In the gym, I always strive to take advantage of the power of intention—to be fully focused in the moment on what I intend to achieve at any given time. It may be that I intend to do 4 sets of 12 reps at 85 percent of my one-rep max, or that I intend to do full-throttle burpees for 5 minutes straight.
Regardless, when I'm able to fully harness my intention, I enter a kind of synchronicity in which I become fully immersed in a flow. My best workouts happen when I'm in this flow.
What Can You Gain By Lifting With Intent?
Bringing intentionality to your training offers the following benefits, which are really just the tip of the iceberg:
- Enhanced mind-muscle connection: Both anecdotes and research confirm you can more effectively target the muscle you are training when you focus your intention on it.
- Enhanced technique: Studies have shown that just visualizing yourself drilling free throws or slamming home putts is almost as effective as actually doing them. Lifting weights is no different.
- Superior intermuscular coordination: This simply means the coordination between different muscles in your body, which is essential for any compound movement. Your biceps have to relax as your triceps lock out during a bench press. If you don't focus your intention on both of these things happening, you simply won't bench press as much.
- Better safety: Injuries are much less likely to occur if you intentionally focus on what you are doing.
- Greater satisfaction: Each time you enter the gym, know exactly what you are working, how each exercise feels, and whether you are maximizing the desired adaptation. When you have this intention, you can end your workout knowing you did your best, which can increase your overall satisfaction and motivation.
- Superior results: When you focus on what you are doing and the desired adaptation, you can't help but get better results.
How To Bring Intention To Your Training Sessions
It's not usual for someone to enter the gym to begin their workout without any real thoughts in their head except what exercise they're going to do first. That approach doesn't set you up for success.
Here are some things to consider as you progress through any workout:
Have pure intention. Where your attention goes, your energy flows, so know the overarching purpose of each training session. What are your goals for strength, size, speed, or endurance? Before beginning each exercise, make a mental note of what you want to accomplish. For example:
- "I will do cable flyes for 1 minute straight with a 3-second negative, focusing all my attention on chest contraction."
- "I will do 3 reps on the bench press as explosively as possible, and with perfect form."
- "I will do squats with a 3-second negative and 1-second pause at the bottom, followed by an explosive positive."
Having "intent" means focusing every ounce of your being on what you're doing to maximize the training session and subsequent adaptations. It means being totally present and aware.
Detach from the outcome. When you're training, focus on the process of what you're doing, not the product. Trust that the product—your strength, power, or endurance—will improve more the more focused you are in the moment. Victory is won in inches, not miles. Focus on each moment of each exercise, and watch those inches become miles.
Keep your eye on the prize. As you move through a training session, it is normal for your mind to wander. Instead of giving in to the urge to stop and chat with friends, check your phone, or stare into space, bring yourself back to the present moment. No matter how often your mind drifts, come back to the present moment—the iron in your palm, the tension in the cable. The more you practice focusing your mind on the present moment, the easier it gets.
Frame pain and discomfort. Training hard can be painful! Excluding injury pain, the pain you feel during a workout is what's going to produce your desired result. Discomfort is part of maximizing yourself physically. If you want gains, you have to get used to intentionally going beyond your comfort zone. The pain of exercising is the pain of becoming a better you. Associate this sacrifice with your success by consciously intending to embrace the grind.
Remember why you are training. Some folks' workouts are rushed because they begin thinking about what they "should" be doing instead of what they are accomplishing in the present moment. If this thought process unfolds during your session, contemplate why you are training. Is it to get stronger, build muscle, or have more energy? Maybe it's to help you sleep better, reduce stress, or be more able to get down on the floor and play with your kids. Whatever your reason, remember that this is why you make training a priority. Knowing why you train can help you intentionally focus on how you train in the present moment.
End on a positive note. Instead of rushing off at the end of your workout, first take time to cool down with light cardio, stretching, or foam rolling. Then, go a step further: Lie down, embrace the present moment, and be grateful your body is able to do what it does. Let yourself relax and feel the positive effects of all your hard work.