December 19, 2007

"Mental " Workouts

[Posted by Crabby]

There are probably lots of people who don't spend 95% of their workout time analyzing every aspect of it. Some people "just do it." It's time to exercise: they exercise. Maybe they listen to some music or monitor their heart rate or whatever, but they go through the list of things they need to do without much thought and then they're done.

Some of us, however... well, we don't have the kind of brains that want to shut up and "just do" anything. We prepare ourselves; we dread certain aspects; we strategize about how we'll get through it. Then when we actually "do it," we often have feelings about it. And observations, and opinions, and questions, and ruminations, and epiphanies.

By some strange coincidence, many of us obsessive-compulsive neurotics introspective types also seem to be bloggers!

So do any of you find you have an excessive number of thoughts and opinions about working out, even though it's supposed to be more of a physical than a mental endeavor? Or is it just me?*

I have favorites. Not just when it comes to "big" things, like whether to be a runner or a ballet dancer or a dodgeball player. I mean I have a favorite water bottle, a favorite workout bra (the one with the inexplicable rust stain on the strap), a favorite direction to head around the reservoir (counterclockwise). I have a favorite workout temperature (cold enough to need an overshirt at first so I can peel down when I warm up) and a favorite time of day (first thing in the morning). I have favorite stretches (too hard to describe) and strengthening exercises (chest press and row; legs are the worst). In fact, I could list in order of relative loathsomeness every weight lifting exercises, aerobic activity, and stretch I've ever done. (Don't worry; I won't).

I notice how energetic (or not) I'm feeling; how good or bad the music is; how the equipment feels (well-maintained or crappy). I will have a general idea idea of how long I'm going to work out and what I'm going to do and in what order, but this plan will be actively monitored and questioned and whined about and re-evaluated the entire time. Sometimes I do more and sometimes I do less and sometimes I don't mess with it, but even if I don't, I'll seriously consider messing with it.

And if there is anyone working out nearby, or running past on the trail, or even sitting around in a provocative way? Well, I will certainly have opinions about them too. For example, have you ever noticed someone running along in a way that you know is going to cause them big problems down the line? They're swinging their left foot out in a huge arc, or they're sproinging way up in the air every step like a gazelle--don't you just want to flag them down and explain what they're doing wrong even though they would probably NOT appreciate you pointing out they're running all freakishly and are going to have knee problems some day?

Anyway, I don't know if this "think everything to death" style is a bad thing or not. In any event, there does not seem to be an "off" switch I can locate, despite many earnest but unsuccessful attempts to find it. Good music and endorphins will sometimes muffle the chatter a bit--but even then, I will often find myself narrating my "runners high" and analyzing every aspect of it and not just simply experiencing it.

What about you guys? Are any of you "mental" like me when you exercise?

*(And yeah, this post was written in the first person. Why? What does it mean? Will this become a permanent change? Answers: I don't know. Hope it's not too weird out of the blue like that).


  1. Definitely mental.
    It's my time for mind wandering and I love people watching as I's the one time I don't mind that I can't turn my brain off. If it gets too chattery I just put on a favorite album on the iPod and sing along like a twit.

  2. Geosomin, I belong to the same twit club! But I feel too self-conscious to actually sing out loud unless there's no on around for miles--instead when the music gets that good I mouth the words which looks even dorkier but I can't help it. (Of course then I have to analyze just how dorky it looks).

  3. I'm always looking to get better so I often feel stalker-ish - I watch other women to see how they lift, their form, what exercises they do. I've learned some really neat stuff this way. Way more practical stuff than what I can read in magazines. Some woman is probably posting on a different site about this crazy chick that watches her while she works out. . .

  4. Jennifer, that's too funny!

    I also check out what other people are doing at the gym and then look away quickly when they catch me at it. Then I blush deeply and try to pretend I wasn't doing it.

  5. I am a turn my brain off for the most part. Not sure where all my blog ramblingness comes from, or goes when I workout, but I need to turn my brain off when I workout or I won't do it. music usually works. I can some times get by reading closed captioning on tvs in the gym. But if I'm looking around people watching, time just drags so I leave after 10 minutes.

  6. Mental is as mental does! I heard Les Brown say:" If you want to keep getting what you are getting, keep doing what you are doing!" It's worked, it's working, I'm hoping it will keep on working...
    Dr. J

  7. The Bag Lady doesn't exercise. Well, not in public...where someone might see how dorky she looks! But the mental chatter? Constant. When she does yoga, she natters away constantly at the woman on the DVD ("easy for YOU to say...")

