There’s a reason why class-based fitness programs will always be popular: an instructor tells participants exactly what to do.
This approach saves people from the daunting task of having to come up with their own workout routine.
On the one hand, this is a good thing because most people don’t have a clue about how to group exercises together or perform movements with proper technique.
However, the class-based model also promotes a behavior that every trainer would recognize: going through the motions.
Head in the clouds
From my experience, there are two types of exercisers. You have those who are focused on what they’re doing and actively thinking about technique, muscle activation, and bodily sensations. Then there are those who are physically there, but their minds are elsewhere. They may be thinking about work or socializing with the person next to them.
Now before I go any further, let me make one thing clear: even if you identify with the latter group, you still deserve credit for making the effort to work out. That’s already saying more than most people in the U.S., statistically speaking.
That being said, you’re much better off paying attention to what you’re doing than simply going through the motions.
Movement = learning
Exercise, especially strength training and skill-based movement, are forms of learning. You are essentially teaching your body what you’d like it to perform by rehearsing movements. This requires concentration and awareness.
When performing a dumbbell bent over row, you should be thinking about engaging your core, maintaining a flat back, and leading the weight up and back with your elbows. You should feel your upper and middle back muscles activating, while also feeling a stretch in your hamstrings. This isn’t intuitive—it requires conscious effort.
You don’t learn the proper way to perform a movement if you’re not paying attention. And you’re not paying attention if you’re thinking about what you’re having for dinner while doing your lunges.
Following this logic, it’s clear that those who go through the motions are essentially teaching their bodies the wrong way to perform exercises. Repeating these improper patterns over and over again may lead to injuries and compensations.
A better approach
I understand that it may be difficult for people to focus in this fast-paced world filled with incessant distractions. The mind doesn’t just stop when you walk in the gym. But when it comes to training, being distracted can hinder your progress and potentially injure you.
Instead, I encourage you to see your workouts as a chance to practice being present and connecting with your body. Exercise, whether in a class environment or by yourself, is an opportunity to forget all your worldly responsibilities and focus on the task at hand. Not only will you learn and improve faster, but you’ll enjoy the therapeutic benefits of using training as a meditation.