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When people view exercises as a chore or as overly mentally taxing they’re likely to seek pleasure somewhere else. This compensation is often with food – specifically with things that are indulgent such as sugary drinks, candy or dessert. Since you can put far more calories per hour into your body with indulgent food than you can take out with any kind of exercise, boring exercise can easily lead to weight gain over time. (Here’s a great, accessible summary of three studies.)
5 Ways To Make Workouts More Engaging
1. Save TV for home: if what you are doing is so boring or unpleasant that you feel the need to watch TV to make the time pass (or make it bearable), than reinvest that time elsewhere. The more you zone out or feel the need to zone out the more that exercise is likely to push you to compensate with ice cream, candy or something else.
2. Focus on self-limiting exercise: self-limiting exercises are exercises like goblet squats and farmer’s walks. These are exercises that have a built in abort when your form starts to go. When the goblet squat if you get far enough out of position you will simply set the weight down and not complete the rep. Farmer’s walks are the same – when your posture starts to suffer you only have a few steps left before you have to put the weights down. These exercises keep you engaged and give you a sense of purpose from moment to moment.
3. Decide to have fun: in the research the “boring” group and the “fun” did the exactly the same workout in the same location and conditions (not even music was provided), and the “boring” group still ate almost 100% more M&M’s than the group who were told that they were doing something fun. The only difference between the groups was how the workout was framed – the researchers told one group was told this would be a fun activity, and the other group was told this was just exercise.
It’s unrealistic to expect to be an unwitting participant in a study on fun exercise, but you can always frame your own life. There is a big difference between telling yourself “oh, I have to go workout” vs. “oh, I get to go workout.” One of the ways to make this more actionable is to simply list 3 things that you like or enjoy about working out.
4. Outsource your programming: people are often surprised to learn that I do not do my own programming. I do what my Director of Training tells me to do because (a) if left in charge of myself I will mostly just do the things I’m good at and neglect what I really need to do, and (b) I do not want another thing to think about. Making decisions and evaluation is one of the most mentally taxing things you can do, and a tired brain is a brain with little to no will power and one that is prone to seek indulgence.
5. Improve your form and get feedback: working to get better at movement (especially with feedback) automatically makes exercise engaged because it gives you a goal in the moment that you can focus on. Having little things like pushing your knees our on a squat, or getting tighter at the top of a kettlebell swing direct your focus on ways you can feel in the moment.