Thursday, June 30, 2011

Healthy Life Part 3 - Mind Over Body

Skipping rope by MeFarSo on Flickr  

One of the exercises in my PT workout last Friday was 30 squat jumps while holding a 5kg medicine ball. My thighs were burning after a while (there were also walking lunges, ouch!) and I was stopping frequently for rest. At the beginning of the third set of jumps my PT Nat said "if you pause during this set we'll start the counting from 1 again". I tried to push on but stopped at 15. When I started again and Nat counted "1" I was pissed off. I did 15 of the jumps already! I didn't want to do another 30. Part of me wanted to walk away, but I knew Nat wasn't going anywhere. At the end I somehow push my way through another 30.

Nat asked me throughout the session about how intense the exercises were. The exercises were tough but I felt that my mind was placing limits on my body. For example, if the exercise was for 20 reps and I was tired, I would unconsciously pace myself to stop after 10. I felt that my body was able to do more if my mind was not interfering.

Nat said that it is common, that plenty of people (including those who are fit) place mental roadblocks that stop them from exercise at their full capacity.

Why do we do that? I guess in one way it’s the brain trying to “protect” the body from hard work and muscle fatigue. Part of it is a lack of confidence and self-belief – “I’m not fit enough for this”. Of course there is just plain inertia too.

One of the best things about having a PT is that someone is there to help you kick the roadblocks away. So many times when I exercised by myself I would stop early because I felt tired, or because the weight was “too heavy”. The excuses are endless. With a good PT you have no excuse. The PT should know your fitness level and the sessions will be challenging but not beyond your abilities.

Nat said the best thing is to not think about it and surrender to the PT’s instruction. As she said, “why try to change something that is out of your control? Just DO IT.”

Sometimes I try not to count how many reps I’ve done, and ask Nat not to tell me my progress, so I can do the exercise without thinking. And I try to remember why I’m doing it, that it is GOOD FOR ME. They’re not foolproof methods (I still pause between reps more than I’d like) but I find them helpful.

Another example of “mind over body” is skipping. I’m one of the most uncoordinated people I know and my memory of skipping is more about tripping. When I saw Nat with jumping rope last Friday I developed an instant dislike, I just didn’t want to do it.

But it wasn’t as bad as I thought. Yes, I was still tripping the rope here and there, and it was hard work, but after a little while and some advice from Nat I was doing better than expected. To stop myself from overanalysing I started singing a song in my head and skipping to the beat.

Nat brought the rope again on Monday. She said she was going to break down my loathing of the rope. After Friday’s session I knew I can do it. Without my mind saying “this is too hard”, my tripping reduced dramatically and I was faster too. In the last set I only stopped once.

Skipping will never make my “top 10 fun exercises to do” list but I am no longer threatened by it.

This mindset change applies to eating too, but that’s the subject of another post.

What techiques do you use to push your body 100%?

P.S. To win a free PT session with Nat or other goodies, don't remember to enter my giveaway!


  1. I totally agree with the not thinking about how many reps you've done or what you're up to - I never count with my PT and always wait for him to tell me when to stop. I know my PT knows my limits and that he wouldn't ask me to do something I couldn't do (including walking lunges with an 80lb barbell on my back today - ouch!).

    To keep me going and so that I give 100%, I just think about where I was before I even started my fitness journey, and know I don't ever want to go back there again - that usually gives me an extra push.

    Congrats on the skipping progress too - I agree with you on skipping as well, so not my favourite thing!

  2. I was having this conversation with people at work yesterday about a similar thing-how you get to Friday and cannot comprehend another day at work. Or by the en of term you physically couldn't do another day. Even though last term was 12 weeks and you made it through, so this one was only 9 weeks... I think it is your headspace. Mind over matter.

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