3 Steps to Getting “In the Zone” for EVERY Workout

by Eric Buratty on February 17, 2015

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Al Kavadlo superman push-up

Want to know what it feels like to explode?

No, I’m not referring to those whack pre-workout supplements.

I’m referring to what it feels like to get “in the zone,” which naturally occurs during your superhero-like workouts. These are the moments when you look and feel deceptively stronger to the naked eye. These are the moments that ultimately allow you to push your limits.

Since we’ve all experienced those days where we feel like crap and less motivated to train, it’s time to put a cap on that mental and physical stress once and for all. Here are three steps for a stronger workout and improved recovery rate, EVERY time.

Step I: First Things First – Eliminate Distractions!

  1. Turn off your computers, mobile devices, and yes, even “high energy” music.

Responding to emails, text messages and social media notifications during the time you’ve set aside for working out is a good way to kill your training progress all together—due to their emotionally distracting capabilities. Playing “high energy” music may also upset the balance you want to achieve between feeling overly excited and feeling too calm.

  1. Turn away from all timers, stopwatches and clocks.

Reaching the highest level of performance possible during a given workout requires an attentive mind and body. Therefore, it would be silly to try and gauge your performance in the moment right in front of you if you’re too focused on beating the clock. While in a utopian-like society we would make linear progress, the mind and body simply do not work like that. So, in reality, we must respect our body’s dynamic progress capabilities without training on the nerve from elapsed time.

  1. Ditch the mirrors.

Mirrors create the illusion of space—which can sometimes be helpful in the short run for teaching body awareness. However, in the long run, too much reliance on mirrors can slow down your reaction time, affect your force and power development and interfere with your body’s natural balance and stability. These are the EXACT qualities you need to be mindful of when successfully getting in the zone

Step II: Select Your Secret Weapon – Choose a Movement for the Type of Workout You’re About to Do.

  1. Choose a Jump Variation for workouts involving more lower body volume AND for total body workouts.

Here’s a video I put together that features some fun options for you to try.

  1. Choose a plyometric Pushing Variation for workouts involving more upper body pushing volume.

This guy knows what I’m talking about.

  1. Choose a plyometric Pulling Variation for workouts involving more upper body pulling volume.

Unless you’re proficient with chest to bar pull-ups or kipping muscle ups, stick to the horizontal axis for some explosive Australian pull-ups.

Step III: Get in the Zone – Activate Your Nervous System.

  1. Regardless of what your current fitness levels are like, when you last worked out or what time limitations you may currently have, it’s imperative that you hit a warm-up that’s specific to the workout you’re about to perform. This is because the way you spend your first 5-10 minutes is the best indicator of how the rest of your workout will go. So we’re all on the same page, a solid warm-up will typically involve any of the following elements.

a) Active Stretch

Danny Kavadlo Toy Soldier

Danny Kavadlo demonstrates the “toy soldier”

b) Isometric or Dynamic Core Move (examples: plank or leg raise)

c) Lower Level Big Six Movement from Convict Conditioning for higher reps

d) Lower Intensity Cardio Exercise of your choice (light jog, jumping jacks, wall or some moderately paced mountain climbers with a training partner if you have one (see below))

Angelo Grinceri & Rosalia Chann of Couples Calisthenics

Angelo Grinceri & Rosalia Chann of Couples Calisthenics

If you have a training partner, some moderately paced mountain climbers for as little as 15 seconds at a time will surely warm-up your core, and get some blood flowing through your entire body. Talk about killing two birds with one stone!

  1.  We’ll now kick up this baseline warm-up a few notches with that plyometric move you selected in Step II above. This is because, the more athletic your warm-up is, the better your chances are of putting yourself into the zone. Perform a superset between that plyometric movement and your warm-up movement(s).
  1. In order to make the plyometric movement look and feel as graceful and explosive as possible, you’ll perform 3-5 reps ONLY at various points throughout your warm-up. Ideally you’ll want to get away from counting with such few reps as this habit encourages you to train on the nerve. But that’s the approximate range for those of you who need quantitative satisfaction in the beginning.

