This is a guest post from Serge Eygenson, founder of FitMinds.
The human body is an incredible machine, but most people only get out of that machine what their mind allows them to.
– Rich Froning, Four-time Crossfit Games Champion
There are no shortcuts in Crossfit – but there is a tool that every Crossfit athlete can use to make progress more quickly and achieve goals more consistently. Enter Meditation for Performance.
The burn in your lungs as you row on a Concept2, your shoulders screaming during a round of wall balls, or the fatigue in your thighs as you push out of the bottom of a squat – whether you are just learning double-unders or preparing to qualify for Regionals, every Crossfit athlete knows there is nothing easy about the sport of fitness. Yet, we keep doing it. Day after day, we keep coming back to our box, pushing through another brutal WOD, energized by the challenge we face and the new PRs we accomplish.
Mental fitness through meditation is a key tool that helps Crossfit athletes of all levels make significant incremental progress more quickly and break through plateaus more easily.
Why mental fitness through meditation?
Meditation is scientifically proven to develop three core skills that are vital to Crossfit athletes at every level:
Focus: When you are looking to run faster, lift more, or cut your WOD time, improved mental focus is a time-tested way to generate improved results. Leading strength coaches stress the importance of concentration to generate new PR’s in their clients. Stanford researchers point to improved focus as a key tool for runners looking to get faster.
By fully focusing on the task at hand, a Crossfit athlete can direct the power of every muscle in his or her body to target its energy towards completing a heavy front squat or that very first muscle-up. Crossfit workouts are, by design, almost always centered on multi-functional movements that engage a variety of muscle groups. Improved concentration, by helping to activate every muscle group simultaneously and with increased intensity, yields improved results in the complex movements that every Crossfit athlete loves to hate.
Unfortunately, full, unadulterated focus on the task at hand is far from easy, particularly when that task involves something as challenging as breaking your PR on a lift or WOD time. Not easy, but possible – especially with an effective meditation practice.
Focus is one of the most widely recognized benefits of regular meditation, particularly in situation of exceptional stress or stimulation (think Murph). While studies have come to a variety of conclusions regarding the reasons for meditation’s measurable impact on focus, one of the most interesting, as identified in a 2012 study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, suggest that “meditators had more stability in their ventral posteromedial cortex (vPMC). The vPMC, a region linked to spontaneous thoughts and mind-wandering…” Increased vPMC stability suggests, therefore, an improved ability to control focus and return a wandering mind to the task at hand.
Grit: That same focus on the present moment will not just help you push yourself to a higher one-rep max, it will also enable you to more easily push through the brutal 300+ rep WOD in front of you.
Mindfulness and presence techniques are specifically designed to build strength of focus even under the most extreme levels of duress. By practicing meditation, you will be able to more easily shift your inner monologue from the long road ahead (“There is no way I can do another 100 of these kettlebell swings!”) to just executing the next rep (“What do I need to do to perfectly complete this kettlebell swing.”). As the reps pile-up, your energy will remain in the present moment. It is much easier to overcome the daunting challenge your coach has written on the white board when all you ever have to do is just one rep.
Angela Duckworth, a researcher and Ph. D. in Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania, identified grit (defined by her as “the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward…goals.”) as the highest predictor of success in everyone from soldiers, to professional athletes, to middle-school math students. Furthermore, Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University, identified daily meditation as a key tool for improving grit in her excellent book The Willpower Instinct.
Vision: Effective meditation training combines mindfulness techniques designed to improve present moment awareness, with visualizations designed to improve performance. Visualizations help meditators clearly identify their long and short-term goals, experience the feeling of successfully accomplishing those goals, and use the nature of our neural programming to improve their ability to succeed.
Visualization exercises, widely used by Olympians looking to reach peak performance, are recognized as a key tool for elite athletes. Research suggests that an athlete visualizing a successful performances activates very similar brain patterns as an athlete actually engaged in performing the exercise. Crossfit athletes know that, whether working on form for the squat snatch or learning to string together double-unders, practice and countless reps transform the rookie to the firebreather. Visualization techniques, by developing athletes’ capacity to prepare for the actual exercisers, help to accelerate that process.
Simultaneously, as meditator develop and use their mindfulness skillset to clearly visualize the goals they want to achieve, pushing through a tough workout becomes easier. Research has consistently shown that, in the boardroom, on the field, and in the gym, those that have clear goals and start with the end in mind more effectively persevere the hurdles on the path to success. goals, but also develop the skill of gaining that clarity on your own in every situation.
Are these all of the benefits you will experience from meditation? Of course not. Just like Crossfit athletes gain confidence, perseverance, and other qualities that go far beyond the four-walls of their box, meditators gain a wide-ranging skillset of tools that transform not only their performance in the gym, but also every aspect of their personal and professional lives and their relationships.
How do I get started?
If you have never meditated before, the good news is that learning the basics is simple (but not easy!). All you will need is a quiet room where you will not be disturbed for the duration of the exercise, a place to sit that will allow you to be both comfortable and alert, and (if you prefer) an audio recording of a guided meditation. For your first time meditating, try for 5-10 minutes just focusing your attention on your breath and the feeling of your inhales and exhales. Sounds easy, but you will quickly notice your brain start to wander. Just know that it’s no big deal, and, when you have realized your mind has wandered, bring your focus back to your breath. You can find a more detailed guide for your first time meditating here.
If you’re interested in participating in a group meditation specifically designed to uplevel your performance at home, at the gym, and everywhere else that matters to you, shoot an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about our meditation workshops around Charlottesville.
Serge Eygenson is the CEO and co-founder of FitMinds – Meditation for Performance. FitMinds is the world’s first curriculum to combine mindfulness and visualization training to help high achiever optimize performance at work, at home, and in every area of life that matters to them. Interested in using FitMinds to improve your performance in and out of the gym? Check out www.fit-minds.com.