Vigilance & Awareness: Part 1 – Awareness
This relates to unconscious actions which can be detrimental to your success. In the case of food and drink you may under/overestimate consumption due to lack of awareness; with smoking and other habits your may not realize you are consciously performing the task, and finally recognizing when your habits transition from being healthy to unhealthy.
The first action awareness I will discuss is related to eating. Exercise and nutrition go hand in hand; no exercise program is complete without a good nutrition program. To be vigilant about your diet, you need to pay attention to your food cravings and your consumption. Everything you consume should be conscious, this means no digging into a bag of potato chips like a magician into a hat. By retaining awareness and consciously consuming, you prevent unnecessary caloric surpluses. This same thing can be said about drinking alcohol. While alcohol consumption does not need to be omitted completely for fitness goals it does need to be controlled. After numerous drinks, it is harder to prevent yourself from consuming more, you are bound to have an avoidable caloric surplus; hence the importance of conscious awareness. This way you can control how your nutrition works for your goals instead of hindering you from reaching your goals.
While tracking calories and setting yourself up for success takes a lot of hard work and commitment it is easy to lose yourself in the numbers and “guaranteed happiness” upon reaching your goals. This can result in the slippery slope of unhappiness with your body and discourages you from working towards your goals. Sometimes this will result in the development of eating disorders and/or cessation of exercising altogether. In this case, awareness is important because you want to recognize when a problem has developed, particularly before it festers and grows.
What’s important is that you listen to your body. Forcing your goals to come to fruition leads to discouragements and frustration. The process of working towards your goals should excite you and celebrations are in order when you do accomplish your goals; no matter the magnitude. Happiness is not exclusively dependent on accomplishing your goals. As such, it is important to be comfortable in your own skin not in the skin of your future self. Always look at the positive your are doing now rather than the negatives.
Proper form and technique ensures that you optimize the work you are doing for an intended muscle group. Poor exercise form is a major cause of injury. Poor form can arise from simple exercises (i.e. walking and sitting) or more complicated exercises (i.e. weightlifting).
When weight-training your body can become misaligned placing strain on your tendons, muscles and joints. If you have to “cheat” to perform an exercise, forcing sloppy reps. Instead performing the majority of your exercise poorly you should lower your weight instead. By performing an exercise properly you reduce the risk for injury and you increase the efficacy of your workout.
Next time you perform an exercise make sure your exercise form resembles that of a professional symphony orchestra. Orchestrating your body to engage the appropriate muscles and breathing properly, with impeccable form. If need be, record yourself performing an exercise and view the tapes like Coach Herman Boone (from Remember the Titans). If you really trust an exercise savvy friend, ask them for their input. However, be advised a typical gym bro will often do more harm than good for correcting your form.
Note: When performing an exercise do not hyperextend your joints (i.e. lockout). Locking out when performing an exercise takes the weight off of your muscles and instead places it on your joints; this can result in unneeded shear and stress on your joints. This also means you aren’t engaging your muscles throughout your exercise because of the distribution of weight to your joints rather than your muscles.
Proper breathing during an exercise improves force production and reduces the chance for heart conditions (i.e. aneurysms and high blood pressure). When you correct your breathing form you are able to breathe easier and generate more force throughout your exercises. You want to exhale when you are fighting resistance or emitting positive force (i.e. the concentric phase) and inhale when you are emitting a negative force and not fighting resistance (i.e. the eccentric phase). This is why it is important to engage your core during an exercise as it will help with proper breathing form.
Walking, Standing, and Sitting
Walking, standing and sitting are simple activities that people engage in numerous times per day.
Lack of awareness regarding poor walking form can lead to long-term health problems (i.e. hip and knee issues). To walk properly keep your head up, back flat and core engaged; make sure your feet are parallel (i.e. NO duck feet!); and your gait is normal (i.e. rolling your foot from heel-to-toe). While this may sound redundant fixing your walking can help avoid knee and hip issues, caused by poor walking, in the long-term. Additionally, if you are standing make sure your knees are not locked out for extended periods of time; as it can restrict blood flow through the veins of your lower extremities.
In today’s world, it is common for people to spend numerous hours sitting at a desk and working on a computer. When sitting at a desk make sure you are sitting up tall and not causing an irregular curvature in your spine. Also, your shoulders should be relaxed and not shrugged. It is common to find people who sit are desks all day with rounded upper backs, because of poor sitting posture.
Tight Muscles and Mobility
Most studies show that stretching improves athletic performance and helps decrease the risk of injury. Stretching can improve flexibility and your range of motion (this is important to increase effectiveness of an exercise). Stretching also increases blood flow to muscles, which aids in post-exercise recovery. That being said stretching is not to be considered a warm-up.
Mobility is often under appreciated and misunderstood. For example, running shortens the hamstrings, calves, and hip flexors, which decreases your range of motion for activities like squats. Mobility is your bodies ability to go through a full range of motion. Mobility relates to voluntary movement whereas flexibility is much more passive. Also, flexibility typically does not require core strength, balance and coordination to perform a movement. The added benefit of increased range of motion (ROM) is that it increases the effectiveness of the exercise as well. Hence why half reps should be considered frivolous and unnecessary. That being said unless you are inhibited by your ROM you should always try to go through the entire concentric and eccentric phases of a given exercise.
Note: SMR and static stretching are very useful for post-exercise recovery.
In conclusion, your conscious mind dictates what your do, don’t let anyone else tell you what you can and can’t do. Retain awareness of your habits both good and bad, and work hard to better them. Understand your body, your static posture, and movement form. Rule your body and take control of your life. Be aware of your actions and prescribe the outcomes you desire for your life.