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The bench press is a common lifting exercise that offers great potential benefits. But benching has a reputation as a mindless exercise that can result in shoulder injuries. Paying close attention can offset these hazards.

This extra awareness may at first require decreasing the amount of weight you’re lifting. But remember, the goal is to occasionally practice integrated awareness, not to generate maximum physical output.

Next time you bench press, try to integrate the following mind–body cues:

  • Make sure that your feet are planted squarely on the floor, paying extra attention to your heels, especially the inner edges. Feel the change in your lower abdomen.
  • As you push up against the bar, draw your abdomen down and spread your midback gently into the bench.
  • Keep your sternum light as you lift the weight upward while also grounding your legs and feet.
  • Stay grounded and alert as you lower the bar.
  • Lift and lower the weight with your full body and mind and a deep sense of integrated movement. Notice how the mindlessness associated with lifting is gone.

In any activity you love, focus your attention instead of letting it wander. As you do so, ask yourself: What do I notice? What happens when I make this change? The insights may be illuminating, but the key is simply noticing in the first place. Noticing — no judgments or conclusions required — builds awareness.

Increasing body awareness is something you can work into your existing workout regimen — not as a better way, but as a complement. You might zone out sometimes, push yourself sometimes, and practice with increased body awareness sometimes. Aim for a balance that’s right for you.

This originally appeared as “Tuning In” in the April 2020 print issue of Experience Life.

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