If exercise were easy, everyone would do it. But in fact, only 60 percent of Americans exercise regularly—and that includes walks and other leisure activities. But there are ways to push through the invisible wall and squeeze every last drop out of a workout. Read on for tricks and tips, no matter the mindset (buff bodybuilders and yoga girls alike!).
You Can DO It—Your Action Plan
1. Repeat after me. From the Little Engine’s “I think I can, I think I can,” to a basic “Ommmmmm,” mantras can be the necessary motivation to keep on truckin’.
2. Change pace. Circuit training, a killer combination of cardio and strength training, can help break the monotony of a long workout. Run five minutes, then drop and do some push-ups. Wash, rinse, repeat.
3. Picture this. Visualize cheering fans or crossing the finish line to bang out one more set or lap. Or just go mental: Imagine this workout is the equivalent of the Olympic trials (no big deal).
4. Work with a pro. Get on board with a personal trainer who will play the drill sergeant or the kind, motivational type (your choice!). Still want to slack when shelling out all that cash?
5. Break it down. Set mini-goals when the going gets tough. This isn’t a three-mile run— just six measly half-mile runs.
6. Look the part. Swing those arms and keep the eyes dead ahead when running. Shuffling those feet will naturally slow the pace (duh).
7. Get rewarded. Whether it’s a slow cool down after sprints or enjoying a superfood smoothie, dangle a metaphorical carrot on a stick when the pain starts to strike (isn't victory sweet?).
8. Gather feedback. Monitor heart rate, pace, and exercise intensity to both distract yourself and serve as a reminder of just how far you've come.
9. Grab a pal. Work out with a fit pal who will hold you to a higher standard. Stuck going solo today? Imagine they’re still there. After all, who wants to wuss out in front of an audience?
10. Have a purpose. Running in circles with no goal in sight? There’s nothing motivating about that. Having something to run for (think, fitting into those skinny jeans or lowering blood pressure) can be a necessary kick in the butt Guided goal setting: effectiveness in a dietary and physical activity intervention with low-income adolescents. Shilts, M.K., Horowitz, M., Townsend, M.S. Family and Consumer Sciences Department, California State University Sacramento, Sacramento, California. International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health, 2009 Jan-Mar;21(1):111-22..
11. Perform. The guy across the weight room is definitely jealous. Put on a show, focusing on excellent form and making those lifts look easy as pie— you might start to believe it yourself.
12. Get distracted. Reading on the treadmill might not improve pace, but if it keeps those legs moving, it’s OK by us Do 'mind over muscle' strategies work? Examining the effects of attentional association and dissociation on exertional, affective and physiological responses to exercise. Lind, E., Welch, A.S., Ekkekakis, P. Department of Physical Education, State University of New York College at Oneonta, New York, New York. Sports Medicine, 2009;39(9):743-64.. Choose something inspiring for a little extra push (we can’t get enough of Born to Run).
13. Savor the pain. “Pain is weakness leaving the body,” the saying goes. Pain is also proof that this workout is tough. Clearly you’re doing something right, so why stop now? (Just know when pain is signaling something more serious.)
14. Hone in. When strength training, focus on the specific muscle targeted by each exercise. This can help maintain proper form, and remember, each lift will bring you one rep closer to that goal.
15. Put it in the bank.
Think of time in the gym as deposits into the fitness bank. After saving up, cash out on a special treat (like new kicks or workout gear).
16. Build a resume. Is the promise of a better butt not enough? How about knowing those plyometrics will help kill it on the court? Instead of thinking of this as a workout, consider it a training session— gathering the skills to become a better athlete, parent, lover, you name it.
17. Who’s really getting cheated? Sure, no one else would know about skipping out on the last Chatarunga. But only one person loses in that situation (hint: it’s not the super-ripped chick sweating it out on the next mat).
19. Say “ahhh.” Imagining the post-workout pain is hardly motivational. Instead, get into a sore-muscle-relief routine. Knowing those thighs have foam rolling in their future could keep ‘em pedaling just a little further.
20. Tune in. Use music to zone out during the tough spots. Fast, heart-pumping tunes have been shown to bring cardio to the next level The effects of music tempo and loudness level on treadmill exercise. Edworthy, J., Waring, H. School of Psychology, University of Plymouth, Drake Circus, Plymouth PL4 8AA, Devon, UK. Ergonomics, 2006 Dec 15;49(15):1597-610..
21. Count it out. When counting reps up from one, it’s more natural to push out one or two extra. On the other hand, some people push harder when it feels like a real countdown—try both to see what works best.
Whether comparing against the dude on the next treadmill over or your own time last training session, competition ups the ante and helps us forget about wanting to quit.