Not sure where to start?

I recently performed a total body workout that consisted of pike push-ups, hanging V-leg raises, reverse lunges and straight leg bridges for reps. So, to give you an idea of how to apply this info, here’s the specific warm-up sequence/circuit I used prior to that workout.

Burraty Pike To Pancake

Burraty Standing Plow Good Morning

Burraty Bear Crawl

Burraty Staddle Box Jumps 1

Burraty Staddle Box Jumps 2

You’ll learn to feel this, but your performance WILL increase with each successive set/rep of your plyometric movement if you’re completely engaged in the moment right in front of you. It should also go without saying that this info can be applied toward workouts with weights for those of you who choose to supplement your calisthenics training.

By the end of your warm-up, you should feel ready to do more—with noticeable improvements in performance—but should NOT at any time feel excessive metabolic fatigue, out of breath or as though you’re doing the Valsalva Maneuver.

In sum, here are some key benefits you’ll experience from getting in the zone for EVERY workout.

  • Mood-uplifting, “neural-charge” effect—wherein eustress exceeds distress from an exercise standpoint
  • Greater body awareness through free space—remind upper and lower extremities of each other for total body synergy
  • More control over body momentum—reinforce a strong carryover between “loading” and “landing” positions (i.e., eccentric and concentric phases in a range-of-motion)
  • Make exercise fun, playful and less routine-like.

Do YOU have any favorite strategies that help you get in the zone for your workouts? If so, I’m sure we would love to hear about them. Just drop your tips in the comments below!

 

***
Eric Buratty brings five years of experience to the DC Metro Area as a Certified Personal Trainer, Progressive Calisthenics Instructor, Nutrition Consultant and Sports Injury Specialist.
For more information about Eric, check out his website, EricBurattyFitness.com.

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  • troy

    so, convict conditioning 3 seems to be released soon?….Because you are talking about explosive movements..

    • Eric Buratty

      Hey troy, thanks for the comment. Stay tuned for CC3, yes sir!
      m/ >_< m/

      –EB

  • Mohammed

    In the last month or so, I really did not feel like working out when the time for some of my workouts came. This should be helpful. I’ll use some of these tips in today’s workout. The video was great.

    I used to do star jumps as a warmup years back but stopped doing them. Maybe that’s why I did better in most workouts even when I was tired and sleep-deprived.

    Regarding clocks; I use them to gauge tempo (but I have progressively needed them less and less) and more importantly, rest periods, since I always set a maximum time for rest, which I do not want to exceed. What’s your take on this? Any advice?

    • martymonster

      Hi Mohammed,
      I too use a timer for my rest periods and have done for many decades. I started using the timer to make sure I didn’t spend too much time gassing on to whoever I was training with. So I say that they help you stay focused on the task at hand by preventing distractions.

      • Eric Buratty

        I agree with you on staying focused with the task at hand, martymonster. Thanks for your comment, and please review my feedback above as well.

        –EB

      • Mohammed

        Lucky for me that I work out alone, haha!

    • Eric Buratty

      Thanks for the feedback, Mohammed!

      Yes–jumps are not only a fantastic activation tool–but they also serve as an appropriate gauge for workout performance. Say you didn’t feel as precise on your landing or you didn’t feel like you got as much height. These are indicators that you should either throttle back on the strength work–and just hit a quick higher rep sesh–or just throw in the towel and call it a day.

      As far as timers and clocks are concerned, I anticipated some comments that went both ways on their effect. I see what you mean about them helping you gauge your rest periods, and stay focused in between your working sets. I also like the fact that you’re actually setting a maximum time for rest.

      So here’s my executive advice:

      *Don’t use a timer to get ‘in the zone.’ Use the warm-up structure outlined in this article.

      *If you are new to exercise, set a maximum timer for your rest periods, and do not exceed. At no point during this “timed” rest period should you look at the time elapse.

