When Julie Fagan, a 26-year-old freelance writer from Orlando, Florida, wakes up for her 5 a.m. workouts six days a week, she turns to something more powerful than coffee to get her butt into the gym: her personal fitness mantra. “It’s not easy to get motivated, lying there in bed,” she says, so when she’s feeling less-than-motivated, she starts her mornings by repeating a phrase from her arsenal of inspirational quotes in her mind. “My favorites are: ‘I’ve never regretted a workout’ and ‘I’m just one workout away from a good mood,’” she says. Pumped with a newfound energy and motivation, Fagan is ready to slip out of bed and into her workout clothes.
When you think about mantras, chances are that you picture a room full of people chanting “Ohm” with their eyes closed. But, while it’s true that the idea of mantras is borrowed from meditation, they can serve another powerful function for active women. These handy little pieces of self-talk can play a very prominent role in getting you to the gym — and in helping you focus and get stronger once you’re actually there!
“A mantra can be very helpful for your workout and performance,” says Barbara Walker, PhD, a triathlete and sport psychologist at the Center for Human Performance in Cincinnati, Ohio. Whether you get inspired by a quote like Fagan does, or opt for short instructional phrases or affirmative statements like “lift harder” or “push yourself,” Walker says that mantras work because they encourage you and allow you to speak to yourself in a positive light. “Most of us have negative self-talk,” she says. “We beat ourselves up and have doubts about our abilities and strength. But a mantra is your cue to stay positive.”
Research shows that individuals with a positive outlook are not only healthier and more inspired to reach their goals, they are also more likely to exercise. In addition, having a positive mantra can help you to better visualize yourself reaching success, as well as help you accomplish all of your health and fitness goals. Start building yours today!
Although the rules for setting your own personal fitness mantra may differ from person to person, there are three specific guidelines that can help you form yours. Follow these steps to build your ultimate fitness mantra today.
The most important component of any mantra is positivity, so make sure that your mantra states things in the affirmative (“keep going” versus “don’t quit”), Walker says. Studies show that when athletes phrase something in the negative, such as “don’t miss that shot,” the brain only hears “miss that shot” and winds up sabotaging the effort (in sports psychology, this is known as “ironic process theory”). Positive mantras (such as “I am strong” or “I feel good”) help quiet the negative voices. “Basically, you are cleaning out the old junk and putting in new, more effective and positive performance language,” Walker says. You’re rewiring yourself for success through your self-talk.
Personal trainer Tom Holland, author of Beat the Gym: Personal Trainer Secrets – Without the Personal Trainer Price Tag (William Morrow, 2011) uses mantras all the time during both grueling endurance events, like the Ironman, and during his strength-training workouts. “Self-talk is overlooked when it comes to strength training,” he says. Short, concise statements — often a single word — are the most effective. “It’s not about having a conversation with yourself: you’re tired, it’s high intensity and you don’t have the time or brain power to give to anything but a concise statement,” he says. If he’s doing a plyometric workout and needs to explode off the mat, he’ll use a single word, like “Boom!” During the Ironman, he often just uses the word “Be” to help him remember to stay in the moment. When you’re in the middle of all-out effort, think about the buzzword that will help you connect with the muscle, he says. Keep it simple.
Your mantra should be something very deliberate, something personal to you, and something meaningful — not something you just repeat without really thinking about it. For this reason, avoid using clichés such as, “no pain, no gain” or “pain is weakness leaving the body.” Not only are they negative, they’re not true from a physiological standpoint, Walker says. For example, focusing on “no pain, no gain” can actually make you ignore pain that may lead to an injury. “These are just sayings that belong on a poster,” says Holland. To come up with a mantra that is specific to your fitness goals and your personal challenges, brainstorm on what it is that you want to accomplish and what words speak to you most (as an Oxygen reader, some of these might be: “Lift,” “Strength” and “Power”). The right words will encourage you to give it your all, whether you’re in the weight room, on a cardio machine or exercising at home.
• Practice your mantra ahead of time. “Once you are flooded with negative self-talk, if you don’t have that phrase ready to go, it’s going to be really hard to compose when you’re feeling down or fatigued,” says Barbara Walker, PhD, a triathlete and sport psychologist at the Center for Human Performance in Cincinnati, Ohio.
• If you are using an “I” statement, keep your mantra in the present tense, such as “I am strong” versus “I will be strong,” Walker says.
• Link your mantra to an image. If your mantra is “fast and graceful,” picture an image that represents those words, like a cheetah.
• Use words that help you create a rhythm and tempo to your workout, whether it’s cardio or strength training. For interval training, you might use “fast legs” during the interval and “smooth stride” during the recovery.
• For weight training, counting can be like a mantra, says personal trainer Tom Holland, like counting forward for five, then backwards for five. “You’re chunking the work and letting yourself know that it has an end,” he says.