Exercise Made Easy

Learn to make the most of your workout and love it with these tips. Turn to this guide on lazy days when it requires a Herculean effort just to put on our workout clothes.

Avoid Mirrors

Many fitness locations 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 reflection. The exercise chain, Curves, deliberately designs its small gyms without mirrors so 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.

Be Your Own DJ

Create your own personal gym-mix tapes, CDs, or digital recordings, and listen to them as you work out. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse found that people who listen to up-tempo music got 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 percent 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 break out in dance.

Turn off the Tube

Although your favorite TV show 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 you’re watching.

Channel Your Energy

Think of someone who irritates you. Then step on the treadmill, stair stepper, stationary bike, or elliptical machine and sweat out your aggression as you run, climb, or cycle. You might even imagine that you are running an imaginary race against this person. You’ll get in a better workout—and blast away anger and stress at the same time.

Don’t Forget to Pre-Drink

If you show up for your workout already dehydrated, you’ll feel overly fatigued during your session, says Craig Horswill, Ph.D., principal scientist for the Gatorade Sports Science Institute in Barrington, Illinois. “Nearly half of all exercisers are starting their workouts at a real disadvantage—by arriving at the gym already dehydrated,” he says. “When you’re dehydrated, you can’t work as hard, you don’t feel as good, and your mental function is going to be compromised. Consequently, you’re not going to get as much out of your workout.”

Find a Buddy

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. Thirty minutes will go by before you know it. You can also encourage each other to work a bit harder.

Set Short-Term Goals

We all know that goals help motivate you to work harder, and that the best exercise programs include measurable goals to achieve weeks or months down the road. Sometimes, though, when your motivation is drooping, a goal for what to achieve over the next 30 minutes is really what you need. So pick something achievable: Maintain a sweat for 20 minutes, or cover two miles on the treadmill, or give just your arms a really good strength workout. A target like that gives you focus to get through on even the tough days.

Switch It Up

Change your routine every 3 to 4 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 about 15 reps, then increase the weight for another set of eight reps. On cardio equipment, switch from the treadmill to the stair stepper or the stair stepper to the elliptical trainer.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Slower lifting may help increase strength because it prevents you from using momentum or cheating with improper technique.

Put Your Mind Into It

Rather than daydreaming through your workouts, put as much mental emphasis on what you do at the gym as you do at work—or at least should do at work. For example, when doing a strength exercise, feel the muscle contract as you lift. This inner focus will help you to tune in to your technique. You’ll fatigue your muscles faster because you’ll make every movement count.

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