Have you ever started a new workout regimen with lots of excitement and inspiration as you prepare for your new routine? You buy new workout clothes, watch some videos, and start to imagine yourself as the new fitter better version of yourself, only to be hit by a wave of anxiety either before you begin your routine or shortly after starting.
The type of anxiety which gets you thinking in circles and brings about that hot panicky feeling in your chest and throat. I can remember being there as a skinny guy in my young 20s trying to become stronger and gain some muscle and self-confidence. I started a routine and chose to commit to it (which is fantastic) but did not have any idea how to handle stress as it came up in my body. If the idea of exercise and getting in better shape is stressful to you, you are not alone.
High levels of stress can be detrimental to your routine and overall health in general for a few reasons:
- Raising cortisol levels in the body
- Increases muscle tension over the long term (which does not help you when you start a workout)
- Keeps you in your head and not feeling your body
- Can keep you stuck on the same routine for a prolonged period of time
The truth is, one could write a dissertation on the ill effects of stress on the body, as it becoming more common knowledge of stresses influence on inflammation and chronic disease. But are there any solutions which can be implemented today to help you along both in your fitness routine and just with stressful life situations in general? There absolutely is!
Check in with your body, see if there is anywhere where you are holding a significant amount of tension. You could be experiencing muscle holding anywhere (feet, legs, hands, abdomen, chest, neck, shoulders, jaw). If you notice clenching, see if you can bring some awareness to that part of your body and ask it to relax. This is a skill which can be developed over time, and it is important to not force yourself to relax different areas of your body as this defeats the purpose of relaxation in and of itself.
One common thing seen by us trainers is clients speeding up a specific exercise when they are either not comfortable or confident in what they are doing. A certain exercise will (likely because it is hard) have them going twice and fast as they normally would just trying to get it done. This can compromise one’s form leading to a higher risk of injury, not to mention causing people to be up in their heads. So slow down. Be deliberate in what you are trying to accomplish.
If you are doing 10 reps and doing them quickly and poorly, try doing instead 5 reps slowly with good form and make sure you can feel the muscle groups being challenged. This leads in to my last point, the breath.
I know, it’s becoming a big cliche. However pay close attention because holding our breath is one of the most detrimental things we can do while exercising. Without trying to sell you on any ‘Power of Now’ mumbo jumbo, understand that our bodies need a rich oxygen supply. This is especially true when we are expending lots of physical effort. When we do not breathe, our stomach and our diaphragm tighten up, then the rest of our muscles follow which are not getting the oxygen supply they need to execute the task at hand. Breathe slow and deeply into your belly, then see how it changes the way your body responds to the demands being placed upon it.
Enjoy the Process
The truth is, learning to relax just like becoming proficient in an exercise routine takes time. It will be hard at first, and you may wonder why it is so hard to get your body and your mind to settle down and focus on what is right in front of you. It almost doesn’t even need to be said that our fast paced society play a big role in this. Don’t worry, all of your other tasks, projects, emails, and laundry lists will be there when you are done. This is why it is so key to take the time to both get active, and learn how to calm your body and mind down. Appreciate yourself for starting, don’t cheat your routine, and relish in the greater sense of freedom from challenging yourself in a focused way.