  8. Randi--sounds like you have an off switch that at least works some of the time! I can be totally into the music, rockin' out, and still have a whole other mental channel available for thinking about everything.

    Dr. J--very inspirational... I think. Huh? You crack me up.

    Bag Lady, I think you'd be fun to do yoga with! Perhaps we could start a whole new product line: audience participation exercise videos, where you're supposed to shout back snarky comments to all the smug instructors urging you to do impossible things.

  9. Ok, you climbed inside my head and wrote this post from there. Except I don't think I really realized that it's not this way for everyone!

  10. I am a major daydreamer when I get into the exercise groove. I do over-think sometimes when I work out, but for the most part I wander off into La-la Land. When the music is just right, I dream or fantasize even. Places to go, people to meet, clothes to buy... In my exercise-induced adventure coma, I'm always a healthy and slim participant. Helps to picture why I'm really doing it in the first place.

    Now when I'm at bootcamp? That's a different story! I'm not thinking at all, only focusing on three things:
    1. Do not fall.
    2. Do not puke.
    3. BREATHE!

  11. Zandile--oh good, you're mental just like me! I can never shut it off.

    and Glam, that's too funny. (Note to self: must not sign up for "boot camp.")

  12. yup, I'm mental...except I have the dialogue running all the time : )

  13. Oh, I do the exact same thing. Sometimes I'll sift through whatever crap is on my mind, sometimes I'll notice everything around me and ponder people and places and things. I definitely have some sort of background noise going in on my brain the entire time, but it's also not limited to just when I work out. Is always like that.

  14. Oddly enough, I think the dog whisperer explained what I needed from my exercise routine in one of his videos (about dogs!). He said that your dog needs to hit a groove in his walk (or run) so that he's not thinking about anything. He's on automatic pilot, placing total trust in the leash holder to guide him so that he can disconnect. It relaxes him and allows him to release all of the pent up anxiety. This is what I need from my workouts. Sometimes I can do it, but other days it just doesn't happen. I'm always in a better state than what I started off, but sometimes I have a really great workout.

  15. I'm constantly thinking when I'm running. The weird thing is, I'm so blog-obsessed I'm either thinking of material for a new post, or thinking of some post someone else has written (like Crabby's sidewalk hog one). Even when I listen to a great song, I start making plans about how to put in in a new playlist to post on the blog.

    What did I think about before I had a blog? I can't even remember...

    (And just so you know, I am the master lip-syncher. One of the reasons I love running is that I can actually sing and *barely* anyone will hear. One time I was in a spin class in didn't realize my friend's husband was on a bike right next to me, until after the Abba played. Stuff like that actually happens a LOT. I'm not surprised if my neighbors have seen my lip-synch or sing on some of my runs. I can tume the world out, but I can't turn my brain off.)

    a favorite workout bra, favorite workout temperature (cold enough to need an overshirt at first so I can peel down when I warm up) and a favorite time of day (first thing in the morning) YES, YES, and YES!!!

  16. Yesterday there was a guy next to me on the ellipticals who kept checking me out every few minutes. Not like THAT though - I thought he was checking to see how fast I was going, because he seemed to be looking at my little screen. Then after about 20 minutes he asked about The Biggest Loser, which I was watching - turns out he's a fan but didn't feel like watching the whole 2 hour finale, so he told me to let him know when it was getting close to the weigh ins. He asked a few questions about the contestants, which I tried to answer, but I found it hard to talk when I'm working out - I slow down too much and I'm not getting a good workout anymore. Very different than the skinny blonde in short shorts who spent 45 minutes yesterday yapping on her cell phone as she SLOWLY pedaled on the elliptical next to me. I know a mile is pretty much a mile, but why work out if you're not going to put much effort in?

  17. Workout! Exercise!

    I think I've wandered into the wrong blog. Haven't got off my butt for weeks and I get out of breath going for the mail.

    Must get back into it (she says, as if she actually ever did much more than 10 minutes on her exercise bike, anyway!)

  18. I read magazines on the elliptical trainer but for other workouts, I never know what I'm going to end up pondering. Anything from the scenery to the people around me to my evil co-workers to my fictional characters is fair game. I just go with whatever my mind serves up.

    If I'm tired and struggling, though, I have to get mental in a totally different way. I have a whole bag of mental tricks to keep myself going and I run through them all until I find the one that will work for me on that particular day.

