5 December, 2021
Strength Training as Mindfulness
During the past decade coaching strength sports I noticed a pattern of people using training as a band-aid to force change in their bodies. Women who are highly stressed and disconnected emotionally using training to distract themselves from their experience. I noticed it because I was also living it.
Conversely, women who were terrified of the idea of strength training because of previous traumatic experiences. Sometimes injuries, and other incredibly insensitive trainers in gyms calling them fat or telling them that they wouldn’t succeed.
The problem with thinking that only doing hard training will change your body, is that it doesn't take into account how stress (physical and emotional) negatively affects your physiology. The fact is that hard training is another stressor.
We need some exposure to stressors in training, but only so far as your body is capable of recovering from.
By understanding what happens to your body when experiencing stress presently or previous traumas (we all have some) we can ensure that training becomes supportive to healing.
When forming the foundation for The Shero Training approach I began with the idea of Embodied Strength Training.
Embodied Strength Training (Shero Definition):
Being present in your body. An ability to feel your bodily sensations, recognise when your state shifts and as a result give your body what it needs.
Your nervous system responds to stressors unconsciously hijacking your physical experience. It does this to protect you from dangers, real and imagined. This is explained through Polyvagal Theory in great detail, by Stephen Porges.
You don’t need to understand the complexities of the theory to understand the basic concept that your physical and emotional experiences change the state of your physiology. A well adapted nervous system easily flows between a rest and digest state and a flight and flight response throughout daily life.
The challenge is when our system is dysregulated and isn't able to move through these states effectively, this is the problem for the highly stressed or previously traumatised.
In his book The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body Healing of Trauma, Bessel A. van der Kolk states:
“We have learned that trauma is not just an event that took place sometime in the past; it is also the imprint left by that experience on mind, brain, and body. This imprint has ongoing consequences for how the human organism manages to survive in the present. Trauma results in a fundamental reorganization of the way mind and brain manage perceptions. It changes not only how we think and what we think about, but also our very capacity to think.”
When we are in a highly stressed state our capacity to think, connect to others, and move effectively is diminished. If we are in a highly stressed state for an extended period of time (which many women we work with are) then our capacity to progress, get out of pain, learn and grow is severely limited.
Peter A. Levine the creator of Somatic Experiencing, which is a body first approach to trauma therapy writes in his book In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness
“When we fight against and/or hide from unpleasant or painful sensations and feelings, we generally make things worse. The more we avoid them, the greater is the power they exert upon our behavior and sense of well-being. What is not felt remains the same or is intensified, generating a cascade of virulent and corrosive emotions. This forces us to fortify our methods of defense, avoidance and control. This is the vicious cycle created by trauma.”
By bringing awareness to your experience during training, we create a space for deep healing and growth.
“Neuroscience research shows that the only way we can change the way we feel is by becoming aware of our inner experience and learning to befriend what is going inside ourselves.” ― Bessel A. van der Kolk
With this research in mind we use strength training as a form of mindfulness, by bringing your awareness to your breath, sensations and internal dialogue.
Through this awareness we are able to discover where your emotions, beliefs and fears are holding you back physically. Then take action through intentional movement to redefine beliefs, move through emotion and break through fear in a safe and supported environment.
Some of the questions we ask during training are:
-Can you feel your heartbeat?
-How are you breathing?
-Can you sense which muscles are working and when?
-Are you aware of the sensations you are experiencing?
-What else do you notice under the sensations?
-What is your internal dialogue?
By using this as the foundation for embodied strength training you learn not only how to strength train and get the best possible results, but also how to use training as a form of deep self care and healing.
If you can’t join our classes, begin with this questioning approach when you next train. Your body needs movement, by slowing down and noticing your experience you will transform your experience of training.