      *If you exercise regularly, gauge your rest periods when you feel like “kicking ass” again–since you’ve most likely reached the point of health & fitness lifestyle–you will have put in your time (pun intended-lol) knowing what FEELS like a longer rest period and what FEELS like shorter rest period.

      Let me/us know how your workout went today after applying this info 🙂

      –EB

  • Great read, Eric! I <3 how you broke it down from eliminating distractions all the way into your warm-ups! I like to "get in the zone" with a few Sun Salutations from Yoga! It puts my mind in the right place by calming down, and allows me to stretch my entire body out without gassing myself! Now I may have to add a few of your suggestions like that straddle box jump! Dats hot! Thanks ninja! 😉

    • Eric Buratty

      Hi Grace!

      Thanks for dropping by with your own Yoga-influenced activation tip–looks like I’ll be trying some Sun Salutations in the near future–pretty sure the Sun is hotter than the bench, though! 😉

      –EB

  • martymonster

    Hi Eric,
    Switching the hand grip in your Ozzie Pullups is a great way to warm the hands up!

    • Eric Buratty

      Good stuff, martymonster! Thanks 🙂

  • Cool warm up combos, so many people don’t know what to do for a warm up — when that topic comes up online I definitely will be sending them here. Thanks for sharing!

    • Eric Buratty

      I appreciate your positive feedback, Adrienne. I agree–lots of questions about what to do for warm-ups. Thank YOU for paying it forward! 🙂

      –EB

  • Brad Sadl

    Awesome article Eric! I find my warm-ups get longer and longer lol I usually start with some rowing, then goblet squats with a light kettle bell after a few reps i sit in the bottom for at least a minute pushing my legs apart. depending on what I’m doing I’ll do some lunges, one legged deadlifts, bridges, 2 arm and one arm hangs, skin the cats, couch stretch, pigeon stretch and often I’m warming my wrists up as well. I mix it up somedays I use push-ups, pull-ups and even muscle ups as part of my warm-up depending on what’s going on! Lately, I’ve been playing with lightweight jefferson curl for hamstrings, lower back and spinal extension!

    • Eric Buratty

      Yo Brad–WOAH–that’s a helluva warm-up series you got goin’ there!
      I love jefferson curls.

      Thanks for stopping by with your comment!

      –EB

      • Brad Sadl

        Eric – yeah I’ve kinda been trial and error with warm-ups. Flexibility is a key issue with me so I use warm-ups to work on troublesome spots and I’m 40 closing in on 41 and I can’t just ‘jump’ into workouts anymore although I think based on your article I will start ‘jumping’ into my warm up 🙂

  • Matt Schifferle

    This is one of the best articles I’ve read about getting ready to effectively dial in a workout. It’s great as if encompasses all of the things you may need to tackle.

    I like to add in some “tension practice” where I engage and flex any muscles or muscular chains I’m preparing to work. It sets up those mental mind-muscle pathways nicely Also good call on the music!.

    • Eric Buratty

      Glad you enjoyed the article, Matt!

      I really like your “tension practice” idea as well–definitely going to incorporate that into my warm-ups AND workouts–thanks for sharing!

      Best regards to you and your training,

      –EB

  • Jack Arnow

    Eric, I really like your article because you explain “how to” and the importance of getting into “the zone.” In my experience, despite almost always trying, I don’t always get into the zone or stay in the zone for the entire workout. Workouts are only part of my life, and other things from my life sometimes interfere. Or I just lose focus. I mention this so that those who decide to gain this skill don’t get discouraged. This very important skill improves with practice, and can be learned. Experience the zone once, and you’ll probably put in the necessary practice to experience it again. Relatively recently, I found additional ways that have helped me get into “the zone.” Without music, I “dance” or “shake my ass, limbs and joints” to wake up my nervous system right before intense physical training. I also make my breath “lead” my physical movement. This means to be conscious of your breathing and simultaneously coordinate your physical movements with your breathing.

    • Eric Buratty

      WOW–thanks for your positive feedback and strong words of encouragement, Jack!

