By Dr. Mercola
Workouts aren't supposed to be easy. If they are, you're probably not pushing yourself hard enough. That being said, your workouts shouldn't be so grueling that they leave you in pain or dreading your next session.
While you might be initially tired, you should ultimately feel energized and uplifted — physically and emotionally — when you're done exercising.
Toward that end, U.S. News & World Report recently shared 12 science-backed tips you can use to make your workouts feel easier.1 The best part is, the easier they feel, the more you'll want to keep going with your next workout.
12 Ways to Make Your Workout Feel Easier
1. Add Music
When exercisers were able to listen to their favorite songs during a session of sprint interval training, however, their perceived enjoyment increased and was consistently higher than those performing the interval training without music.2 Researchers concluded:
"Listening to music during intense interval exercise may be an effective strategy for facilitating participation in, and adherence to, this form of training."
Past research has also shown that music can significantly boost your exertion level during a workout.
While your body may be simply responding to the beat on a more or less subconscious level, the type and tempo of the music you choose may also influence your conscious motivation.
Together, the synchronization of moving to the beat along with being motivated by the music itself allows it to do its magic.
2. Get a Buddy or Join a Group Class
Exercising with a friend or enrolling in a group class can significantly boost your workout results. An Oxford University study on members of a rowing team found those who exercised together could tolerate twice as much pain as those who exercised alone.3
The researchers believe the effect is due to a heightened endorphin surge that occurs when working together as a group. They noted:
"This heightened effect from synchronized activity may explain the sense of euphoria experienced during other social activities (such as laughter, music-making and dancing) that are involved in social bonding in humans and possibly other vertebrates."
3. Keep Your Eyes on the Prize
Quite literally, keeping your eyes focused on a target in the distance while walking makes you walk faster and makes the distance seem shorter, according to research published in Motivation and Emotion.
Study author Emily Balcetis, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at New York University, said in a press release:4
"People are less interested in exercise if physical activity seems daunting, which can happen when distances to be walked appear quite long …
These findings indicate that narrowly focusing visual attention on a specific target, like a building a few blocks ahead, rather than looking around your surroundings, makes that distance appear shorter, helps you walk faster, and also makes exercising seem easier."
4. Drink a Cup of Organic Black Coffee Without Sugar
Athletes who consumed caffeine prior to a workout burned 15 percent more calories in the three hours following their workout, compared to those who consumed a placebo.5
Other functional benefits of a pre-workout cup of coffee include improved microcirculation, pain reduction, improved endurance, muscle preservation, and improved memory.
When used before exercise, coffee will give you a good boost, and will work to optimize the benefits of exercise, including stimulating energy production and fat burning. Make sure the coffee you drink is black and organic.
5. Change Your Mindset About Pain
Instead of focusing on muscle fatigue and thinking, "this hurts!" try altering your mindset and view it as a sign that your muscles are growing strong and changing for the better.
6. Look in the Mirror
The simple act of watching yourself exercise in a mirror will make your workout more efficient.6 Study author Daniel L. Eaves, Ph.D., senior lecturer in Motor Behavior and Sport Psychology at Teesside University in the U.K., told MORE:7
"People have a tendency to synchronize their actions with the actions of people around them; for instance, they may adopt the same step pattern as their friends when walking together …
In this case, being in sync with the visual image of themselves caused the study participants to unconsciously stabilize their movement pattern, which helped them run more efficiently."
7. Try Beet Juice
Those who drank beet juice prior to exercise were able to exercise for up to 16 percent longer.8 The benefit is thought to also be related to nitrates turning into nitric oxide, which may reduce the oxygen cost of low-intensity exercise, as well as enhance tolerance to high-intensity exercise.
8. Drink Ice-Cold Water
Drinking a glass of ice-cold water prior to a workout helps exercisers to exercise longer, even in hot temperatures.9
9. Get Bright-Light Exposure
Light has a stimulating effect on physical performance if exposure occurs at the appropriate times during your 24-hour circadian rhythm. Exposure to bright light prior to exercise has been found to increase exercise performance.10
10. Exercise When It Feels Right to You
There is no rule that says morning, afternoon or evening exercise is best. The "best" time to exercise is when it feels right to your body and also when you can fit it in, practically speaking. Exercising in the morning and afternoon have also been shown to be especially beneficial for fat burning and regulating your circadian rhythm, respectively, while some night owls enjoy late-night exercise.
While most experts generally discourage vigorous exercise close to bedtime, a study published in 2011 found that when people exercised vigorously for 35 minutes right before bed, they slept just as well as on nights when they didn't exercise.11
11. Take a Hot Bath After Your Workout
Taking a hot bath after each daily workout for six days may help your body acclimate to heat and subsequently improve your exercise performance in hot weather. Researchers explained:12
"Hot water immersion after exercise on six days presents a simple, practical, and effective heat acclimation strategy to improve endurance performance in the heat."
12. Get Restful Sleep
Exercise can help you to sleep better but the opposite is also true: better sleep leads to a better workout.
