Don’t let mental hurdles get between you and your fitness goals.
Having a good attitude makes a big difference when you’re trying to meet a weight-loss goal or get fitter. To steer around any slim-down speed bumps and excuses, follow these tips for rebooting your mood and your workout.
You Think: “The scale is stuck. Why bother?”
Rethink: “This pudge will budge.”
Stick with the scale: Love it and you’ll probably lose pounds. Studies suggest that adults who weighed themselves more frequently lost more weight over two years or regained fewer pounds than those who avoided the scale. While you’re at it, trying weighing or measuring everything you eat for a week to make sure you’re not eating too-large portions. In the meantime, stay motivated by giving yourself credit for how much better your clothes fit and for improving your overall health.
Try this: Rev up your routine
“As your metabolism changes to accommodate your smaller size, you are going to have to change what you’re doing to coax your body to keep responding and shedding fat,” says Kim H. Miller, Ph.D., associate professor of health education and recreation at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. If you're eating light already (between 1,200 and 1,500 calories a day), don’t cut back more; turn up the intensity and/or increase the length of your workout sessions. This burns more calories and increases your cardio capacity, making it easier for you to exercise longer. Try cranking the resistance on your stationary bike, pushing the pace of your walk or running for one-minute intervals. Add step-ups or jumping jacks between sets of toning moves: the cardio-strength mix of circuit training burns about 500 calories per hour—more than double that of lifting alone.
You Think: “I can’t do another rep.”
Rethink: “My biceps rock!”
Need a lift? Just psyching yourself up while you’re strength training can give your muscles a boost, suggests a study from the School of Sport and Exercise Science at Wintec, Waikato Institute of Technology in New Zealand. And imagining those perfect lifts versus thinking about your to-do list may help stimulate muscle fibers through positive mental imagery.
Try this: Dumb(bell) it down
If you can’t muster more reps at the same weight, find the heaviest weight at which you can finish a full set of exercises with good form. A study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research suggests that you may build additional strength by doing two or three sets compared with just one. Just remember that good form is more important than heavier weights.
You Think: “Run a mile? Me? No way!”
Rethink: “Hey, doesn't that jogger look like Brad Pitt?”
When you’re trying to slog through that first—or extra—mile, shift your attention to the things around you. You might be a little bit slower, but focusing on something other than your legs and breathing might also help you keep going. Also add a can-do mental mantra, like “I'm a running machine!” to put more power in your stride.
Try this: Divide and conquer
Split your run into walking and running parts at first, says Joe Puleo, head cross country and track-and-field coach at Rutgers University in Camden, New Jersey, and coauthor of Running Anatomy. Jog a quarter of a mile, walk for half a mile and finish by jogging another quarter. As you improve, stretch out the jogging and shrink the walking segment before jogging that final quarter mile. Try it a few times a week, and you may find yourself running the whole distance in as little as 6 weeks.
You Think: “I hurt my knee. There goes exercise for a month.”
Rethink: “Pilates, here I come!”
Your body starts to lose conditioning within three days of your becoming a couch potato. If that isn’t enough to light a fire under you, tell yourself that there’s more than one way to reach your exercise goal, says Trent Petrie, Ph.D., director of the Center for Sport Psychology at the University of North Texas in Denton. Use it as an opportunity to try a new activity. Can’t kickbox? Maybe it’s time to try yoga or Pilates for the first time.
Try this: Pull a switcheroo
Depending on your injury, you can probably find plenty of low- or no-impact exercise options that melt fat and will leave you feeling the post-exercise buzz. Moderate elliptical training, cycling or jogging in water all burn about 400 to 500 calories per hour, and may be an appropriate substitution for running or higher-impact activities. See your doc to figure out which route is best for you.
You Think: “Classes like Spinning and boot camp seem too intense for me.”
Rethink: “That guy in bike shorts doesn’t look so tough.”
The worst part about trying something new is usually the element of the unknown. Ask the instructor if you can sit in on a session before signing up, and get to the first class a little early so you can introduce yourself to the instructor. He or she may be able to help you modify the activities to suit your fitness level and experience.
Try this: Go at your own pace
You don’t have to lift the heaviest weights or ride the fastest time in Spinning to get a great workout. Find a speed or level of intensity that challenges you without being unsafe. And guess what—your classmates are probably doing the same thing. In any group exercise class, your main goal is to get the hang of it, so aim for form over speed.
You Think: “Exercising at home is my only option, but it’s hard to stay motivated.”
Rethink: “Working out is more fun than cleaning the bathroom.”
First, identify what would give you the willpower to stay off the couch, then schedule a time and a workout in your daily planner. Seeing your workout in print might be what you need to fit it in between your other obligations, and working out at home means less commute time and more workout time.
Try this: Get creative
Make the most of your at-home time by trying something new that you might not want to try in public. Fitness DVDs and exercise slideshows can provide exercise inspiration for a fraction of the cost of a gym membership, and you’ll be a pro by the time you decide to join a group class.
You Think: “Staying on a cardio machine for more than 30 minutes is slow torture.”
Rethink: “Who'll be eliminated tonight on The Bachelorette?”
Use your cardio time to catch up on your favorite TV shows or to tune into a new playlist or podcast. You may get so caught up in the drama that you don’t even notice how many minutes you’ve been exercising. Bonus points for starting a few minutes before showtime so you’re inspired to push all the way to the end of the episode.
Try this: Save the rest for last
Plan your workout so the end is all downhill, so to speak. A study at the Department of Health and Exercise Science at the College of New Jersey showed that treadmill users who started at a higher intensity and finished at an easier pace burned more fat and felt that their workouts were less stressful than when the order was reversed.
You Think: “I simply can’t shake the after-work energy slump to exercise.”
Rethink: “Just 10 minutes.”
“There’s a difference between being mentally tired and being physically tired,” Miller says. “Doing something physical will actually help combat some of the mental fatigue.” Try Miller’s trick to get your noggin on board: Tell yourself that you’re not going to do more than 10 minutes of exercise. Often this leads to extending the time once you get into it, she notes. Studies suggest that doing 10 minutes of moderate exercise, such as light pedaling on a stationary bike, is enough to improve mood and fatigue levels.
Redo: Stack the deck in your favor
Walk home through the park, or pick a gym that’s on your daily commute. The sight of exercisers walking and running may motivate you to move more, and a gym in a convenient location eliminates at least one excuse. Keep a workout bag packed and ready to go, and be ready for a bad-weather plan B, like a yoga mat in your car or a workout DVD in your player at home.
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