Learn to love the burn
Trick your brain into enjoying better workouts
Getting into shape isn’t just about toning and strengthening the muscles in your body. Turns out, your brain is the most important body part when it comes to exercise. As the command centre, your brain sends messages to muscles to tell them to move, it also moderates mood, energy levels, and motivation.
During an intense workout, the brain is programmed to read the experience as pain or discomfort, which can translate into negative, irrational thoughts about your workout. But according to Scott Leith, PhD, data scientist and research psychologist with GoodLife Fitness, you can trick your brain to push past the negative and switch over to enjoying exercise – which translates to longer, more intense workouts and helps make exercise a habit.
Leith suggests some easy ways to reframe exercise for better results:
- Distraction. It seems simple, but distracting yourself with TVs, upbeat music or an audiobook can distract your brain's focus and allow you to push harder or longer.
- Positive imagery. It can be motivating to visualize yourself once you’ve reached your fitness goals – healthier, stronger and maybe returning to sports or fitting into clothes you could never wear before.
- Motivational self-talk. Research shows positive self-talk can improve endurance exercise performance and lower perceived exertion. Leith suggests adjusting your positive self-talk to fit the stage of exercise (ramp up/psych up, intense phase support, ramp down).
- Identify and minimize negative or self-defeating thoughts or self-talk. When our minds feel pain or discomfort we tend to overgeneralize and amplify negative thoughts. Instead try noticing when you feel bad, identify the negative thought, then reframe them into positives.
- Channel frustration into effort. Instead of giving in to your frustration and negative thoughts, try pushing yourself harder. If you do it repeatedly, your brain will switch gears automatically and just keep going.
- Set small goals. Don’t try to do push yourself too far when you first start a new work out. Set smaller goals then work your way up. This means “Next week, I’ll add 5 lbs to my barbell,” or “I’ll just focus on making it two more minutes.” Increase your targets each time and your brain will adjust to the effort and send fewer negative signals.
Scott Leith is available to speak more about how to trick your brain into enjoying physical activity more.
Also, certified personal trainers in your region can demonstrate how to use mind tricks to push through some of the most common exercises we dread – burpees, cardio, box jumps, push-ups and more.