Where’s Your Head At?

Written by Dr. Mackenzie Cooledge, DC

Picture this…

You’ve woken up to your alarm bleeping, for the 3rd time. You really want to get up and get a good breakfast in, maybe some coffee; anything substantial before you get to the gym. Yet, your window of opportunity is closing.

Last night, you had an argument with your spouse. Regrettably so, because work has been really tough and every now and again you find yourself going down a rabbit hole of worry. What’s in store for you and your family in the future? Are you doing everything you can? Why do so many things seem out of control?

You had a short fuse from all of the stress that it just led to aggravation, bad communication, and unfortunately, a terrible night’s sleep. So why are you getting up to go to the gym again?

Because it’s going to help? Right? That’s what the mantra is recently, to make sure you’re taking care of yourself so you can take care of others. Yes, you find that moment of motivation, get yourself out of bed and quickly throw yourself together along with a meal replacement shake. The gym will get your head back in the right spot.

You check the workout of the day as you situate yourself in the car. “Deadlifts.” Nice, you can take some of the stored-up stress and maybe hit that PR today. “Calories on the Bike…” just forget you read that at all, you’re already pulling out of the driveway… no turning back now. Just get there and leave it all out on the floor. That’s what the gym is for, it’s your way of giving yourself the time you need to turn things around. Mentally, emotionally, and physically.

End scene.

If you’re in any way a human, this particular story may have resonated with you. It may have even sounded like a word for word recollection of your own life experiences. For many of us at the gym, some days are more than just keeping ourselves in peak physical condition. In fact, for some veterans, whose PRs have become fewer and further between, sticking with the gym in a lot of ways is one of their favorite ways to ‘get away and reset’.

Your AM class participants feed off of starting the day on the right foot. “As long as I get there, the rest of my day will always be 100x better”.

Your PM class participants thrive off of knowing that, whatever was thrown at them throughout the day, it can all be washed away in a bath of sweat.

So, why is exercise so good for our emotions, and how can our emotions affect our ability to exercise?

It may be common knowledge that exercise increases endorphins, those “feel good” hormones that alter your perception of pain & can cause “exercise induced euphoria”. What may come to you as a surprise is that the intensity and length of your workout can actually have reverse effects on your mood.

In a study titled, “Opioid Release after High-Intensity Interval Training in Healthy Human Subjects” by Tiina Saanijoki, results found that prolonged high-intensity exercise actually emitted chemicals within the body that resulted in negative mood & can even result in a participants lack of motivation to continue a long term commitment to exercising all together.

Conversely, moderate intensity training, done consistently, maintained the known “euphoria” and positive mood. It also showed an increase in a participant’s desire to commit to long term routines involving productive exercise!

With this knowledge in mind, it’s time to reflect on our own relationship with exercise.

What’s our mindset when we initially get to the gym? Are we pushing ourselves too hard too fast which could cause us to waiver in our stamina for long term success?

Back to our hypothetical story.

During the car ride, some of last night’s conversation with your spouse starts to swirl through your head so you decide you’re going to drown it out with your favorite pump-up music or podcast pep-talk. You know, the one that helps you ‘get your head in the game!’

You’re now set on the fact that you’re getting that PR during the strength component. Whatever it takes. It says to start at 75% max, but you’re going to start at 85% because you want to break the barrier, you’re amped up! You’re also certain that even if you know you can complete the MetCon at the Lifestyle level with moderate resistance, you’re going to push it to the Performance because that’s where your head is at right now. You want to be in control and you want to prove to yourself you can overcome any challenge. YOU GOT THIS!

As you grab your plates and set up your area, you catch your gym bestie! That person you love to secretly compete against because you admire them, and they see the same in you. The deal is sealed. No hesitation, you’re maximizing your intensity today! You’re already feeling better so why not dig deep and keep it going!?

Still sounding familiar?

Time to unpack it all. If this is something you do to yourself on occasion, let’s say 1-2 times a month, it won’t be detrimental over the long run. [Just remember that any negative thought that leads to a positive result creates an imprint. So while, chemically, emotions like anger & frustration can physically give you that extra boost, your brain will connect that emotion to the gratification you feel after.]

