tune out the distraction.

Centered. Being centered is being in control and feeling confident about your workout. It means being physically positioned in the perfect way when you perform each rep and psychologically focusing on the lift. You need to center yourself before you begin a set so that it becomes automatic.

To illustrate, sit on a bench and keep your shoulders back and feet shoulder-width apart. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Continue breathing this way and close your eyes if you like. You should feel most of your body-weight pushing down toward the floor and your center right in the middle of your body. If your back or shoulders are tight, you might feel the center move up or back. Look at the position of your body and adjust so that you bring your center to where it should be. Now, begin your set and feel how you allow all your strength to go to the trained bodypart.

Practice. Possibly the most important aspect of learning to focus is to practice these concentration skills. Realize that just as you have to train a muscle again and again to get it to grow you have to practice these skills if they're going to help you maximize your training efforts.

So remember, next time you walk into the gym, you have the tools in your mind as well as your body to make every single workout the best it can be. Focus your attention on what you should be doing and on what works for you. Know that concentration, consistency and hard work bring progress and results. Establish a mind-body connection and watch your workouts and size soar.

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