Do you chase the “pump”?
Do you go for the pump in the gym and then try to maintain that pump?
I did, especially in my late teens and early twenties. I liked that tense, pumped feeling in my body. It made me feel strong and manly! This lasted for a few years until the tension in my body coupled with a lot of pattern overload (doing the same or similar exercise over and over) began to wreak havoc on my body. By the time I was in my early 20’s I had pain in my shoulder that would radiate down my arm and numb my fingers, classic thoracic outlet syndrome. Look it up!In all fairness to myself, I had a few injuries suffered from playing sports around that same time.
The debate is did the injuries create the shoulder problem or did the shoulder problem create the injuries? Either way the tension in my body definitely didn’t help me perform better in life or sports. I began to realize the greater the tension in my body, the lesser my ability to perform certain skill based tasks; like shoot a basketball, dribble a soccer ball or smoothly and quickly throw a punch.I also began to lose mobility. Things like washing my back and brushing my teeth became a lot harder than they use to be.
So...great...I looked (or at least I thought I looked) and felt “jacked”. But, I moved like the tin man...How manly is that!?The other thing I began to realize through meditative practices like the alexander technique, tai chi and yoga is the greater the tension in my body the greater the tension in my mind. And that if I relaxed my body, my mind began to relax. With this experience I realized that I liked my mind and my body to be relaxed. A relaxed mind and body allowed me to performed better in all things; life, sports, relationships.Even now, if I’m tense, I’m less patient with my wife and daughter. I’m quicker to frustration and have less emotional control or strength. If my emotions are ruling my focus than I have less control over my behavior and thoughts and I become more reactive.
To me this is weakness. Your body and mind are one. Strength training should enhance your whole being!
My body may be getting stronger but if my mind is so tight, fatigued and overwhelmed that I can’t be present with my wife and daughter then I am not strong. It's not that tension or the ability to generate tension doesn’t have its place.
Try lifting something heavy without creating tension. You’ll break your back. However, releasing or letting go of that tension is just as important. In my attempt to find balance I practice Tai Chi, Yoga and meditation. It doesn’t have to be much. Even just stretching the muscles you trained after your workout, focusing on your breath, will help relax your body and mind.
Here is a link to a video of a breathing exercise I often do and coach.
Another trick is to pay attention to your body when you’re out in public. Do you find that you get tight in certain areas? Do you stick out your chest or bracing in your abs? Experiment with letting these go. Do the opposite and see what comes up for you. It may feel weird at first. You may feel a little vulnerable but in my experience you’ll find greater strength on the other side.