Workout Flow State: The Benefits of Getting Into the Zone for Athletes
Do you have some days where your motivation, energy, and focus in the gym feel a bit off? Whereas on other days, everything seems to click, your motivation skyrockets, and you feel like you could be hitting the weights or the treadmill seemingly forever.
The latter is known as being in the zone, and it's a science-backed state of mind that can dramatically transform your workouts. How to get in the zone, and how to stay in the zone, is easier than you think.
What is "The Zone" For Athletes and Gym Enthusiasts?
The zone is a "psychological state of optimal performance," explain the researchers behind a recent study published in the Frontiers in Sports and Active Living journal. It's also sometimes referred to as being in a "flow state." When people are in the zone, the study notes that "athletes describe being immersed in and in total control of their performance effortlessly, which leads to their ideal performance. Therefore, it is the state every athlete aspires to get into."
The 3 Benefits of Being in the Zone
There are several measurable benefits when you're playing a sport, engaging in an outdoor activity like rock climbing or long-distance running, or working out in the gym.
1. Improved Mental Focus
When you get zoned in, one study found that you enter a state of highly focused concentration. This can help you tap into the mind-muscle connection, which has been shown to make a positive difference in exercise and muscle-building. With improved focus, you're able to:
- Minimize distractions that may pull you out of the workout and slow you down
- Improve your form and posture while exercising, thus enhancing your workout and reducing the risks of injuries and strains
- Truly be aware of your movements so you're better attuned to your sets and reps and feel the proverbial burn
- Experience optimal athletic performance
2. Increased Motivation and Increased Excitement for Your Next Workout
We all have days when we're just not feeling it, and it's easy to push our workouts to another day or tell ourselves we'll take it easy in the gym. While rest days are important, sometimes we really just need a motivational boost. One study — published in the Psychology of Aging — found that getting into the zone has been linked with an "exceptionally positive [mental] state" that has been shown to be effective in motivating people to stick with hard tasks (i.e., exercise, dieting, etc.) over the long term.
The same study found that it also enhances motivation by alleviating boredom and making you more excited for your next workout.
3. Better Ability to Push Your Limits
The previously mentioned research in Psychology of Aging also found that when you're in a workout flow and get zoned in, you're able to "perform difficult activities at a high level and to persevere." Put simply, researchers noted that being in the zone increases how you perceive your own abilities. This can help you push harder, be more conscious of how your muscles and joints feel, and push through workout plateaus to hit your weight loss, endurance, or strength-building goals faster.
How to Get In the Zone: 6 Ways to Find Your Workout Flow and Support a Positive Mental State
Getting into the zone and returning to that mental state of a positive workout flow requires a mix of positive psychology and healthy habits.
1. Determine Clear and Measurable Goals for Your Workouts
If you don't have a clear target, you're bound to miss the bull's eye. Know exactly what you're aiming for, and set a clear definition. For example, instead of just saying that you want to build your endurance, you might instead define it as "I want to add 1/2 mile to my run each month while maintaining the same total run time." It's measurable, actionable, and has clearly defined metrics to measure your success.
By tracking your targets and measuring your success, you build the inner motivation to hit your target.
2. Pay Attention to Your Inner Dialogue
How you talk to yourself matters, warns psychologists, who note that your inner dialogue plays a big role in your motivation, mental fortitude, and self-defined ability to accomplish your goals. For instance, telling yourself throughout the day that you're tired or too stressed to hit the gym will likely lead you to feel more fatigue and more stress, inadvertently leading you to make the subconscious choice to skip your workout or not push yourself as hard as you could.
In fact, in one study, parkour athletes who got into a flow state literally perceived the height of their walls and obstacles as lower than what these obstacles measured in real life. This led to increased performance and agility — but it all started in their head!
Combat negative inner dialogue by:
- Checking your mindset throughout the day: What are you telling yourself?
- Challenge your negative self-talk: If you think that you're too busy or stressed, you could instead shift it to, "I'm feeling stressed today, but I know that working out will make me feel better."
- Visualize your success: Take your self-talk to the next level by visualizing your outcomes and talking to yourself about how strong you are, how great you'll feel during and after your workout, etc. Studies have found that athletes who engage in positive self-talk more readily slip into a flow state and get into the zone.
