4 mindsets for endurance

Use them in the beginning, middle, and end of your workouts.

Mental grit often trumps physical strength in trying times of endurance, but people tend to train their cardiovascular and muscular systems more than they do their minds to help them cross the finish line.

The physical-first strategy stands in stark contrast to the approach in Eastern forms of fitness, known for building strong mindsets. In all forms of martial arts, for example, four traditional states of mind are paramount to performance: mushin, shoshin, fudoshin, and zanshin, explains Julian Ho, a group fitness instructor at Equinox locations in Toronto who applies these mindsets in his fitness and career. “They’re another tool in my toolkit just like running shoes and music.”

He says these states of mind can help you perform at a higher level, no matter your sport of choice. “The blend of holistic Eastern practices with scientific Western principles enables athletes to stretch the limits of their sports psychology,” says Ho, who credits mushin, shoshin, fudoshin, and zanshin with helping him win ultramarathons. “As a Chinese-born Westerner, my exposure to ancient Eastern philosophies has been limited, but as I continue to mature, grow, and further explore my curiosities and background, these discoveries resonate more deeply.”

Here, Ho’s advice on how and when to use these four states of mind when you’re running, cycling, and more.

The no-mind mindset, it’s a deeply immersive and sensorial experience sans critical thinking, Ho says. When you’re feeling in the zone or in a flow state, you’re probably in mushin mind.
How to use it: During a low point or whenever you’re having negative thoughts (about your day in general or specifically about your workout), do a meditative mind and body scan, he says. “When the mind is seeking distraction, relief, and reprieve,” Ho turns his attention to the strength in each stride, the stress release of each exhale, and the intention of each inhale.
Why it works: When you give yourself the freedom to not think about outside stressors, you conserve intellectual and emotional energy, he explains. Tuning into your body via a scan can help you appreciate the work you’re doing, re-engaging your muscles in the activity.

The beginner’s mind, shoshin is characterized by a ready-to-learn attitude free of judgment or preconceived notions. “It’s a childlike approach to experiential learning,” Ho says, characterized by fascination, awe, and curiosity.
How to use it: At the start of a workout, remember that you’re training out of want, not obligation. “Inhale ‘I don’t have to run,’ and exhale ‘I get to run,’” he says. This reframes your mindset, allowing you to connect more deeply with your intention. Smiling throughout the activity is another way to cope with the discomfort of higher performance and tap into shoshin.
Why it works: Gratefulness and positivity help you push through discomfort and a lack of motivation, Ho says.

The immovable mind, fudoshin is a deep level of self-focus that shields you from outside influences, Ho says.
How to use it:During a demanding part of your workout or when you’re starting to doubt yourself, answer a few "why" questions. Why did you start this activity? Why are you training for this race? Why are you continuing on?
Why it works:Connecting with your intention keeps you accountable and helps you push with more intensity, he says.

The remaining mind, it’s a spirit of thoroughness and dedication from start to finish. Common idioms such as “leaving no stone left unturned” and “going through something with a fine-tooth comb” describe this mindset well, Ho says.
How to use it: Apply zanshin upon finishing a workout. “When the voices of criticism start raining in—‘I could have gone faster,’ ‘If I had just taken that extra gel’—quiet them with a reminder,” Ho suggests, like a mantra or quote that helps you think clearly. You might remind yourself, for example, that achievements aren’t stopping points, but stepping stones.
Why it works: Zanshin promotes longevity and sustainability in your training, Ho says. “It will lead you to your next activity with even more vigor, vitality, and healthy habits.”