By Jenessa Connor
When we talk about the connection between exercise and focus, we often note how the former begets the latter. There's nothing like a good sweat session to clear a foggy head. But if you go into every workout mentally scattered and disorganized, you're probably not realizing your full fitness potential.
Learning how to improve focus while training can lead to a better overall experience and more meaningful results. Read on to find out why — and get science-backed tips to hone your focus.
Stay locked in and give your workout your all with the energy and focus boost from LADDER Pre-Workout.
Think about what it's like trying to get in a full day's work at your job when you're not mentally focused. Your mind wanders, you make errors, it takes three times as long to accomplish simple tasks, and you clock out feeling like you haven't accomplished much at all.
An unfocused workout can be just as problematic. “If your head isn't in the game, you might rest too long between sets, or take extra time to transition between exercises, and that can impact both how many calories you burn and how much muscle you build," says Trevor Thieme, CSCS, senior director of fitness and nutrition content at LADDER.
Plus, when you're not paying attention, you're more likely to make mistakes that could lead to injuries. “Maintaining focus during a workout is not only critical to maintaining good form, but also for making sure your workout is as efficient as possible," he says.
So, how do you go from frazzled to focused? Unfortunately, there's no focus switch you can flip as you walk into the gym. But you can employ a few expert-backed strategies on how to improve focus so you can clear your head and get down to business.
1. Plan Your Workout in Advance
Just like a to-do list helps you feel organized at work, a training plan that includes sets, reps, work periods, and rest time will help you stay on task during a workout, from warm-up to cooldown. “You should already know what you're going to do in the gym that day," says Jordan Hosbein, a certified personal trainer.
“Trying to figure it out on the fly wastes mental energy due to decision fatigue. Put that energy to work on your exercises by planning ahead," he explains. Writing down your workouts will also help you track your progress over time.
2. Minimize Distractions
Take note of what external factors tend to pull you off course, then minimize them. That might mean avoiding the gym when it's crowded, switching off the TV during an at-home workout, or exercising in a part of the house where you can't see that pile of unfolded laundry or dirty dishes.
3. Turn Off Your Phone
Speaking of distractions, the most insidious one is probably in your hand right now. “Lose the phone," advises certified personal trainer Michael Julom. “Leave it in your car, or in the locker." Otherwise, you'll be tempted to answer texts or check social media, both of which are like kryptonite for focus.
If you do keep it close by, turn on "do not disturb" mode and close any app that's a distraction.
4. Study Up
There's no need to pursue a degree in kinesiology, but a working knowledge of exercise science (anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, and exercise form) can help you stay present while exercising. In other words, it's easier to focus on movements that feel purposeful, not random.
“That mind-muscle connection thing is real, but you need to understand the muscles and their attachments to establish that connection," says Julom. Reputable fitness sites on the internet, your local library, and even the certified trainer at your gym are all great resources for information.
5. Start a Meditation Practice
Just in case you needed another reason to start meditating, here it is. “Weaving meditation into your weekly routine can help train your brain to focus more effectively," says Thieme.
You can also utilize certain meditation techniques during your workouts to help yourself stay present. Trainer Erin Mahoney recommends focusing on your breathing and employing a mantra while exercising.
“Having something to repeat to yourself over and over again can help direct your focus and serve as an anchor if your mind starts to wander," she explains. Try a simple phrase, like “This rep," or “Keep moving."
6. Fuel Accordingly
“Skipping your pre-workout snack can reduce focus," says Stephanie Hnatiuk, a registered dietitian and certified personal trainer. “Our brains and muscles need energy, and if we're lacking fuel, our motivation can suffer. Fueling up properly before a training session can dramatically improve our focus and ensure we finish that workout strong."
When eating before exercising, consider the timing. If you have less than an hour before your workout, focus on carbohydrates and keep it light. (A banana or a slice of toast with nut butter are good options.) If you have closer to two hours, increase your overall calorie intake and add a little protein and healthy fat.
7. Try Pre-Workout
In addition to staying on top of your nutrition, you may want to try a pre-workout supplement. “LADDER Pre-Workout contains a trio of ingredients — caffeine, L-theanine, and phosphatidylserine — that work together to help sharpen focus and attention," explains Thieme.*
“Fatigue can tug at your attention, so taking supplements that help delay it can help you maintain your focus," he says. “Supplements containing caffeine are particularly beneficial in that regard, and you don't need a lot of it. Research shows that a dose equal to that found in a cup of coffee (about 100 mg) can enhance workout performance and improve focus and concentration."
8. Listen to Music
This one's a bit of a cheat. “Music doesn't really help people focus on exercise," says Thieme. “The reason that listening to it can be helpful during a workout is that it distracts you. In other words, when you're listening to music, you're not listening to your body complain about how tired it is. Your perceived rate of exertion is also lower."
So, if listening to music improves your overall exercise experience then, by all means, pump up the volume. Just be sure to organize your playlist before your workout, not during it.