How (and why) to Practice Mindfulness When You Work Out

by | Updated: March 20th, 2017 | Read time: 4 minutes

Incorporating mindfulness into your workouts allows you to immerse yourself in the exercises. This leads to a deeper mind-body connection, which has a number of benefits, both in the gym and out of it. All of this makes exercise not only more rewarding but more effective—when you slow down your movements, you put a greater contraction on your muscles, which ultimately boosts fitness gains.

Woman Mindfully Performing Biceps Curl at Gym |

Learn more about mindfulness during exercise, along with how to bring it to your next workout, and every one after that.

Awareness of Form

The greatest benefit of being mindful during workouts is the awareness it brings. Instead of throwing around weights because you’re just going through the motions, you’re more focused on the breath-to-movement connection and therefore paying closer attention. This slowdown leads to better form, and even if you aren’t using the proper form, slower movements are less likely to tweak something when done incorrectly.

Better Focus

Mindfulness improves your focus during workouts. When you set an intention, you stop wandering from one machine to the next because you have a goal for the session. You’re focused on achieving something, rather than just being in the gym because you feel like you should be.

Improved Body Image

When you bring mindfulness to your workouts, you may find that you think less about how your body looks and more about how it feels. Because mindfulness improves the mind-body connection, you’ll be more in tune with how your body is feeling after lifting those 20 pound weights, rather than how buff you are compared to the person lifting 30 pound weights next to you.

Greater Sense of Accomplishment

Use mindfulness to remember your “why” for working out. Why do you get out of bed early to get to the gym or make time for your daily run when you could be home cooking dinner? In either case, it’s likely because it’s that important that you make yourself and your health a priority. Excuses are easy, and you aren’t making them, which is a huge accomplishment.

How to Bring Mindfulness to Your Exercise

I think about mindfulness during my workouts the same as I do during my yoga practice, and so I follow many of the same rituals as I would in a yoga class. Here are the four simple steps I use to bring mindfulness to my workouts—give them a try for yourself:

  1. Set an intention: Your intention could be a goal you hope to achieve during your session or a phrase you want to keep at the forefront of your mind. For example, my intention might be: “Do one or two reps more than I think I can every set,” or “My body is strong and unlike any other.”
  2. Start with a slow, gentle warm-up: With your intention in mind, it’s time to start your warm-up. To get into a mindful headspace, start with slow, gentle movements to connect mind and body. During this time, remember to move slowly through each exercise. You can even close your eyes to bring your focus inside.

    Try this mindful warm-up:

    • Neck rolls – 10 to the right, 10 to the left
    • Shoulder rolls – 10 to the front, 10 to the back
    • Cat-cow – 10 cat, 10 cow
    • Arm circles – 10 to the front, 10 to the back
    • Windmill toe touches – 10 to each side
    • Torso rotation – 10 to the right, 10 to the left 
  3.  Focus on your breath during the workout: As you get started with your workout, tune into your breath. Notice how deep or shallow it is as you begin and how that changes throughout the workout. Get into a flow, breathing in during the easy part of the exercise and out during the hardest part. During bicep curls, for example, you should breathe in while lowering the weights and out while curling up toward your shoulder. It may take practice to get your breath to effortlessly flow from one exercise to the next. Don’t be discouraged, with practice it will come naturally.
  4. Cool Down
    Instead of abruptly stopping, slowly make your way back to homeostasis. I compare this cool down phase to savasana, which is the final resting pose after a yoga class. This is what you work toward. This can be in the form of stretching or a slow, gentle cool-down walk; whatever feels best for you.

Bring mindfulness to your workouts for a more rewarding experience. Not only will you feel a stronger mind-body connection, but your exercises will also be more effective and your form will stay tight. Follow these steps to make your workouts more mindful, and make the experience your own by choosing an intention that’s unique and special to you.