Mind into Muscle: How to Get Leaner, Stronger & Fitter (without Lifting a Finger)

Written By


Expert Reviewed By

Dr. Lauryn Lax, OTD, MS

Dr. Lauryn, OTD, MS is a doctor of occupational therapy, clinical nutritionists and functional medicine expert with 25 years of clinical and personal experience in healing from complex chronic health issues and helping others do the same.

Building Strength 800X675 2 | Mind Into Muscle: How To Get Leaner, Stronger &Amp; Fitter (Without Lifting A Finger)


“Mind into muscle”–what the heck does that even mean?! (Especially since the gym seems anything but zen this time of year). Read on to find out how to get the most out of your workout….


The gym is jam-packed!


This time of year, I find myself training more indoors—in your typical globo gym (due to my strong dislike of cold-weather and inability to feel my fingers and toes while completing barbell cleans and burpees), and as one may guess…


The New Year’s resolutioners are flocking to the land of iron like birds to Florida this same time of year.


I love people-watching at the gym


It’s such a melting pot of faces, workout styles, goals and intentions in their 60-minutes spent at ‘recess’ (a.k.a. “gym time”).


You have…


  • Your bros with skinny chicken legs and Hulk-sized chests, using all the weight plates on the bench press barbell.
  • Your yoga moms, lifting 3-5 lbs. pink dumbbells, if that, and working those buns on the glute-blaster.
  • Your dudes on the squat rack, squatting to less than 45-degrees with 200+ lbs. on the bar and complaining they hate ‘leg day’.
  • Your college girls following the latest kick-booty routine from the Tone it Up girls or
  • And your people in the land of the lost—slugging away on treadmills, elliptical and Stairmaster’s while…watching TV, reading the latest issue of Self or Cosmo…or diving into the latest novel.


Oh—to this latter of people, my heart goes out!


Probably because that girl (on the Stairmaster) used to be myself—stepping my life away while reading—and re-reading, and re-reading—stacks and stacks of health and fitness magazines daily.


Mind Into Muscle


Why are you at the gym?


To workout? Or to read and watch TV?




Are you really so bored out of your mind or hate being at the gym so much that you need distraction to get through the dreaded 30-60 minutes?


Today, if I am not aware, I can find myself being super judgmental of this habit: reading and watching TV (the whole ‘see the speck in your brother’s eye, but not your own’ thing).


However, most recently, I was hit with the harsh reality that I, too, still occasionally workout in this way when I don’t enter my training time with intention.


I’m talking: Mind into muscle.


You may have heard of this concept before: thinking about the muscle you are training during your workout; being actively engaged (in mind) in your workouts…


And it makes all the difference in:


Time well spent vs. Time wasted (in the gym).


In fact, one study reported by Psychology Today looked at how much muscles worked in three different conditions: (1) thinking exclusively about the muscles that were working, (2) thinking about the weight that was being lifted, and (3) thinking about whatever the participants wanted.


Results showed that there was significantly greater muscle activity in the first condition (And, duh, more muscle activity during weight training corresponds to the muscles getting stronger, leaner, toner). 


Another study out of Bishop’s University found you may be able to even make nearly identical gains in strength and fitness without lifting a finger!


That study evaluated the strength gains in three different groups of people:

  • The first group did nothing outside their usual routine.
  • The second group was put through two weeks of highly focused strength training for one specific muscle, three times a week.
  • The third group listened to audio CDs that guided them to imagine themselves going through the same workout as the exercising group, three times a week.


The results?


  • The control group (who didn’t do anything) saw NO gains in strength.
  • The exercise group, who trained three times a week, saw almost a 30% gain in strength. (No big surprises).
  • And, lastly, the group who did not exercise, but rather thought about exercising experienced nearly the same gains in strength as the exercise group (24%).


In other words: The group that visualized exercised got nearly the same benefit, in terms of strength-gains, as the group that actually worked-out.


Now this is not to say: Just sit and think about working out either…but rather, it demonstrates the power of our minds in remaining focused and dedicated to the task at hand—be it weight training, cardio, a project at work, our quiet time with the Lord, a business deal you are hoping to seal, intentional time spent with other people.


For the purpose of this article:


Are you getting the most out of your workout?


I’ll tell you what: There are some days I have only 30-45-minutes to train, and other days, I have no time limit—can take my sweet time…


But more often than not, the days I have less time for a gym session often times end up being the BETTER workout days.




Focus. Drive. Plan. Purpose.


“I just feel like I don’t get a good workout unless I spend at least 1 ½ to 2 hours in the gym.”—a phrase I often hear from the girls and women I work with on a daily basis around developing a healthier relationship with food, fitness and their bodies.


However…if and when you are really dedicated during your session, I guarantee you, you CAN get the same amount of work done—more efficiently—no matter the time frame.


Even though I don’t read magazines on Stairmaster’s or watch TV while I run on my hamster wheel anymore, when I am ‘just going through the motions’ of the gym, or ‘punching a clock’ to get the work done in the gym…I often times walk away from my workout, wondering, “What just happened?


So how do you practically put your mind into muscle?




As you enter the training zone—be it the Barre studio, the weight floor, the CrossFit gym, the trail—set your intention for your workout (“I am going to be focused”, “I am going to find joy in movement,” “I am going to hit my old PR today,” “I am going to set a new personal best today”, “I am going to be efficient with my time and get the most out of every set and rep today,” etc.).


Then keep your eyes on the prize—finishing strong.


Ode to the Power of Positive Thinking! (does a body good).


Weekly Workouts



Back to the ‘grind’—here are some fun, varied workouts to incorporate into your routine this week—a balance of strength, HIIT and aerobic work.



5 Rounds:

10-12 Bench Press (dumbbells)

8-10 1-Arm Dumbbell Rows


Complete for time:
30 Back Squats (75-105 lbs.)

30 Pull-ups

400 meter Run

20 Front Squats

20 Pull-ups

400 meter Run

10 Overhead Squats

10 Pull-ups

400 meter Run



Every Minute on the Minute

1 Power Clean + 2 Hang Squat Cleans + 1 Jerk


3 Rounds Each for time: 

500 meter row/400 meter run

10 Over-head Plate (25) Box Step-up & Overs

15 Shoulder To Overhead with Barbell (55-95 lbs.)


4 Rounds

30 second Hanging Knee Tuck Hold

15 V-ups



6 Super-set Rounds:

Backsquat 6-6-4-4-2-2 (add weight with each step)

Seated Dumbbell Strict Press x 8-10




Front Squats

Push Press


Cash Out: 800-meter Sprint (for time)



5 Rounds for time of:

35 Double-unders (x 2 Single Unders or 60 Jumping Jacks)

30 Air Squats

25 Wall Ball Shots

20 Chest-to-bar Pull-ups

15 Dumbbell Snatch (total)


AMRAP 15 minutes of:

8 Calories Row

8 Burpees

8 Hang Power Cleans (dumbbells or barbell)

 3 x 3-minute Rounds


Thrusters (55 lbs)

Toes-to-bar (or knees to chest or V-ups)


10 Rounds:

30 seconds Deadlifts

30 seconds Push-ups



5 Rounds:

Front Squats x 5-6 reps

Strict Pull-ups x 3-6 (use assistance as needed)


100 Kettlebell Swings

100 Box Jumps

100 Wall Ball Shots



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