The Importance Of Focus and Arousal To Your Workout

Before I dissappoint too many people, this is not about how to get sexual turned on while working out. In fact, that should be the furthest thing from your mind at that time. I’m writing about increasing your concentration and motivational arousal to sufficient levels to maximize your results in the gym.

There are many psychological factors that impact the results achieved from your exercise or fitness program. I recently wrote about the importance of finding your motivation for changing your body, but that is just part of a bigger picture. For optimal progression, you also need a high level of arousal before as well as during the workout. I’m not talking about the arousal you get from checking out the opposite sex in compromising exercise positions, although this can make the gym experience more enjoyable. I’m talking about your level of arousal to complete the task at hand with the utmost enthusiasm and vigour. The fittest athletes in the world have many attributes in common contributing to their wellness. Sure, they have a high level of motivation, great discipline, exude great diligence in completing tasks but they also make sure that every workout is met with the highest level of arousal possible. So just how do they accomplish this and why are most of us in the dark about this seldom talked about, but crucial element to one’s training program?

Before I get into what it means to be aroused during your workout, I want to point out that I’m speaking to the trainees who want to get the most out of their gym experience. These are people who have a targeted goal to be a lot better physically than they currently are. For those who are only interested in “general fitness” and just go though the motions of exercise to feel good about themselves then high levels of arousal may not be necessary.

Establishing heightened arousal means to look within one’s mind to find those motivating factors that will increase performance and an adrenaline reaction.



By definition, the word arousal means to stir up into activity or  elicit excitement. It can range in intensity from low (sleeping) to high (as experienced during a natural disaster).  A low level of arousal does not permit a high level of focus or concentration since it allows too many external distractions to enter your mind. Annoying gym music, excessive conversations in the training area, t.v.’s in every corner of the gym and pushy salespeople are all common examples. What happens is that low arousal inhibits adequate stimulation of the brain’s neurotransmitters, and the result may be a weak nervous signal that can affect yourworkout intensity. At this point it should be obvious that relaxation, deep breathing, and meditation are mental practices one should do before and after a workout, but not during.

Conversely, too much arousal can increase adrenaline, anxiety and muscular tension to such a degree that coordination difficulties can result. You may even find yourself oblivious to other important information; namely, a potential for injury while proper biomechanics deteriorate. This is especially true in highly skilled sports, such as hockey and football, where too much aggression ultimately results in error or injury. Therefore it should stand to reason that for a serious exerciser, their state of arousal should be one step below the highest level to avoid this problem.


A Question Of Sex

barbarian preparing for battleTo achieve the best results from exercise, you must invoke a certain level of aggression or anger in order to become sufficiently aroused. It’s very common to see men displayingtheir aggression in the gym through their facial expressions and their grunting and moaning symphonies. Women, on the other hand, prefer to “suffer” in silence. Most women are raised to be “lady-like”, polite and different from men. Passiveness must be avoided if women want to achieve optimum results, whether it is to add muscle and strength or to lose fat. Just look at seasoned female athletes, they are very aggressive and they need to be aggressive to be competitive and to reach the pinnacle of competition.

Regardless of your training experience or gender, aggressiveness and intense mental focus (without being concerned about what others in the gym think of you) takes practice.  I’ll offer some suggestions of how to do so shortly .


Are you not properly aroused?

Most people can identify when they aren’t  adequately aroused prior to a workout. Your mind wonders and you become easily distracted. You lack concern about how well the workout will proceed or how you will perform. You  lack enthusiasm or don’t not look forward to the exercise session. You may feel heavy in the limbs with no “bounce” in your step. If the goal is to maximize workout productivity, then you should watch for those signs and deal with them accordingly.


How to get aroused in your workout

You can increase your state of arousal , and the results of your training, by following a few simple guidelines. First, increase the rate of breathing, and focus on being energized. Eliminate any feelings of fatigue from the mind. Next, act energized; sustain good posture and perform some shadow boxing or household chores with vigour before exercise. Think of positive words or statements, like “energy”, “power”, “I can do it”, or “no pain, no gain”. Energized imagery can help to improve positive feelings, such as visualizing well-developed muscles, or an explosion of fireworks. Some people prefer to listen to upbeat rock music prior to exercise. Energetic music with 60 beats per minute is ideal during exercise since the music selections act as a metronome to maintain rep cadence. My personal preference is testosterone fueled hard rock of the 80’s to get things pumping.

It’s important, like anything in life really, to be cyclical in your approach. Your level of arousal should coincide with the demands of that particular workout or phase of your training. When the training is more demanding, these techniques can be used and backed off a little when the training demands are lower. For example, due to a lack of available energy and nutrients, it is hard to engage maximum mental fortitude when you’re in a fat loss phase . Conversely, an intense strength or muscle building program (where heavy weight and exhaustive workouts are used) would allow for a much higher level of concentration as the diet will likely supply the body with excess energy and nutritional support. In addition, you will find it easier to sustain your motivation long term on an exercise progam if you cycle or fluctuate your mental effort to avoid “mental burnout”.

As I always tell my personal training clients before each session, use your anger, resentment, jealousy or any other destructive emotion to facilitate the productivity of your workout. Not only will you release a lot of tension but you will have accomplished more than you ever thought possible.

If you enjoyed this article, please quickly do me a favor and share with others and comment below.


Craig Simms

Craig Simms

Craig Simms is a personal trainer and weight loss coach in Vancouver, B.C. Craig has been a fitness leader for over 21 years and has amassed over 25,000 hours of personal training experience in that span. He specializes in personalized weight management programs.
Craig Simms
Craig Simms

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