      I’m familiar with the idea of “body vibrations” to wake up the nervous system and muscles, but I think I like your “dancing” and “shaking the ass, limbs and joints” lingo better–HA–good call and reminder on that! 🙂

      Keep training smart–not hard.
      “Life is breath, and breath is life.”

      –EB

  • Fantastic article from an awesome athlete and trainer.

    Great job, Eric–seriously awesome.

    • Eric Buratty

      That means a lot, Coach.
      Thank YOU for taking the time to review my work!

      Very Respectfully,

      –EB

  • Anthony Romayo

    Consistency is the key. I warm up in many different ways with deep stretching being the focus. Alot of times though I’ll just do a couple sets of hand stands or even my first couple of sets of my first exercise usually push ups in super slow cadence.I think everyone has those days where they feel like they may not want to workout or can’t focus.It’s exactly then that one should force the workout to start. You’ll find that a few minutes into it that you’re more focused then you can imagine.

    • Eric Buratty

      Thanks for the comment, Anthony.
      Gotta do what works for you!

      Best regards to you and your training,

      –EB

  • Mohammed

    Hi Eric,

    I did the warm up as outline above, including jumping jacks as part of the light cardio. I did knee tuck jumps as part of the explosive part of the warm up. I will need to do a few more workouts to pinpoint the effects this had, since I was feeling fresh for this particular workout session anyway, but I think it did help. It definitely warmed up my body more effectively than usual, so, I’ll continue to use the warm ups described above.

    Regarding the rest periods and the like, I set a max. time period but did not look at the clock constantly (like I usually do) until I was ready to start the set. Normally, I use the full amount of max. time that I set myself before starting the next set, but by letting my body decide when I felt like kicking ass (as you put it), I found that I had reduced my rest time by a minute or two. So, it seems that I was psychologically telling myself that I needed more rest than required. Once, again, I’ll need to do a few more workouts to confirm this, but it seems to be true.

    Thank you for the advice you gave below and for sharing this post!

    Mohammed

    • Eric Buratty

      Good stuff, Mohammed!
      I really appreciate your follow-through/update.

      If you have further questions or need me to review any training clips, please feel free to send them over to me at e_buratty@yahoo.com.

      Best Regards,

      –EB

      • Mohammed

        Thank you, Eric!

  • Hey Eric,

    I came looking for a way to really push myself to the next level and I think I have found it. At first I would psych myself up by slamming a cup of black coffee and doing some sort of high intensity cardio like running/rowing to get my heart rate up, but I found it just makes me more tired for my actual workout. I am definitely going to take this article and put it into practice tonight!

    Thanks,
    Troy

    • Eric Buratty

      Right on, troyLa!

      Thank you for your comment–now go have the best workout of your life tonight!!!

      –EB

  • Great article! Messing around with your phone/mp3 player mid workout is the biggest intensity killer in my eyes.
    I like to mentally ‘check in’ and envision my workout right before I start training too – really seems to help me to get in the zone without loading up on copious amounts of caffeine or pre-workout.

    • Eric Buratty

      You’re right, SJ.
      We can really surprise ourselves physically when we train ‘in the moment’ before it even happens!

      Thanks for your comment, and best regards to you and your training!

      –EB

  • Alexander Hetzl

    Very nice article; a lot of in depth information! If I an a fully body workout #i personally like the tabata style workout approach for warmup consisting of

    • Eric Buratty

      Thank you for reading, Alexander.
      I agree with you that the tabata approach is an excellent way to get the endorphins flowing!

      As for the depth of the article, I realize there’s a lot going on here.
      But hopefully your warm-ups will be that much more flexible now–depending on what you’re setting out to accomplish during your workouts.

      Thanks for the comment–stay focused with your training!

      –EB

      • Alexander Hetzl

        You are welcome. I think the whole pre-workout thing is not covered to an extend which it deserves. And I think people aren’t themselves taking it seriously most of the time. So your thoughts are an important contribution!

        I’ll do. All the best!

  • Raverick Wee

    Yes, i do agree with the pointers you have stated in the article. Getting into the zone, will make yourself focus much more better.

    This will definitely enhance the workout progress as a whole

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