How to Be a Better Exerciser
You're now armed with ways to breeze through your workouts with ease, but don't stop there. Use the tips that follow to become an exercise pro:
• Use Dynamic Stretching
Avoid using static stretches as your sole form of warm-up; static stretching is not as effective and beneficial as dynamic or active stretching. Dynamic stretching has been shown to positively influence power, speed, agility, endurance, flexibility, and strength performance when used as part of your warm-up. Active isolated stretching can also help you rehab from injuries.
My favorite type of dynamic stretching is active isolated stretches (AIS) developed by Aaron Mattes. It's a protocol of specialized repetitive stretches, performed in a specific order targeting myofascial (muscle and connective tissue) injury and restriction that allows for the elongation of muscle and fascial tissue without eliciting your body's protective mechanisms that would inhibit safe, effective stretching and overall flexibility.
• Set Short-Term and Long-Term Goals
Make sure your goals are clear, realistic and measurable. Success with short-term goals is what will keep you motivated and on track for success over the long term. A short-term goal may be as simple as feeling energized, being in a better mood, having fewer carb cravings, or sleeping better. Start small and make it easy to achieve.
Many people set their fitness goals around the scale, which can be a recipe for failure. Weight loss may be your ultimate goal, but if you focus on the more immediate rewards — such as better mood and energy — you can avoid feeling frustrated if the number on the scale doesn't drop quickly enough.
• Avoid Overdoing It
When you first start out exercising, you may fall in to the trap of assuming that the more often you do it, the faster you'll see results. But overdoing it at the start is a key cause of injury and burnout. Not only is it important to start slow and build your intensity gradually, but it's also important to give your body adequate time for recovery. An equation to keep in mind is that as intensity increases, frequency can be diminished.
• Make Time for Strength Training
Less than 25 percent of Americans over the age of 45 engage in strength training,13 but middle-age and beyond is one of the most important times to work out your muscles. With good muscle tone, you will be better able to perform everyday activities, like climbing stairs and getting out of a chair, as you age.
Strength training is also an excellent way to get rid of that stubborn, excess body fat, because working your muscles is the key to firing up your metabolism. Other simple tips to take your fitness to the next level include:14
✓ Use the right amount of weight: You should be able to do 10 reps with perfect form, with the last two being fairly difficult.
✓ Use supersets: This is when you do two sets of different exercises without resting.
✓ Do multi-tasking exercises: Compound movements, such as a lunge combined with a bicep curl, help you get more out of your workout in less time.
✓ Activate your core muscles: During most exercises, tighten your core (to do so, pretend you're about to be punched in the stomach).
✓ Fit in your workout even if you don't have time: Effective workouts can be completed in 15 or 20 minutes; even five minutes is better than nothing.
✓ Learn how to do exercises properly: If you don't have the guidance of a personal trainer, view online videos or ask an experienced friend to demonstrate.
✓ Do bodyweight exercises without weights first: Only after mastering the movement should you attempt to add weights.
✓ Try deadlifts: They're one of the best exercises but many people overlook them. Just be very careful with your form to prevent injuries.
✓ Do pulling exercises: Most people do more pushing than pulling, so be sure you're balancing that out with plenty of pulling moves (i.e. chin-ups, rows, deadlifts, lat pulldowns and leg curls).
✓ Include side-to-side movements: Side lunges, wood chops and other side-to-side movements help with balance and knee stability.
✓ Do high-intensity interval training (HIIT): You'll get a phenomenal workout in less time and even boost the afterburn effect.
✓ Avoid holding on to the treadmill or stairmill: It will put your body into an unhealthy posture while giving you a less effective workout.
Is Exercise Part of Your Routine?
Skipping an occasional workout is nothing to fret over. But if skipping workouts becomes a habit your body and your fitness level will suffer, with negative changes occurring faster than you might think. A study in the Journal of Applied Physiology suggested that skipping workouts for just two weeks may significantly reduce your cardiovascular fitness, lean muscle mass and insulin sensitivity.15
Making exercise a regular part of your routine, a habit, is key to reaping all the benefits it has to offer. The first step to doing this is to choose activities you enjoy. Not surprisingly, research has shown that enjoyment is one of the strongest predictors of long-term exercise maintenance.16
The video above also shows ways you can actually "trick" yourself into exercising, although research suggests consistent exercisers have made exercise a habit triggered by a cue, such as hearing the morning alarm and heading for the gym first thing in the morning without even thinking about it.17 This kind of habit is referred to as "an instigation habit," and it was found to provide people with the most consistent results.
In fact, the strength of a person's instigation habit was the only factor able to predict a person's ability to maintain an exercise regimen over the long term. So for a simple tip to help make exercise a life-long habit, decide what your trigger cue will be. It could be your morning alarm clock, your lunch break, or even feeling stressed — and then just follow through by going to the gym (or wherever you do your exercise) when the cue is triggered.
The idea is to hinge the habit around a recurring cue so that you get started on your workout without actually having to consciously decide to do so each time (which then gives you opportunity to talk yourself out of it). Other simple tips to make exercise a regular part of your routine include:
- Add it to your to-do list (and then check it off when your workout is complete)
- Reward yourself when you reach one of your fitness goals
- Keep a journal of your exercise emotions, especially how you feel after a workout (hopefully you will feel great and be able to look back at your journal when you need motivation)
- Work to improve yourself and avoid comparing yourself and your fitness progress to others