I’ve written a lot about the benefits of mindfulness before – not just for strength training, but for everyday life. That said, I recognize that mindfulness can be really difficult to practice, especially with how frantic and busy modern life can be.
So, instead of blathering about patience, practice, and persistence, I’m going to offer some more practical tips to get in the zone when you need it the most. It doesn’t matter if the bar is loaded for a PR or if you’re at the bar trying to work up the nerve to talk to that hot girl: focus can make a big difference!
(That said, these tips are for the gym. Success at the bar not guaranteed.)
Five Ways to Focus Fast
1. Block It Out
This is a new strategy I’ve been trying lately, to great success. Since I’ve returned to powerlifting after my stint in bodybuilding, I’ve found that I’m better off training a little less…wildly, and a lot more controlled. Contrast these two sets:
Set 1 — 675 lbs for 8
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Celebrating the release of my ALL NEW #powerbuilding program with this throwback to one of my all time favorite #sumodeadlift sets. You can get the new program using the link in my bio! Fair warning: it’s #intenseaf so be prepared. As for me, I might have to play around with sumo a little today 😬
Set 2 — 530 lbs for 8 off a deficit
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“That was hard” 😂 Sloooooowly working back into heavier weights. About 530 here for 8 off a max deficit after a bunch of heavy squats. Honestly struggling pretty bad mentally right now because I LIVE for the challenge of sets like this — but they’re not optimal and could very well be detrimental for bodybuilding. Any suggestions? #struggleisreal #thatswhatshesaid
While I’m lifting more weight in the former, I find the latter, more controlled set more beneficial, because it’s easier to progress when form remains tight and controlled. This is a bit off-topic, but if you’re interested in it, I highly recommend reading up on some of Joe Bennett’s content (@hypertrophycoach) for a good explanation.
My point is this: with all the chaos going on in nearly any gym, focusing enough to get in quality reps can be really difficult. Add in some heavy metal music, ammonia, and god knows what else, and it’s a wonder anyone can focus at all. Instead, I’ve been wearing earplugs when I train, to block everything out.
So far, this has proved to be a really great way to stay in my zone, not get distracted by anyone else’s.
2. Let It Go
I can’t avoid mentioning the importance of meditation when it comes to focus. Distractions aren’t limited to what’s going on in the gym: it’s very easy to bring your “daily-life baggage” with you everywhere you go, and that baggage can really take you off your game if you’ve had a particularly bad day.
Meditation is the solution, here: by learning to let thoughts go, you can stay in the moment and not get lost in wondering if you’re going to have a rough day at work or if your date that night will go smoothly.
Unfortunately, developing this skill does require that patience, practice, and persistence I promised to stay away from – but I think it’s important and valuable enough to bear mentioning anyway.
3. Get Hyped Up
This is my jam, and it’s not just about the nose tork (although that helps).
I like using ammonia because it helps to clear my mind right before a heavy lift, but that’s only a small part of my pre-lift ritual. The majority of that time is spent practicing visualization, or mentally rehearsing the lift to improve my execution.
Disclaimer: Ammonia is a respiratory stimulant in the form of an inhalant that isn’t necessary for training or heavy lifting. It can potentially have adverse effects on one’s health. Please seek the advice of a medical professional before using, or if side effects are present.
Conventional visualization can often be a double-edged sword. When you visualize a perfect training session, if and when something does go wrong, you’re often ill-equipped to deal with it, and end up panicking. One solution is to practice visualizing your response to adversity. Another is what I do: visualizing the kinesthetic feeling of a successful lift: the butterflies in my stomach, the adrenaline rush after hitting a PR – whatever gets you going.
Either method can work, so I suggest that you try both and see which fits your body and your style better.
4. Team Up
Let’s face it: some days, focus is just really, really hard to come by.
That’s when teamwork comes into play: a good training crew can be just what you need to pull your head out of your ass and work harder and smarter.
I know a lot of lifters dislike training with others, and I understand that. It requires a lot of effort and sacrifice when it comes to things like scheduling and workout length. But there are a lot of benefits to training with others that you simply can’t get alone. Besides the tacit knowledge sharing I wrote about recently, training with a partner is safer (you always have a spotter to rely on); more productive (you can get immediate, objective feedback on your technique and load selection); and more consistent (studies show that social interaction can be a key motivator in exercise habits).
Of course, you have to have the right kind of training partner. A guy who consistently skips workouts, slacks on heavy sets, and eats like shit is more likely to derail you than help you.
5. When All Else Fails, Cheat
By “cheat,” I mean use some type of pre-workout to get amped up. Look, sometimes artificial stimulants can be necessary; to use an extreme example, I’d never ask a lifter to avoid caffeine on meet day!
Unfortunately, as nice as the pre-workout high can feel, the comedown can be pretty rough in the long run. That’s why I call it cheating, even though it’s neither illegal nor immoral. But when you’re constantly running on caffeine and adrenaline, cortisol rises, recovery is impaired, and your results suffer. Furthermore, high doses of stimulants can make it difficult to evaluate your rate of perceived exertion, leading to more frequent overreaching.
Watch this video for a more in-depth explanation:
Have your own secret methods to getting in the zone? Share them in the comments below!
Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.
Workout Mindset FAQs
How can I improve my focus in the gym?
There are multiple ways to improve your focus in the gym. Some methods include practicing visualization, blocking out your surroundings, meditating, and using friends to help push your performance.