How to Coach Yourself Through a Workout

Harnessing your mind to overcome any challenge is difficult, but it becomes especially difficult when faced with physical discomfort. After years of being an athlete, I still have days where my body just can’t seem to get it together. Why can the same activity one day feel like a marathon the next?

I don’t have the answer, but I can share some strategies that help me to push through on days where physical activity feels less than voluntary.

Drink a coffee

Call me crazy, but I refuse to go on a run without a shot of espresso first. I got in the habit years ago, during a study abroad that seeped me in both European coffee culture and club culture (read: lack of sleep.) Apart from being my bandaid for lack of sleep, studies have shown that caffeine can increase endurance, dull pain, and even promote fat burning. Need I say more?

Visualize your goals

Common guidance recommends visualization before taking action. While there are serious benefits to effective visualization used as preparation, there is also much to be gained from stepping out of our realities during performance. For example, I often find that “zoning out” while on a run can help me to maintain speed with less perceived effort. Furthermore, depending on what I am visualizing, I often find myself more motivated as I imagine living out my goals.

Develop a mantra

Mantras look different to everyone, if they have even considered what theirs might be. There is no one size fits all, and personally I find that I need different mantras for different things. Where workouts are concerned, the key is to have a phrase you can count on to give you that extra bump when you can’t imagine taking another step. It can be a line from a favorite song, a reward you are working towards, or anything in between. Personally, I like to tell myself “It’ll never get easier than it is right now,” meaning that once you feel uncomfortable during a workout, you likely have a lot of sets already behind you and are closer to the finish line than ever (not to mention stopping means starting from the beginning.)

Plan for the most difficult reps

Most of us have a portion of our workout that is the hardest. Whether you are someone that struggles with getting going, finishing strong, or fighting through the no-man’s land of a middle rep, power comes from knowing that about yourself. Those are your work sets. Plan for them, and label them. Tell yourself when you have arrived at the hardest part. The known challenge is always easier.

Queue up a good playlist

Finally, take the time to put together a good playlist. Tailor it to the type of workout you plan on doing; a running playlist looks different than a lifting playlist looks different than a yoga playlist. Studies have demonstrated the performance benefits of listening to music during a workout. Why not use all the tools at your disposal?

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