Adding Mindfulness to Your Workout Is the Wellness Hack You Need

If you're someone who can hit the gym, turn on your "Sweaty Sunday" playlist and get "in the zone" before the end of the first song, consider yourself lucky. For many, the looming to-do list waiting for them outside the gym walls or a constant feeling of exhaustion from busy days and nights leaves them feeling distracted and disinterested, as they constantly check the clock and aimlessly wander through their exercise routine.

While not every workout will go the way you hoped, and some days you just won't be able to get in the zone, there is a little trick you can use to get more out of your time in the gym: mindfulness. By exercising more mindfully, you can find greater satisfaction with each workout, not just those rare days when everything seems to be clicking. Research shows that mindfulness and acceptance lead to greater consistency with an exercise routine. Why? Exercisers who use mindfulness are less reactive. That is to say that one bad workout doesn't make them give up and a lack of expected progress doesn't lead to discouragement.

Mindful exercisers pay close attention to their bodies—breathing, pace, muscles—and whether they need to slow down or push themselves. They also tune in to how they are feeling emotionally. Is this workout depleting energy levels or giving them a needed boost? By exercising mindfully, you're paying attention to what's happening around you, as well as what's happening physically and mentally within your body.

Although there has been a greater focus on mental fitness in recent years, Julie Frischkorn, director of behavioral health and mindfulness at Spark360, says there is still progress to be made when it comes to mindfulness. "No one today would look at you sideways if you started working out to get healthier," she explains. "But if someone caught you practicing breathwork on a public park bench with your eyes closed, they might do a double-take."  With all the current research on the benefits of meditation, Frischkorn feels certain that a few decades from now, we'll be able to say we're "headed to meditate" without skipping a beat. "To be on the cutting edge of health and wellness, why not combine physical and mental fitness into our daily exercise routine?" she asks.   

Use Your Brain to Train

"A great way to get started is to choose one part of your workout [in which] to incorporate mindfulness," says Frischkorn. "Don't try and be mindful for the entire time [because] there are actually scientific benefits to mind-wandering, as well." She suggests choosing one section of your workout for mindful attention and use the rest of the time to check out from your busy day and life.
  • Warm-up: "Before exercising, you can be mindful by setting an intention for your workout," she explains. "For example, 'Today I'd like to use positive self-talk to motivate rather than [judge] myself' or 'Today I'd like to lean in when I'm feeling most challenged rather than lean back.'"  
  • Mid-routine: Frischkorn suggests pressing pause on your music for a moment to be fully present with what is happening in your body and in your surroundings.  "Notice your posture, breathing patterns and the feeling of your feet on the floor or pedals. Notice the temperature, the natural surroundings and the people around you," she advises.
  • Cooldown: Pay attention to how you feel after a workout, noticing if you feel different or the same as you felt when you started. Observe your thoughts, feelings and body sensations. "Circle back around to that intention [you set in your warm-up]," she suggests. "How successful were you in staying true to it?"
"When people initially learn about the benefits of mindfulness meditation, they are eager to incorporate it into their lives," says Frischkorn. However, it can be challenging to add on to an already busy day. Incorporating a mindset of mindfulness into daily activities not only makes someone more present with the activity at hand, but also means not having to carve out extra time. "For those with a regular exercise routine, it absolutely makes sense to incorporate mindfulness as a way to bring it into the life you are living, making you more likely to do it," she shares.