Don’t Tune Out, Plug In! How to Stay Focused During Workouts

When you’re working out and boredom strikes, what do you do? You don’t want to put your fitness on pause, but maybe you do put it on the back-burner and distract yourself by plugging in your IPod or chatting to your neighbour on the next treadmill. However, according to award-winning wellness writer Jayme Moye, tuning in–instead of checking out–may be the smarter tactic.


For Moye, getting intentional about your wellbeing is better than letting it happen by accident. ‘Just ask yoga teachers,’ she says. ‘At the beginning of class, they often urge students to set an intention, like “feel more gratitude” or “let go of stress,” to help them stay focused and tap into the purpose of their practice.’ However, it’s not just yoga that can benefit from intention setting; but any fitness discipline. Celebrity trainer Brett Hoebel explains, ‘It zeros in on something you can connect to emotionally, and unlike a long-term goal, you can make good on an intention in a single session, which is very satisfying.’ So find your single-session intention. You can decide to “be strong” during one workout, and set the intention of “feeling calm” by the end of the following one. Here are our tips to get you started:


1. Give Yourself a Pep Talk: Moye recommends, ‘Turbocharge your motivation and trigger your intention with the help of a mantra–a word or phrase you repeat to psych yourself up–that reflects the purpose of your workout…If you’re aiming to reduce stress and anxiety, try #justbreathe as your mantra. Want to feel strong? Go with #mindovermuscle. Mentally repeat your mantra throughout your workout–especially during the really tough parts, or when you catch your mind wandering.’ Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, comments that a mantra connects your exercise behaviour with the positive reward of achieving your intention, which mentally hardwires your brain to enjoy exercise.


2. Silence Your Negative Inner Voice: Sports psychologist Chris Carr, PhD, argues that defeatist or negative self-talk can damage your workout and prevent you from achieving your goals. He warns, ‘Over time, critical thoughts may erode your motivation from the inside out.’ After all, how are you going to #reducestress if you’re too busy worrying that you have the biggest thighs of everyone in your cycling class. Carr notes that watching your thoughts can help you pick up on niggling negativity: ‘Once they tune in to it, many women are stunned by how often they put themselves down with negative self-talk.’


3. Tune in: While it may seem odd to use music to increase your focus – seeing as many of us use it to check out – research shows that listening to certain types of tunes can actually help you keep your mind on what you’re doing. Moye advises, ‘Create a playlist that uses words or themes that speak to the intention that you’ve picked for that day’s workout – and crank up the volume when you feel like you’re starting to flag.’ Choose whatever music works for you, or pick from out list of intention-grabbing tunes:

  • #GoFaster: Eminem’s ‘Till I Collapse and Florence + the Machine’s Dog Days Are Over
  • #Strength: Rocky III’s Eye of the Tiger and Kanye West’s Stronger
  • #BeHappier: U2’s Beautiful Day, Icona Pop’s I Love It and BEP’s I Gotta Feeling.


Hoebel instructs, ‘Choose as many songs as you need for your playlist to be effective and feed your intention.’ Costas Karageorghis, PhD, author of Inside Sport Psychology, adds, ‘Songs with strong lyrical affirmations can give you a significant physical and mental boost when the going gets tough.’

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