Recently I gathered a new insight into the success of my workouts that is related to body language. Body language is a topic that has been an interest of mine for the past few years. In 2008, I discovered the book The Definitive Book of Body Language and it opened my eyes to an entire dialog between people which I never noticed before. Since then I have monitored both my body language and the body language of others. It really is fascinating if you’ve never explored the topic.
What I never considered was how I was responding to my own body language in the gym. Then in November I got a chance to hear Amy Cuddy speak about body language and what she calls power poses. If you haven’t seen her TED Talk, check it out.
Although her talk had nothing to do with exercise, I connected the dots that the mobility exercises I had been using for years happened to be the ones where my body took up the most space. By constructing a “power pose”, I was mentally warming up for higher performance during my workout. Only I didn’t see it that way until recently.
Here is how I described my motivation for doing mobility work in a 2012 post on back pain:
My mobility work is about demonstrating to my mind that my body is healthy and can engage in a wide range of movements effortlessly and pain free. Since I believe the root cause of almost all my back pain is psychological and not physical, I am showing my mind just how capable I am. Throughout the week, I may sit for hours at a desk or in a car. During this time, I am incapable of demonstrating free movement. My mobility sessions are to me a movement meditation. I am proudly showing my mind just how capable my movement is when I step away from the restrictions the modern world places on varied movement.
Bolt showing a power pose in victory.
HIT and Warming Up
Most of what I’ve read from the High Intensity Training community is that warming up is unnecessary. HIT trainer Drew Baye has an article on Warming Up, where he states:
When performing high intensity strength training using proper form and a slow, controlled speed of motion additional warm up sets are almost never necessary. In most cases they provide little or no benefit while wasting time and energy that could otherwise be devoted to the “work” sets.
Most of the physical benefits of a warm up – increased blood flow to the muscles, enhanced metabolic reactions, reduced muscle viscosity, increased extensibility of connective tissue, improved conduction velocity of action potentials, etc. – are obtained during the first few repetitions of an exercise.
I think this makes sense when you just look at the physical aspect. But what I’ve learned from both my research into the psychology of pain and body language is that mobility movements can mentally prepare you for an excellent workout.
My Key Warm Up Exercises
Below are a list of the movements I regularly perform prior to exercise. To me these wide “power poses” bring the gap between a world that wants us to be smaller (sitting in a car, in front of a computer, crammed in a plane seat) and how I want to mentally feel when I put my muscles under load.
- Arm Circles (forward and back) – I always begin by taking a wide stance and engaging in 25-30 arm circles of varying speed forward and back.
- Windmill with slightly bent knees – Another expansive movement that has me pointing up and down and going from side to side.
- Leg swings – I do a set of swings with each leg. One swing is forward and back, the other is side to side. Hold onto something until you learn balance. Vary the speed.
- Standing Sky Reach.
- Twisting movement with swing arms (see the start of this video for an example)
Arm Circles. Do half with thumb forward and half with the thumb pointed backwards.
Since I’ve adopted High Intensity Training and no longer engage in compound ballistic movements at the gym, my risk of injury is very low. However, for those of you that still like your squats, benches and dead lifts, I think using Mobility Power Poses prior to exercise might put you into the right mindset to not only perform well, but do it in a safe manner that reduces injury risk.
What are your thoughts on using positive expansive body language as a tool for better performance in the gym? Are you have success with any particular movements?