Training will get you stronger.
It will get you faster.
You will lose or gain weight, depending on what you're after.
But, let's not forget about where all of this starts... between the ears.
Upstairs, where we make choices, feel, express, compute, relish, and consider everything we do or have done. The mind is powerful and it deserves the same amount of attention as any of the muscles or connective tissue we have in our body. It's also, unfortunately, not considered by many when it comes to physical training. Sure, we reap the rewards of walking into the gym each day when we move better, see results in the mirror and how our clothes fit, and by numbers on the bar, but when was the last time you sat back and really considered what your mental state was like before you found training?
Are you different now? Do you show yourself more kindness? Understanding? Do you have a higher appreciation for your body and yourself as a person? Has the dialogue in your head and how you speak to yourself changed?
I for one know that the way I speak to myself and carry myself through the world is far and away completely different from before I found physical culture and training. I stand more upright. I have more patience. I listen more closely when other speak. I like myself more. The amount of negativity I let into my life has lessened. I'm more willing to speak up and out when I feel it's necessary.
But, why? Why does this change occur from the simple act of walking into the gym or spending some amount of time being physical each week?
Well, the act isn't actually that simple, right? It takes work and commitment to make a physical change to your body, hit a PR, or get out of your comfort zone and walk into the gym for the first time. When people start working out, a lot of times folks are asking more of themselves then they have before. Training can be a strangely intimate thing to do, no matter where you are. You're going through moments of struggle where you have to decide if you're going to continue on or stop.
And to be clear, we're all had moments where we choose to stop, especially early on along this road. There is no shame in it. But there comes a time when we realize that in order to make more tangible progress, we're going to have to choose to keep going when it becomes difficult. We are going to have to choose the harder path if we want to make progress. With training this is true both mentally and physically. Physically, continuing on when things get hard is a great way to activate and recruit new muscle fibers and motor units. It's also how we test ourselves and show our limitations that they don't actually exist where we believed they did. We toe that line and then at some point have to choose to step over it.
This builds confidence. This shows us that we're capable of more. Does this happen each day, of course not. But what we develop is the understanding that if we continue on this path, we will at some point choose to step over that line again.
And again, we'll prove our limitations wrong.
If we get into the weeds of what's actually going on inside your body during exercise, we find a few things...
1.) Exercise increases concentrations of norepinephrine in your brain, the chemical that can help moderate your brains response to stress. Increased amounts of this chemical won't just serve you in the moments you're exercising, but also outside of the gym.
2.) Exercise increases chemical production that helps reduce the breakdown of the hippocampus, which is an important part of the brain for memory and learning. So as we age, when we continue to train, we're actively fighting back against degeneration, which can leave us more alert with higher cognitive abilities. Along with this, exercise also boosts neurogenesis (the creation of new brain cells) and increase levels of the brain derived protein, BDNF. All of these factors leave us feeling more alert and mentally sharper.
3.) Exercise also releases dopamine into your system, which is actually the same chemical released in moments of pleasure.
4.) It helps reset your body clock. Basically, regular schedule can help you correct a circadian rhythm that has been knocked out of whack.
The positive impact of exercise on the body goes on and on. Just remember, when you step into the gym, you're not just training your cardiovascular system or getting stronger: you're helping the space between your ears be relaxed, healthier, and happier.
How much weight do you put into what physical training can do for your body?
When was the last time you thought about what you're doing for the space between your ears?
Next time you walk into the gym, make note of how you felt before you got there. Then, make another note once you leave. Do you feel better? Head less cloudy? Day not actually seem that bad?
Try this for a week or two and I promise you'll see a trend moving the right direction.
Remember, the brain is the front line of development. Don't neglect taking a glance up there every once and a while and making sure we're keeping all our wiring sorted.
- Coach Bean