Physical activity is an excellent medicine for stress and working out in a slow tempo can further enhance this.
Stress is a common but serious problem. In the midst of all the things we want to do and achieve we often forget the most important thing of all; our own health. Some of us might say that we don’t have time for a workout or that other things are higher priority but that is a false illusion if ever I heard one. Your health and well-being should always win the priority game and very few other (if any!) goals, wants, musts etc. should ever get to hijack time from your health efforts.
For me, working out is by far the best way of relaxing and de-stressing my mind. Getting a good hour in the gym is the perfect way for me to clear my head, allowing me to process and let go of some of the thoughts spinning around in my mind. It makes me feel both more balanced and energised but also happier and more focused.
To many people the fundamental obstacle in the way of a consistent workout routine is simply that they can’t let go of their other to do’s and make time for a workout. This can in turn fuel even more stress, as they might feel there’s no time for a workout but at the same time that they should, and want to, work out. Then the thought of a workout might just become a negative emotion of not being enough and that’s no good at all. This is though the exact reason to why I not only make sure to prioritise workouts over everything else in my calendar but also try to remove as much stress as possible whenever I train.
In order to embrace this mindset I also maintain a quite dynamic definition of a great workout. I never feel that I have to push myself through every session by doing something like 30 different leg exercises and then leave the gym crawling… Instead I always pay close attention to how I’m feeling that particular day. If I’m not feeling 100%, then I’ll certainly not push myself 100% either, because that’s how you get injured. Listening to your own body and continuously adapting your training is probably the most critical component of a good and sustainable workout routine, and it’s only one of those that will get you the results you want.
Another method to improve your training and at the same time decrease stress is to perform each exercise in a slow tempo. And when I say slow, I mean really S-L-O-W! For example, many people oftentimes have a hard time finding good muscle contact when doing back exercises, such as the typical dumbbell row. To improve your chances of really feeling it in the back muscles you can test doing the exercise with a lower weight and completing the movement really slowly. 3 seconds at least when pulling the dumbbell up, then pausing for another 3 seconds at the top and squeezing your scapula, and then lowering the dumbbell slowly over another 3 seconds. One rep now takes almost 10 seconds and you’ll have a much better chance of finding good muscle contact.
In this way completing 6 reps takes you close to a minute and it will definitely make you become more aware of the muscles involved whilst at the same time forcing you to slow down and really focus on what you’re doing. Even if you increase the weights and/or the pace again later, the slowdown will have allowed you to find that good muscle contact and learn how it feels. You can thereafter strive for getting as good muscle contact regardless of weights and tempo.
With the slowdown method you’ll experience “light” weights feeling heavy, you’ll better understand how your muscles function and in addition to that it also means less risk of injury. Finally, to stay focused whilst exercising in this way will also force you to be closely aware of what you’re doing, which will help to de-stress.
So, to wrap up, my message with this is simple; stay away from stress, not only in everyday life but also when working out. Slow down your training and find a good, conscious pace and I can almost guarantee you’ll get to the results you want faster!
Marcus, personal trainer and co-founder of Trion