    Of course, if I'm in actual physical pain, I stop. But most pain is mental and it's good to train yourself to push past that barrier. Or so they say. ;-)

  19. Definitely mental, too! If I'm at the gym, I'm checking out the other gymgoers - what are they wearing, doing, reading, watching? I make lists, have conversations with myself.

    If I'm out somewhere private, I'm usually singing along with whatever's on the iPod to get my brain to just shut up for five seconds. :D

  20. Crabby, I totally hear you about watching the people who you know are doing something wrong. Whenever I pass a cyclist with their seat too low I want to stop them and tell them they're going to blow out their knees. It's a little different at the gym, because I'm the instructor - but you'd be surprised how many people find corrections REALLY unwelcome, even in class, when I've moved the mic so nobody but the person I'm talking to can hear the corrections. I heard that one time, in a cycling class, one of the members corrected another member and it almost turned into a fight.

    I've found myself lipsynching along with the music sometimes while I'm teaching cycling, and I realize I must like silly to the people taking the class...

  21. Oh hooray, I'm not the only mental person out there. Or the only lip-syncher!

    Thanks emily, dawnie and practice living for not making me feel like a freak!

    I like the dog-whisperer idea, Soap Box girl--where do I get a leash and someone to pull me along at just the right pace?

    And Katieo, I have to confess, when I'm not over-analyzing my workout I'm thinking (obsessing) about the blog! (And your comment TOTALLY cracked me up).

    Laura, I'd need blinders to go to your gym, it sounds like an unusually interactive experience! (I hate cell phone talkers especially when they leak through my headphones!)

    Hooray, Dawn is back! Let's break out the Cream Filled Apple donuts! Note: go check out the Flightless Writer to see what she's been up to. And once her new site is totally ready for business, we'll have more details available here at Cranky Fitness.

    Bunnygirl, it's funny I don't somehow picture you ever struggling because you're so good about your workouts--even you, huh? That's somehow quite inspiring!

    And Leth, I bet your students get a kick out of you lip synching!

  22. Lip synching while teaching huh?? I do it too, or rather sing outloud while serving volleyball's at my girls for 2 hours straight, they think it's HILARIOUS...And I appologize for my sister's (a cell phone talker) behavior while she is at the gym, I won't even talk to her if I see her do it, UGH!! And it is so hard not to correct people at open gym, must behave tonight, must behave...

    Reading is the only way to turn my mind off, otherwise I overanalyze EVERYTHING that I'm doing. The little lip on the eliptical is the greatest invention EVER!!

  23. I occaisionally correct peoples' form at the gym, but I try to keep it to a minimum, and I always ask if I may do so. I also mention the possible injuries they risk by using their form (if they say I can offer a suggestion).

    And yea, I lipsynch, stare, and mentally babble about everything going on.

    I think people who talk on cell phones and go really slow are timing themselves at the gym. My boss's daughter has not gained or lost a pound since i started working there (3 years ago) despite spending 3 hours at the gym. I think this is because she counts talking with her friends, walking on a treadmill, driving there & back, and showering (although I can't prove it, as we belong to different gyms).

  24. You pretty well described me -- except, of course, for the "favorite workout bra". Many days, the whole time I'm running, I'm carrying on a running conversation with myself -- "You know, you could turn here and make this run 4 miles shorter" or "Where did they hide the oxygen today?". Even before I head out the door -- "Put your shoes on b/c you ARE going to run." The running log that shows up on my blog reflects the obsessiveness. Ah, but I get out there and I do run. So, whatever it takes! :-D


  25. Umm, well, I don't. Exercise that is, well, have a routine. I try to get something healthy done each day, yoga, walking, riding bike in the summer. Can't afford a gym, but, I am sure if I could I would firstly welcome any corrections to my form and secondly have a running dialog in my head. I have one anyway, even as I am typing this, it has nothing to do with what I am typing either. Try that, it kind of slows down the typing though.

  26. Those brain voices are a tad reminiscent of the white noise voices.

    Singing along with the iPod.. I try not to, lest I sound like this.

  27. Hm. Not very mental, unless you consider that revising my kanji for my Japanese class or thinking of my syntax lessons to make sure I know them is part of "mental". Most of the time, I "just do it", as you say. And then I find myself going "whoa, I've been here for 2 hours already, oh crap, now I need to hurry back home and do my homework because I'm late!". XD There are times when I'm more focused, particularly if I'm trying a new routine and have to put it down to fully integrate it, but once this is done, I sort of seem to switch to auto-pilot mode.

    I guess this is a good thing?


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