Cognition Integrated Fitness

Cognition Integrated Fitness

Many people believe that fitness should be a goal-oriented process. I believe this mindset is the reason why most people fail.

Granted, goal-oriented training certainly has its place. A well-structured, goal-based program is crucial to athletes, especially those attempting to qualify for an event, reach a weight class, or another specific objective. When applied properly, goals can provide a workable framework for success.

The problem is not necessarily the goals themselves, but rather the way most people set them. According to a 2012 poll by Harris Interactive, 73% of Americans fall short of their fitness-related New Year’s resolutions. The top two reasons for failure are:

  1. It’s too difficult to follow a diet or workout regimen
  2. It’s too difficult to get back on track once they fall off

Such responses suggest that our goals are simply too challenging. By linking our success to a daunting fitness “regimen”, we’re actually creating another barrier to success. More often than not, an “all or nothing” mindset results in “nothing”.

To resolve this dilemma, we must consider shifting from goal-oriented fitness to cognition integrated fitness, at least in the beginning. In other words, we must become more aware of the benefits of the process itself, rather than focusing exclusively on the outcome.

Theoretically, this should be easy, as exercise is biologically designed to make us feel good. Physical activity is linked to dopamine release, stress relief, increased energy, and other positive responses.

However, at some point we adopted the mindset that exercise is not effective unless it’s uncomfortable. “Getting your ass kicked” has become a source of pride. Given this standard, it’s no surprise that many of us reach burnout. We’ve disconnected ourselves from the natural desire for physical activity.

A Shift in Mindset

For those of you reading the Wild Body or Holistic Health series, this is not a new concept. However, I wanted to dive into a bit more detail on the psychological aspects of fitness, which is why I recently sat down with Brandon Kitch.

Brandon, as the CEO of Kitch Health, has one of the most psychologically-focused approaches to fitness in Chicago. He comes from a martial arts background, which is at the foundation of his philosophy. He also has a broad range of traditional fitness credentials, including a Bachelor of Science in Physical Education from Indiana University and multiple certifications under ACSM and IFPA.

His program is unique in the sense that it looks beyond the physical aspects of fitness. Rather than touting before-and-after photos of his clients, his program is focused on the achievement of cognitive awareness. Sure, this might be a little too progressive for some, and is certainly at odds with the popular mindset. However, the approach is deeply rooted in behavioral theory and based on several years of applied experience.

The first step of this program (which is the focus of this article) is to reestablish a positive link to fitness. Part of this is simply enhancing your cognitive awareness when exercising. Instead of distracting yourself by watching TV, try to focus on your movements, your form, and the physical feedback you receive. Another part is reducing the intensity. The goal is to find a level of intensity that triggers positive biological responses, but does not make you feel like you’re “getting your ass kicked”.

Developing this positive mental relationship is the foundation of successful fitness programs.

A Movement Starter Kit

As you may know from our other articles, we try to provide tactical knowledge that you can immediately apply to your own life. In the spirit of this philosophy, Brandon offered to provide a “starter kit” of low intensity exercises designed to make you feel good, increase your awareness, and build a positive mental connection to fitness.

He laid out five core exercises that he frequently uses with new clients, which appear in separate videos below (along with his notes). You’ll notice that there are no bicep curls, bench presses, or squats. Rather, these exercises are almost a hybrid of yoga poses and active meditation.

The application of these exercises is quite flexible. Ideally, you would dedicate about 5-10 minutes of each day to performing one (or multiple) of them. However, they can really be used with any frequency, whether you need a break from work or are just looking to add variety to your existing routine.

In Brandon’s words, “the purpose of these exercises is to increase functional strength, elevate heart rate, increase flexibility and provide a tranquil sense of wellbeing.”

Exercise Sequence

Begin in a Child’s Pose position with your glutes pressed firmly against your heels. Stretch your arms in front of your body with palms facing down and pinky fingers at opposing sides of the mat. Slowly inhale as you complete the first half of the movement. At the peak of the exercise (in Upward Facing Dog) hold your breath for a moment. Then, as you transition back to Child’s Pose, slowly exhale. Repeat.

This exercise transitions from Downward Facing Dog to Upward Facing Dog. Start with your feet shoulder-width apart at the base of the mat. Your palms should be shoulder-width apart, forming an upside down V with your body. Keep your arms parallel to your spine while compressing your heels flat to the floor. Slowly inhale as you drop your hips to the ground into Upward Facing Dog. Maintain this position while holding your breath for a moment. Finally, return to the V position as you exhale.

Begin in a seated position at the top of the mat. Bring your feet together into a butterfly stretch. Grab the interior portions of your ankles and tilt your body back while balancing on your tailbone. Ensure that your shoulder blades are pulled apart and your back is rounded.  Inhale while holding this form, then hold your breath while rocking back to your shoulder blades and returning to the starting position. Exhale and repeat.

Begin in Child’s Pose. Inhale while raising your glutes from your heels and pushing your hips forward. During this motion, bring your arms to your side. Exhale while dropping your body back toward your heels and positioning your arms parallel to the floor. Then slowly inhale while compressing your hips back forward. Finally, exhale while dropping your glutes all the way to your heels, ending in Child’s Pose. Repeat.

Start in a free standing squat position with palms in Namaste position. Slowly squat down while exhaling, bringing your elbows to your knees. Then squat your body back up while pressing your palms together in Namaste over your head. Finally, open your palms and drop them until they’re parallel to the floor. Hold your breath while completing this motion. Repeat.

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