Get motivated to exercise with mental fitness

Jan 19, 2011 at 3:50 p.m. ET

Are you mentally fit? No matter how many weights you lift or miles you log on the treadmill, your workout may still suffer if your mind is not in it. Here are some ways to keep up your mental toughness so you can cruise through any workout with ease.

Smiling woman in workout attire holding a towel.

Happy new you

Exercise just isn't exercise without a little bit of agony and hard work – otherwise, it wouldn't be called a "work" out. But these discomforts can also stir up a truckload of negative energy that may foil your attempts at fitness, says Bobby McGee, a sports psychologist and running coach to winning Olympians and author of Magical Running.

To stay mentally tough, try a little optimism. "The right mind frame can get you through many rough patches during exercise," McGee says. Here are his tips on getting past those tough times while staying mentally and physically strong during your next big workout.


Scenario: You are three-quarters of the way through your toughest spin class yet. Puddles of sweat have pooled beneath your bike and your muscles are burning from head to toe. Above the thudding music, the way too peppy instructor yells, "Just three more big hills! You can do this!" Meanwhile, your inner voice is shrieking, "No I can't!"

Get Tough Trick: When you hit points of despair during a workout, try your best to avoid a doomsday mindset. "Let's say you know there's a huge hill coming up, and you're really tired," says McGee. "If you tell yourself, 'I suck at hills,' or 'I can't do this," you're basically informing your body that you doubt its ability. But if you say, 'I am handling this hill,' you'll have the mental toughness to tackle it and finish the workout strong."

Additionally, McGee suggests editing your internal dialogue to reflect a positive, present mindset. He says, "Simply telling yourself, 'You are doing this' as opposed to 'You can do this' is a much more effective approach."


Scenario: You are trying to get your three miles on the treadmill over with, but nothing feels right. You can't catch your breath, you're too hot, and your tired legs just aren't cooperating. You are so out of sorts that you are ready to call it quits, even though you haven't even hit the halfway point.

When you hit points of despair during a workout, try your best to avoid a doomsday mindset.
Simply telling yourself, "You are doing this," as opposed to, "You can do this" is a much more effective approach.

Get Tough Trick: When you are literally hot and bothered, focus intently on your ailments as opposed to trying to tune out the problem. "If your legs are aching or you're having trouble breathing, think about that specifically. Instead of panicking, slow down and catch your breath, or simply ask the pain to go away," says McGee. He adds, "Your body will respond. Ignoring problems and trying to fight your way past them will only make things worse."

However, if you are experiencing true pain, stop immediately and assess the situation with a personal trainer or physician to determine if you have an exercise related injury or another physical malady.


Scenario: You are slated to run your first 10K race in a few days. Physically, you are prepped, but mentally, you are freaking out. What if you just can't make all 6.2 miles? What if you get a cramp? Instead of looking forward to the race, you are now dreading it.

Get Tough Trick: Silence that doubt by taking a few minutes each day leading up to the race by visualizing yourself triumphing over the 10K. "Close your eyes and watch yourself going through the course, feeling good from start to finish, and crossing that finish line with a big smile on your face," says McGee.

And for added motivation, come up with a short dialogue of what you will say to friends or family once the race is over – your victory speech, so to speak. "Envisioning yourself beaming with pride and saying something like, 'I did it!' as you run into the arms of your loved ones can give you the extra excitement and motivation you need to get to that finish line," says McGee.

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