What if, though, you’re the type of person who can honestly admit that this mindset is something you push through more than once a week. Maybe every class you attend?

If you find that you’re pushing yourself to maximum intensity for the majority of classes, one thing is clear: your time at the gym will be cut short [even excluding the increased probability of physical injury], and you may find yourself struggling to be motivated to return. Just as well, if you do return under the impression that you’re going to ‘push through and work harder this time’, you may find yourself going through the same cycle. On the gym, off the gym, over and over.

How can you break the cycle?

By doing the hardest thing any human being can do: hold yourself accountable and know your own body and limitations. Understand, and be honest with yourself, on WHAT LENS you’re looking through when heading into your workout. Start by asking yourself questions such as:

  • What’s my current mood, now that I’ve decided to commit to the gym?
  • What was my mood before I decided to commit to class?
  • Why was I in this mood?
  • Was my previous mood what impacted my decision?
  • How is this information going to affect my performance today?

In the above scenario, your mood is currently “completely juiced up & motivated” when prior to the gym it was reluctant and resistant due to stressors in life & lack of sleep. You definitely had to do some digging but, ultimately, your mood impacted you to choose the commitment to the gym because it would help you get out of your funk.

Now the answer to the last question.

“How is this information going to affect my performance today?”

“I’m going to leave it all on the floor and use all the negative energy in me to Deadlift that bar to my MAX, and now I want to go for 25 cal on the Bike even though I always do 20…just let it all go.”

Maybe you’ll succeed and momentarily feel amazing. Tomorrow, however, delayed onset muscle soreness hits in along with a rapid drop in appropriate brain chemicals to maintain your “euphoric” feeling, and getting out of bed is, again, exhausting.

What’s the better option?

“I know things have been stressful, I’m absolutely doing myself a better service by getting myself moving today, rather than doing nothing at all. But I need to be real. I’m too malnourished for high intensity. I also didn’t sleep well. I really should not be convincing myself that pushing my physical body through intense exercise is the best and only means to overcome the mental & emotional stressors in my life. It’s also not beneficial for me to always compress my inner frustrations and use them as a way to optimize my peak performance.

Am I capable of handling my challenges? Absolutely! However, my ability to progress forward in life through everything, including my workout routine, comes with honesty, diligence, and accountability. I’m the only one in control of those things, and I love myself enough to say, ‘today might not be my day to hit the PR, but I’ll get my one rep max again’. I may need to aim for 15 cal on the bike instead of 20 cal, and that’s amazing too.”

Small, incremental and consistent steps are better than none at all.

A Bull in a China Shop lasts for 5 minutes, destroying everything in its path,
but a tortoise can stay for 100 years and never break a plate.

The best thing to do, after acknowledging your mindset and being honest with yourself, is to be honest with your coach! Every one of our coaches are highly motivated to see you succeed and will be there to safely push you to your potential. But they’re human, not mind readers. If you’re walking in jazzed up for your PR, and start grabbing all the heavy plates, and don’t tell them, “I am in a mood today, this 24kg kettle bell is going to solve it for me”, you may not get the proper encouragement, advice, and guidance.

The best thing about the EverProven Community is everyone’s there to help. Not one person has walked through life immune to stressors and struggles. The coaches in particular are always there to help.

If you’re having a positive day full of positive emotions and are shooting to push yourself to a PR and/or up your intensity from a place of encouragement and peaceful power, then shoot for the stars! If you’re wavering in your mood and are determined to annihilate your stress and conflict on the wall ball, you would probably benefit best from slowing down. Be honest with yourself.

Being honest with yourself can be hard.

However, it’s the most worth it and beneficial way to maintain your progress and keep your commitment to your health and wellness journey. The gym is never a competition between you and your peers, it’s only a challenge to be better than who YOU were yesterday, last week, even a month or a year ago. In a fast-paced world, it’s hard to recognize, reflect and slow down. Especially on the days where your head just isn’t in the right space. Those moments are the most important for your well-being and long-term success.

Be patient, be honest and take each day and workout one step at a time.

This blog is brought to you through a partnership with Thrive Family Chiropractic of Dover, NH.

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