Steal this pro trick: Athletes who practice meditation report feeling more focused during their hardest workouts and happier afterward.
There are two indisputable facts about high-intensity interval training: First, it's incredibly good for you, offering more health benefits in a shorter time frame than any other exercise. Second, it sucks. To see those big gains you have to really push yourself, which is kind of the point, sure. But it can be painful—a reality that puts a lot of people off these kinds of hard-core workouts. According to a new study published in the Journal of Cognitive Enhancement, there's a mental trick that can help your HIIT workouts feel better in the moment and help you stay inspired to keep coming to class and commit to this style of exercise.
Researchers took 100 college football players for a month during their peak pre-season training—the period when they were doing the most and toughest high-intensity workouts—and offered half of them mindfulness and meditation training while the other half got relaxation training. They then measured the players' cognitive functions and emotional well-being before and after workouts. Both groups showed improvements over players who didn't do any type of active mental rest, but the mindfulness group showed the greatest benefits, increasing their ability to stay focused during the high-demand intervals. In addition, both groups reported less anxiety and more positive emotions about their workouts—an impressive takeaway considering athletes at this level can certainly experience burnout from all the training.
There is one important trick to note, however: The players had to consistently practice the mental exercises to see the benefits in their physical exercises. So basically, one session of mediation isn't going to cut it. The players who saw the most improvement practiced meditation nearly every day over the four-week study period. And the most powerful effect was seen in players who practiced both meditation and relaxation exercises. The more they did them, the less stressful their workouts felt and the happier they felt afterward. Not only that, but they felt happier about their lives overall, showing the importance of mental rest and control for not just HIIT workouts, but for general and overall well-being.
"Just as physical exercise must be performed with regularity to train the body for performance success, mental exercises must be practiced with regularity to benefit the athlete's attention and well-being," the researchers concluded in their paper.
The best part? This is one of those tricks that can work just as well for regular athletes (yes, YOU are an athlete) as it does for collegiate sports stars—and you don't have to figure it out on your own. For a complete course, try out one of the new classes popping up around the country that incorporate both HIIT workouts and meditation. Or for a simpler method, try using music to focus your mind away from the pain during a HIIT workout. Never meditated before? Try this 20-minute guided meditation for beginners. Whether on your own, in a class, or with an audio guide, just make sure you do it regularly. You'll be surprised just how much you can actually enjoy burpees.