How to find flow in the moment of being fit.

We live in a world that demands our attention, compromises our focus, and steals your precious time. Our minds must be strong to withstand a constant assault of stimuli. Focus frees you from stress, cultivates energy and offers you a sanctuary of sanity — a place to renew and connect with your inner strength.

Focus is a master skill of an extraordinary life.

Perhaps more than any other factor, it is the mastery of your focus — which precedes the mastery of your energy — that separates the average performers from the peak performers in life.

The freedom to place your focused attention where you want it, when you want it, offers a competitive advantage in a world where the average attention span is measured in seconds, not minutes. It’s precisely this skill that has so many high-profile leaders adopting meditation practices. Steve Jobs of Apple, music icons Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Ford of Ford Motor Co. and Stephen Curry are a few of the prominent names that belong to the rapidly growing population of Americans — currently reported to be more than 20 million—who have embraced the practice of meditation and other mindfulness training practices.

The strength of focus for fitness

If there’s one thing I’ve done differently in my training over the past 20 years compared to almost everyone I know, it’s to apply a high degree of focus and intensity to each repetition of every set of every exercise. Applying specific techniques that isolate my muscles and concentrate the power of my mind and body has allowed me to enjoy extraordinary results from ordinary exercises.

As I discovered some years ago, in the practice of strengthening my body, training had become my own preferred form of meditation. The specific techniques I’ve used over the years are captured in the unique discipline of strength training I call Focus Intensity Training (FIT).  Applying these transformative techniques allows you to make an extraordinary leap in the results and effectiveness of your workouts.

Concentration Curl 1

Here’s a quick illustration of how dramatically FIT can change things. Take your right arm and extend it out, with your palm open. Now close your palm, as if you’re gripping a dumbbell. It may help to grab something nearby with that hand first, such as a pen or cell phone. Now curl the arm as if you’re performing a biceps curl.

No big deal, right? In fact, that exercise probably seemed rather useless. Unfortunately, this is the same approach most people take in the gym.

Now let’s do it again. This time, however, as you begin to curl your arm, contract (squeeze) your biceps and touch your left index finger to the center of your right biceps. Then picture a red-hot marble just under this point of contact and focus your eyes on this same spot. As you contract your biceps slowly, continue to deepen your complete concentration on this single spot of your muscle. When you reach the peak, the fully contracted position, hold it. For about 10 seconds, continue to increase your focus and intensity. Then release.

Concentration Curl 2

Did you feel the difference? I’ll bet you did.

You might find that your biceps feels hot—not just inside but to the touch. If nothing else, you no doubt feel your biceps more intensely than during the first attempt, since you stepped up your focus and intensity.

An evolution in strength training, FIT benefits from and embraces the fact that your mind and body are not two separate entities but rather function as one interconnected, interdependent system. And the benefits of skillfully engaging them in harmony are extraordinary. While there are a number of physical practices that harmonize body-mind, FIT integrates this ancient wisdom with the relatively modern practice of strength training. In FIT, you find techniques such as breathing, concentration of attention, deep relaxation and surrender, flow of energy, grounding and others that are found in the great Eastern practices. The common element is the full engagement of body and mind as one.

Unfortunately, a large number of those who do exercise with weights regularly do so with only moderate effectiveness. Rather than fully engaging themselves in the activity, they go at it half-halfheartedly or simply “space out.”

Take a look around your gym. More often than not you’ll see people more focused on counting reps and watching others than on their own training. This casual, going-through-the-motions approach may be the single greatest obstacle to a strong body and a strong mind.

FIT Research

In a study of Focus Intensity Training (FIT) as part of a master’s thesis in somatic psychology, 14 men and women practiced FIT regularly for 30 days. In just that short period, they discovered increased strength and energy and a feeling of greater intensity during workouts. They also reported clearer minds, higher motivation, greater enjoyment while training and higher levels of self-confidence, as well as an increase in focus and concentration that transcended the gym into their daily lives.

Consider what you might experience as you embrace FIT.

The aim of FIT is to develop not simply your physical strength but also integral strength: strength of body, mind, emotions and more. Think of this new style as strength training from the inside out — integral strength training.

By focusing the combined energy of the mind and body, it’s as if you’re going from the light of an ordinary fluorescent bulb to the concentrated intensity of a laser beam. And for many, there’s no better place to develop this ability to focus than during intense physical training.

As you begin on the path to master FIT, harnessing your power to focus, expect to enjoy an increasing state of flow during your training. This is that “in the zone” state that athletes often speak of — the place where time seems to stop and your training becomes effortless grace.

As you integrate this technique, there will come a point at which the doing training transforms into being — in which you are one with the moment and every subtle nuance of it. This is the unmistakable moment of freedom.

Think of a time when you’ve been “in the zone,” so deeply involved in an activity that time seemed to stop. You were flowing with energy and confidence, free of doubt and fear. That’s focus. Now imagine how powerful it would be if you were in this deep state of focus throughout every workout. Consider how powerful it would be to bring this intensity of focus to every part of your life. You’d be getting more done in less time with less effort, more present in relationships, more attentive, more caring. You may even enjoy every moment of life a little more.

How will the power of focus change your workouts — and your life?

(Adapted from “Strength for LIFE”)

Photo credit: Thinkstock, iStock, microgen.