Today, I'm paraphrasing something I read on Crossfit's website over the weekend to expand upon my post about focus. What's the difference between exercising and training?
I love this topic because I think it gets to the heart of why some people succeed on a fitness program and many don't. Exercising is something people do to make themselves feel fit. We've all seen it: people on the cardio machines reading a newspaper or magazine, the person moving from machine to machine with long rest periods hardly looking like they are working out. These people are doing better than if they stayed home and watched TV, but they are also the people whose physiques never seem to change. They got their "exercise" in and have falsely convinced themselves they are doing the work. They also get to complain they aren't seeing results and that it must be their "genetics" or some other reason they can't change.
Yes, I love it when people say to me, "Well, you just have great genetics." Yeah, sure. Maybe if you worked out hard with weights for 25 years you'd have "good genetics" too!
Training is having a focus and a clearly defined goal. The goal can be as simple as "I'm going to squat with just my body weight 15 times so that my thighs are parallel to the ground on each repetition." Every time you step foot in the gym (or prepare for your in-home workout) you should have a clear plan on what you are going to achieve during the session. Yes, the plan can change based on a number of factors, but simply having a plan is half the battle! Training means challenging your body to do things you never thought possible. It requires you to be mentally alert, present and focused. A good way to measure if you are focused enough? If you are able to read or watch TV while you are working out -- you are not focused enough on the workout.
Literally, write down what you are going to do for your workout session. Estimate how long it will take. Are you targeting all your movements and muscle groups equally? Yes, it takes a good deal of experience to get good at program design, but for most people just looking to make a change, think of lifting weights (resistance training) 3 times per week and targeting all the major muscle groups. Workouts need not be longer than 40 minutes, if planned properly.
Then pay attention (write it down, if you have to) to how much weight you are lifting on each of the exercises and for how many repetitions. Was the form good? Were you able to control the weight for the entire set? Could you realistically go up in weight the next time you do this exercise (doing a few less reps, if necessary)? Work on improving your performance. Paying attention to all these variables and knowing your workout before the session is a great way to help you stay mentally alert and focused.
Believe me when I tell you, mental focus is the single most important factor in succeeding on a fitness program.