Success in anything is a direct correlation with your ability to focus.
Think about it. Everything from your job, your fitness routine, and your personal life require varying levels of focus to be successful and to fully enjoy the experience.
Without the ability to fully focus or find a sense of clarity, your experience won’t be as profound as if you were fully immersed.
Quick example, imagine being with your family on a Sunday but you keep thinking about that big work meeting the next day. You won’t be able to fully enjoy the presence of your family with a mind that can’t focus on the present.
If that’s you, don’t feel guilty, you’re human. It’s what we do to plan against possible “threats.”
However, these threats, triggers, stresses disturb the ability to fully commit to what’s in front of us.
A fast paced life, habitual distractions, and poorly constructed expectations make the art of focus more difficult to achieve.
So this not only affects your fitness routine and results, but it impedes the experience and enjoyment of everyday life. So we have to help ourselves become aware of that.
To break this cycle, I have outlined 7 tips to improve your focus and clarity both inside and outside the gym.
These tips will help bring some awareness to the current habits preventing optimal results and help you establish new ones in their place.
But first I need to set the stage with two questions.
Why is ‘focus’ important in fitness?
Answer: As I alluded to before, full focus essentially means full effort. The more effort you’re putting in, the greater the output, generally. We’ll talk about setting intentions later, but clear intentions with full effort get you even better results.
Diving deeper, more focus means more awareness of what’s going on in your body: heart rate, breathing, soreness, fatigue, pain, etc. Having that inner body awareness is called interoception. That helps gauge certain workout intensities and feelings in the moment. The brain can gather all this information and use it again later. Along with that comes the ability to know where you are in space during certain movements aka your “form.” Fully focusing on your movement creates a more efficient pattern over time and that efficiency creates better long term results. More reps and sets in a more efficient pattern means less fatigue, more muscle growth, and less joint pain. Bottomline, focus creates a more sustainable, optimal approach over time.
What are some of the specific barriers to focus?
Answer: Now taking a step back, let’s look at some barriers that could affect your ability to focus or fully immerse yourself in the experience. In your day to day life these could be the distractions that pop up. Distractions are inevitable but how you respond doesn’t have to be. For example, notifications that pop up on your phone or your co-worker giving you an additional task to work on. They pull you out of your focus.
Another barrier could be misaligned expectations. The expectations you have about a task that are too high or too low could compromise your focus because they’re too stressful or not stressful enough. The expectations have to be realistic for you.
Poor planning is another one. That could be anything from your daily workouts to your daily life. If there’s no plan, then it’s tough to set intentions. And if there’s poor intentions, then there’s poor focus and clarity. Think about it, if you know what the workout is meant to accomplish (ie. enhance long term aerobic fitness, build some strength in the back squat, hit a moderate intense workout for 20 minutes without redlining) then you can focus specifically on that intention and get it done. Planning is a must for optimal performance and results.
Oh and I can’t leave out the motivation and confidence you gain just from setting up a plan and executing a task. It becomes a drug and when you see that progress it fuels the fire.
7 tips to improve focus and clarity
Inside the gym
1. Plan the workout (script the actual session ahead of time)
- Planning ahead is the best way to keep your focus on the actual workout instead of figuring it out on the fly. Making a cohesive plan for at least the week or day ahead is less stressful while ensuring the exercise selection and the specific sets and reps don’t become a mind puzzle.
- On the note of planning, knowing the intentions of the workout takes the stress off the brain as well. The intentions are things like intensity (light vs moderate work), or weight used. You’ll also have better results in your fitness/performance when you follow an intentional approach. This ensures proper recovery, minimizes accumulated fatigue, and training isn’t a bunch of random nonsense.
- Stop entertaining texts, emails, and other notifications once you walk in the gym. It will pull you away from your focus and mental clarity and into a potential state of reactivity. That’s the last thing you need when you’re trying to focus on your workout. Put the phone away or at least silence all those incoming notifications so you’re not reacting to everything your phone says.
Inside/outside the gym
4. Make a routine
- One of the easiest ways to get clear and focused is to set a sound daily routine. A daily routine requires less work the brain has to do on simple tasks which means you can start focusing on other things that require higher level thinking. This can be a routine at home and in the gym. For example this can include your meal prepping, sleeping, preparing your pre-gym food, going to the gym, warming up at the gym. Try to make things as routine as possible to maintain consistency and get the best results.
Outside the gym
5. Meditation practice
- This is a great way to relax the brain and find a sense of clarity and it can take as little as 5 minutes a day. Of course going longer can be more beneficial for overall focus and stress reduction in your day, but if you’re new to meditation, then starting smaller is a good way to build the habit. This allows you to understand the thoughts and feelings that pass through your mind/body so when a situation becomes overwhelming (ie. your boss calls you in for a meeting or you’re 10 minutes into an all-out WOD), you can take a step back mentally and look at the situation from afar without feeling totally consumed.
- Just like you plan your workout ahead of time, plan out your entire day as well. Proper planning of what you have to get done the following day will allow for greater completion rates of those tasks and greater personal satisfaction. Planning everything out in chronological order allows you to spend specific, dedicated time on each task. The alternative would be to not have a plan and reacting to random tasks throughout the day. Next thing you know you’re 10 minutes late to the gym and more stressed because you got less done. Having a plan allows you to stick to the time blocks, get more done, and do it with less stress. Remember, your workout should fit into the schedule somewhere as one of those time blocks.
- One of the biggest mistakes I see athletes make is having some insane goal or expectation about a workout. I mean it’s good to have goals but one way to increase stress and reduce clarity is by setting a goal that’s too high. Conversely, the same can be said for having goals that are too easy to accomplish. The former is too stimulating and the latter is not stimulating enough. You need a goal for that session that pushes you just past the brink of what you’re capable of but not so crazy it decreases focus and excessively stresses you out. Setting goals like this as you script your weekly workouts is a great way to improve adherence as well.
Written by: Phil Gauthier
Phil is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist.
He is also an Owner and Co-Founder of the performance gear company, Element 26 (E26).
E26 prides itself on developing functional gear for the functional athlete to help you "Destroy Your PR's, Not Your Body."
To reach Phil or any member of the Element 26 Staff, please email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org and we will respond to you ASAP!