I have been working out consistently since 2006. That’s almost 17 years at the time of this writing.
When I began exercising regularly, I did it to lose weight. And running seemed like the most effective way to accomplish my goal. Like most people who want to lose weight, I approached my training sessions intending to burn as many calories as possible.
Later, when I got into strength training, I aimed to build muscle and become stronger. The focus was always on looking fit, lean, or strong.
This is a very results-focused way of looking at movement.
And while there is nothing wrong per se with this approach, there is a better one.
One that is focused on skill development and on trying to master the movements. This approach shifts your mindset from trying to get a good sweat session in, feeling the burn, or growing your muscle to one that focuses on mastering the skill of movement.
Why you should practice the movement.
The focus on “feeling the burn,” “getting a pump,” or “burning calories” comes with the negative side-effect that form is just an afterthought.
Let’s take the example of lifting weights.
Let’s say you want to perform barbell back squats because you’ve heard this is the best way to grow your chicken legs into a pair of respectable oak trees.
When your focus is results-based, you move as much weight as possible in a given time period, which is the best way to grow muscle. And even if you’re paying attention to form, you will be more prone to perform reps with poor technique because you don’t stop at the first signs of form breakdown. And because your focus is on feeling the burn and getting in as many reps as possible, you will be reasonably fatigued once you finish your workout.
Contrast that with how you would train if you approached your exercise session intending to practice the movement.
Instead of using the barbell back squat as a means to grow as much muscle as possible, you see the barbell back squat as a movement skill to master. Now your focus is on performing every single repetition with perfect form. You care less about how many repetitions you get in or how much weight you move.
As a result, you will perform the movement with flawless technique almost every time, leaving most training sessions somewhat fresh. When you approach training that way, you significantly reduce your chances of injury.
And since you don’t beat yourself in every workout, you can train more frequently and continuously progress 😎.
If you are a runner, the same concept applies.
Instead of simply trying to hit a distance or pace target, you should approach each run with the primary goal of practicing the skill of running. Poor physical preparedness is the number one reason at least 50% of runners get hurt each year.
Just think about it.
Most who start running later in life haven’t run in years. Most often, they also have poor biomechanics and are physically weak due to a sedentary lifestyle.
In short, their bodies are woefully unprepared for running.
Just go to a local part and observe the runners passing by. You will see slouched shoulders, overstriding, and poor hip extension. The majority of recreational runners run with terrible form.
And only a tiny minority makes an effort to improve their running technique.
How to approach exercise as practice.
Changing from a results-oriented approach to exercise to a focused-oriented approach comes down to a mindset shift. The next time you go to the gym or head out the door for a run, think about your exercise session as a practice session.
Your primary goal is mastering the movement.
That means when you’re at the gym, you try to execute every repetition as perfectly as possible. You don’t use the number of reps, the amount you lifted, or the level of soreness as the primary indicator for a good workout, but the level of focus and presence you brought to the weight room.
You don’t stop when you have completed a certain number of reps but when your form starts to break down.
You focus on quality over quantity.
And if you’re a runner, this concept applies to you too.
You should go out with the goal of improving one aspect of your running form that day. You can work on cadence, arm swing, heel lift, or foot placement. You could also focus on breathing and relaxing your shoulders as you run.
Each run should be a skill session where you aim to improve your running technique.
A great way to practice proper running style is to run barefoot. When you land on your bare feet, instant feedback from your body will help you massively find the appropriate technique for your body. It also forces you to progress slowly in your running since you won’t be able to continue to run when you are fatigued and your form starts to break down.
Practice the skill of movement to enjoy your training more.
When I shifted my mindset from trying to achieve an external result to a mindset focused on the movement process, I started to enjoy my exercise sessions even more.
I was free from the pressure to achieve a particular result.
Moving well is my primary goal.
Of course, external parameters, such as distance run or the number of reps completed in a 10-minute kettlebell snatch session, matter if you’re trying to accomplish a specific goal.
However, when you focus on moving well and attempt each session to simply practice, you significantly reduce the pressure for needing to “crush it” in training. This is especially important if you have an “all-or-nothing-type” personality like me.
Instead of beating yourself up for not achieving some external result on days when you feel low on energy, you realize that the primary goal of the training session was to practice.
And that was all that mattered.