3. Push Yourself at the Gym
Sometimes, we have to do it to believe it. On days when you're really struggling to test your limits, try to do it just once. When you achieve it, you'll "prove" your negative mindset and negative self-talk wrong, enhancing your flow state and boosting your motivation.
You can also try incorporating new, more challenging movements or workouts you might not have tried before. For example, if you always turn to the treadmill for cardio, take advantage of good weather and try a cardio-focused outdoor activity that tests your limits (e.g., hill runs, hiking, paddle boarding, etc.). This busts through boredom and helps you redefine your own limits, expanding your concept of what you're truly capable of.
4. Link Your Workout Routine to Greater Life Goals
We all have different reasons for exercising, which are often far bigger than just looking good or being stronger. What are some life goals that are supported by your workout routine? Keeping these in mind can help foster that positive psychological state that cultivates the mental state you need to get in the zone.
For instance, perhaps you want to be stronger to check off something on your bucket list ("I want to build my cardio endurance so I can hike Mt. Everest"). You may want to maintain your flexibility and joint strength to be active and healthy for your children as they age. Perhaps you want to experience exercise's many other psychological benefits, such as improved sleep, lowered anxiety and stress, and overall happiness.
Focusing on these greater life goals can help you tie your workouts with your life journey and connect what you need to do with where you want to go.
5. Build Your Ultimate Workout Playlist
Pump up the jams to pump up your muscles. Researchers have found that the right music increases athletic performance by:
- Positively altering your mood and emotions
- Heightening your arousal
- Creating a higher-functioning mental state
- Reducing inhibitions
- Delaying fatigue
- Boosting your muscle strength, endurance, and power
Build a workout playlist of up-tempo songs that make you feel energized and ready to get your sweat on.
6. Add a Pre-Workout Boost To Your Routine
Caffeine and other energizing substances have been shown to positively alter your emotions and performance. Pre-workout supplements can give you that boost with an array of ingredients that energize your mind, improve motivation, and support optimal athletic strength. They're especially useful for days when you're feeling fatigued or tired, giving you a little nudge to work out.
How To Improve Your Mental Toughness to Get In the Zone Each and Every Day
Finding your flow state doesn't start or stop at the gym. In fact, the mental health experts at Headspace report that being in the zone can apply to all areas of your life, whether it's working, studying, or doing otherwise mundane chores like cleaning your apartment.
Likewise, you can do many lifestyle practices outside the gym that build the mental toughness and mindset that makes it easier and easier to get in the zone.
1. Read Books on Philosophy
Train your brain just like you train your muscles. There are numerous philosophical approaches linked with improving mental focus and mental fortitude, with Stoicism being a prime example — it's linked with improved mental clarity and mental strength. Other branches of philosophy, for which you'll find many modern books explaining their approaches and how they apply to life today, include:
- Political Philosophy
Example books include Jacob Martin's The Stoic Minimalist, the 52-week themed A Handbook for New Stoics: How to Thrive in a World Out of Your Control, Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga's The Courage to Be Disliked, and Darius Foroux's Think Straight: Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life.
2. Listen to Inspiring Podcasts
Like books, tuning in to inspiring podcasts discussing the importance (and methods) of building mental strength can tie back into your workout routines and efforts to get in the zone. Examples of podcast experts that often talk about mindset, focus, and achieving goals include:
- David Goggins
- Jocko Willink
- Rich Roll
- Timothy Ferris
3. Meditate Before Your Workout
Meditation and mindfulness practices are linked with improved mental focus and mental strength. Researchers have found that meditation and mindfulness also improve athletic performance, likely because it helps you to get into the flow state faster. Many YouTube videos and apps can help guide you through basic meditative practices. Example apps include:
- The Mindfulness App
- UCLA Mindful
How to Get In the Zone With Tiger Fitness
At Tiger Fitness, you'll find everything you need to energize your workouts and improve your mental focus. From cognitive-enhancing nootropics to focus-enhancing pre-workouts, our best-selling supplements fuel your body and brain and support your flow state. Get zoned in and find your workout flow with Tiger Fitness today!