If you are one of the minority of people who regularly go to a gym for exercise, then congratulations! It means you have the right priorities and terrific discipline. But it’s fair to say that at times, even for committed exercisers, motivation often flags, and there are days when it requires a Herculean effort just to put on your workout clothes and walk through the gym doors. Here are 13 ways to make your exercise routine a little easier.
1. Avoid the mirrors. Many fitness centers line exercise rooms with mirrors to allow you to watch your form as you work out. Yet a study of 58 women found that those who exercised in front of a mirror felt less calm and more fatigued after 30 minutes of working out than those who exercised without staring at their reflections. One exercise chain, Curves, deliberately designs its small gyms without mirrors so that women can concentrate on each other and the workout rather than on how they look. Other gyms are beginning to offer “reflection-free” zones. If yours doesn’t, mention the idea – and the study– to the gym manager.
2. Create your own personal gym playlists, and listen to them as you work out. Researchers have found that people who listen to up-tempo music get significantly more out of their stationary bike workouts. They pedaled faster, produced more power and their hearts beat faster than when they listened to slow-tempo music or sounds with no tempo. Overall, they worked between 5 and 15 per cent harder while listening to the energizing beat. Although the type of music you choose is up to you, pick something with a fast beat that makes you want to start dancing.
3. Think of someone who irritates you. Then step on the treadmill, exercise bike or elliptical machine and sweat out your aggression as you work out. You might even imagine that you are running an imaginary race against this person. You’ll get a better workout – and blast away anger and stress at the same time.
4. Drink a bottle of water or juice on your way to the gym. If you’re already dehydrated, you’ll feel overly fatigued during your session. When you’re dehydrated, you can’t work as hard, you don’t feel as good and your mental function is compromised. So you won’t get as much out of your workout.
5. Think you can and you will. So simple, yet so often ignored, positive thinking can help you to power your way through a workout. In one study, exercisers who thought positively were more likely to stay active than those whose minds often uttered those two evil words, “I can’t.” Whenever you find yourself making excuses, replace any negative thoughts with positive messages such as, “I feel great” or “Bring it on.”
6. Turn off the TV when exercising. It’s tempting to try to lose yourself in a TV program as you slog away. But one study found that women worked out about 5 percent harder when they weren’t watching TV than when they were. Although TV may take your mind off your workout, it also causes you to lose touch with your effort level. You unconsciously slow down or use poor form as you get caught up in what’s on screen.
7. Work out with a friend. If you’re feeling stale and are thinking of skipping your gym workouts, ask a friend to meet you for a gym date. As you walk or run on the treadmill, you can share stories of your day and encourage each other to work a bit harder. Your friend can also help you to find the courage to approach unfamiliar gym equipment, as it’s easier to laugh off your foibles when you have a trusted companion nearby.
8. Wear the right shoes for the right class. Resist the urge to wear the old trainers you dug up from the back of the cupboard. Various fitness disciplines require specific types of footwear. The wrong shoes will not only make your workout feel harder, it could cause an injury. For example, wear running shoes for running, walking shoes for walking, and hard-bottomed cycling shoes for spinning (exercise on stationary bikes).
9. Set a short-term workout goal. Of course, goals motivate you to work harder, and the best exercise programs include measurable goals to achieve weeks or months down the road. Sometimes, though, when your motivation is drooping, a goal focusing on what you can complete over the next 30 minutes is what you need. So pick something achievable: maintain a sweat for 20 minutes, give your arms a good workout or cover 2 miles on the treadmill. A target like that gives you focus to get through.
10. Whenever you feel as if you’re out of steam, hire a trainer. In just one session a trainer can open your eyes to a whole new world of workouts.
11. Change your routine every three to four weeks. This will keep your body guessing – improving your results – and fuel your motivation. In the weight room, alternate exercises and modify the way you lift weights. If you usually do two sets of 15 reps, complete one set of 15, then increase the weight for another set of 8 reps. On cardio equipment, switch from the treadmill to the stair stepper etc. Mix up your exercise classes as well, switching around from Pilates to aerobic dance to yoga to kickboxing.
12. Work out during the least crowded hours. You’ll squeeze in a more effective workout in less time if you hit the gym during the slowest period of the day, often mid-afternoon. You won’t have to wait in a line for equipment or feel hassled in the changing room.
13. Invent a competition with the person on the next treadmill. If you’re on the treadmill and you’re bored, glance at the display on someone else’s nearby treadmill. If you’re walking at 3.5 miles per hour and he or she is chugging away at 4 miles per hour, see if you can increase your speed and catch up, as if it were a race. The other person won’t even know you’re racing.