Helping our fitness clients reduce stress through exercise might be a given, but personal trainers can consider the application of “mindfulness” as a means of stress-reduction as well. And truly, mindfulness and exercise should go hand-in-hand.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is many things to many people. Mayo Clinic defines it as “a type of meditation in which you focus on being intensely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling in the moment, without interpretation or judgment” (2020). Mindful.org describes this state of being as the mind fully aware of what is happening at the present moment (Mindful.org, 2020).
Still, John Kabat-Zinn, known as the Master of Mindfulness, describes mindfulness as the “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally. And then I sometimes add: in the service of self-understanding and wisdom” (Kabat-Zinn, 2017). In essence, mindfulness is about being in the present moment and living and acting with intention and focus.
Mind Full or Mindful?
The lives we lead and the lives our clients lead are busy and full of noise; noise from traffic, devices, daily chatter, stressors – both internal and external, worries, and seemingly endless to-do lists. We all experience this “noise” and it unconsciously pulls us from the present moment into its chaos – our focus is disrupted and we may end up behaving mindlessly rather than engaging mindfully. You could say the mind is “full”, while not being “mindful”.
How do we shift this? How can we disrupt the interruptions we feel daily? To set intentions and work consciously to be present – not only in our own lives, but as we work with clients?
Given that stress is a pervasive and ever-present shadow, we won’t be able to eradicate it entirely. However, we can teach our clients small tricks that will help them reduce stress, engage in the present moment, and act with conscious intention. A less stressed mind contributes to a less stressed body. A less stressed body makes consistent progress toward established goals.
Mindfulness Techniques for Clients (and Fit Pros)
Setting the Intention.
One of the approaches I love to take with clients is to have them set an intention or think of a mantra prior to a workout or coaching session. I prompt my clients by asking “What’s your intention for this session?” Of course, each client’s response is different – some say things like “let the day go” or “start the day rejuvenated” or “Be stronger than I was yesterday” or “Achieve one more rep on each exercise.” They may need a little help with this at first so give them some ideas of they are at a loss.
Your client’s intention will differ day to day and week to week. I like to have my clients both verbalize and scribe their intention before the session. This way not only are they more likely to commit to the intention, but I can use that intention throughout the session as a reminder of what they hope to achieve.
Reflection is a necessary practice – not just for its mindfulness benefits but for its ability to provide learning opportunities. I do this in two ways with my clients. First, after the session and during the cool-down period, we verbally reflect on their intention and whether or not they feel they met the session with focus and presence. If not, we discuss ways that would help them the next time. Second and depending on how their program is organized and periodized, I will have clients engage in quarterly reflections in a written format as part of my coaching process. The questions I ask are:
- What’s going well?
- What “wins” have you experienced?
- What barriers have you encountered and how have you addressed those barriers?
- What can you keep the same? What can you modify?
- How can I best continue to support you?
The frequency with which you encourage your clients to engage in the art and practice of reflection will vary just as much as their individual goals and needs do. The point is to meet them where they are and find out what will fit best with those goals and needs.
Meditation is a tremendously powerful tool that does not require a lengthy amount of time to accomplish. Five minutes is all you need (of course more is always encouraged). I use this in a couple of different ways. If a client has had a particularly stressful week or is about to have a stressful event occur, we meditate for 5 minutes at the end of a training or coaching session.
You can also encourage clients to keep a meditation journal and create a chart or award system that challenges them to get at least three meditation sessions done each week (or whatever predetermined time frame you set together). Meditation can also be done prior to going to bed – this is a great way to reduce the noise at bedtime (and screen exposure) promoting better quality sleep.
The Body Scan
This is a favorite for me. We are busy using our bodies to get us from place to place but we often overlook checking in with ourselves internally and taking inventory of the different physical aspects of our bodies. This is a great practice before bedtime for clients (and us) to adopt. I enjoy using this video as a guide.
This can be done with the client lying on their back or sitting quietly in a chair. The point is to bring a level of awareness to each segment of the body beginning at either the feet or the head and moving up or down depending on preferences. How does each area feel? Are there areas of tightness or soreness? What feels unbalanced? You can easily create a script if you want to try this with clients in real-time or as a group exercise.
Mindfulness, like any process, takes time and practice. It’s a commitment much like behavior change. Clients will succeed and they will stumble. As fitness professionals, we are capable of doing much more than training the physical aspects of a client’s body and life – we are conduits for information related to optimal living.