Most fit guys are realizing that mindfulness and meditation aren’t woo-woo and fluffy—they’re a necessary component of a holistic health and fitness program for every dude. Just look at these Men’s Fitness cover guys who meditate for proof! Another key element in that holistic plan is high intensity training for your body—it’s the most efficient way to get—and stay—fit. So, if you could pair the two together and get a solid total body workout while you train your mind simultaneously, that’d be pretty a sweet deal, right? That was the thinking of Michael Gervais (Group Fitness Manager at Equinox Century City) and Kai Karlstrom, (Tier 4 Manager at Equinox The Loop in Chicago) who created a new group fitness class coming soon to Equinox called HeadStrong.
“The idea is that you should train your mind and your body—together,” says Karlstrom. “The brain can and should be trained, just like any other part of the body,” he adds. But, you don’t have to sit around doing crossword puzzles to train it. “Using movement to drive optimal brain function is something everyone, no matter what level, age, or goals, should do.” In the class, you’re forced to really focus on what you’re doing physically—rather than zoning out like you could do when running or even going through the motions of the same weight lifting routine you do week in and week out. For example, instead of just doing lunges, you’re told to think about how many different ways you can do them—and not have it be the same twice, by changing your foot or hand placement on the ground (more on this on the second slide!). You’ll literally lose track of time—and the workout will fly by—because you’re so focused on what’s happening in the moment. It forces you to be “present.” And that, in turn, helps you get bigger physical rewards to boot. “When you focus on each movement, you improve the connection from brain to muscle, which can help to recruit more motor units (read: getting stronger),” says Karlstrom. But, that’s just the beginning!
“The main physical benefits of HeadStrong are reflexive stability of the abdominals, cardiovascular, fascial integrity, and the ability to downregulate your central nervous system,” says Gervais. Mentally, it’ll help you relax and destress.
HeadStrong is broken into four parts:
The Focus section is based on Developmental Kinesiology—how we all learned to move initially.
The Adapt section is based on neuroplasticity—doing things differently and doing different things.
The Willpower section is based on BDNF (Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor) and willpower. (This is also where you’ll get seriously sweaty!)
The Reboot section is based on executive function—the ability to prioritize and filter the flow of information in the brain.
Ok, so you want to try it but don’t belong to Equinox? Gervais and Karlstrom have adapted the workout for Men’s Fitness readers to try at home. Move through all four parts of the workout one after the next.
Do four reps of each exercise (on each side), holding each one for a breath.
1) Bird Dogs
2) Crawling forward/backward
3) Worlds Greatest Stretch
Grab a ViPR or sandbell and get ready to move. Perform a lateral lunge, alternating sides (the constant) while you change up where you move the equipment. Continuously reach the ViPR or sandbell towards your foot, then out to the wall, then up to the ceiling. Find as many different vectors and velocities as you can. There should be no rhyme or reason to the changes—they are at random. “You can move the equipment faster or slower, it all provides different inputs to the brain,” says Kalstrom. Keep lunging and moving for five minutes, resting as needed.
This is where you’ll really start to work! Cycle through the following three moves up to five times total.
1) High Knees 30-60 seconds ALL OUT
2) Name game: consonants = squats, vowels = pushups. Spell your full name, doing the exercise that correlates to each letter. 30-60 seconds each.
3) Plank hold—2min or more.
*For an even bigger mind/body challenge, have a partner yell out each exercise (high knees, squats, pushups, plank hold) at random and not tell you how long you’ll have to hold it. Only break when they give you the go-ahead.
Laying on your back, breathe into your lower stomach. Breathe in for 4 counts, hold it for 7 counts, breathe out for 8 counts. Repeat this at least 5 times.
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