If you haven’t heard about the mental benefits of meditation, well, you’re probably living under a rock. Meditation can decrease your risk for anxiety, depression, insomnia, and even more serious conditions like heart attacks and strokes (and those are just a few of the proven mind-body benefits).
But if you’re wondering whether meditation can really improve your strength or help you reach your fitness goals, the answer is also yes. That’s right, meditation is proven to help you make gains in the gym. No wonder so many athletes are on board!
Here, a few ways that meditation can help make you stronger.
1. Benefits of Meditation: It Can Help You Develop Mental Grit
If you’ve tackled a Spartan Race, marathon, or any other grueling fitness challenge, then you know that mental and physical strength go hand in hand. One way to achieve it? Meditation. People who practice Transcendental Meditation techniques have similar brain functioning to world-class athletes, according to a study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports. In other words, peak performance is about more than just training your body, it’s also about training your brain. Building that mental grit will ultimately help you power through physical challenges and grow strength in ways you wouldn’t be able to otherwise.
2. Benefits of Meditation: It Teaches Proper Breathing to Fuel Your Muscles During Tough Workouts
So many people forget to breathe while working out—but breath work can be the key to getting through a tough workout. After all, the more oxygen you can deliver to your muscles, the harder and more efficiently they can work. Translation? You can lift heavier and go longer. So it makes sense that meditation can help you do just that: Central to meditation is a focus on your breath. Rather than holding your breath as you power through your final reps, meditation will teach you steady rhythmic breathing from your diaphragm that prevents muscle fatigue to help you finish your training sessions strong.
3. Benefits of Meditation: It Ups Your Pain Tolerance
Mindfulness exercises can help your brain exhibit better control over processing pain, according to a study in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. And in case you were wondering if this is all in your head (no pun intended), mindfulness meditation can help with pain intensity and unpleasantness beyond the effects of a placebo, another study published in The Journal of Neuroscience found. Researchers found that a ‘sham mindfulness meditation’ where study participants weren’t using true meditation techniques was not associated with pain relief. While this can help you power through those last miles of a marathon (when literally everything hurts), it can also help you with any post-workout pain so you can recover faster—and see strength gains sooner.
4. Benefits of Meditation: It Lowers Your Cortisol Levels and Improves Recovery
Just like working out can help lower your stress levels, exercising your brain through meditation can do the same. That’s because studies show meditation decreases the release of the stress hormone cortisol by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. Keeping cortisol levels under control is important for allowing the body to perform optimally—both during your workouts and in recovery. You can tap into the calming effects of meditation during high pressure performance situations, too: Many elite runners use breathing techniques or specific meditation-based mantras to get into this calm state to compete at their best on race day.