By this day and age, we’ve all pretty much figured out that exercising keeps you strong and healthy. Strength training and cardio are of equal importance because they target different needs in your body– strength training primarily focusing on helping your muscles carry you successfully through the world, and cardio focusing on maintaining a strong heart. Of course strength training can include a little cardio and vice versa, but generally, people separate the two types of exercise because they have different benefits.
I should probably focus more on strength training since that’s what really tones your muscles, but I also feel like it’s important for me to be comfortable running 3 miles at any given time. Plus, despite the fact that strength training certainly helps your body burn fat and technically makes you look the best, cardio is excellent for shaving off a quick 5 pounds. Which absolutely needs to happen in my life. Thus, I’ve been doing more cardio than any other type of workout recently.
Thing thing, though, is that cardio is really freaking boring.
Some of you are probably thinking, “Not my Soul Cycle class!” Yeah, well, that’s probably true. But honestly, I can’t afford Soul Cycle, plus I really don’t like group workouts. I’ve tried them many times, from boxing to zumba to barre, and no matter what, I can never get super into them. I push myself so much harder when it’s just me, myself, and I. I’m not really sure why that is, but that’s just how I personally operate. I can be competitive with myself and silently coach myself to go longer and harder, but I guess I get really prideful towards group teachers. I think, ” YOU DON’T KNOW ME. STOP TELLING ME WHAT TO DO.” Plus I get distracted by other people, which stops my mind from clearing the way I like it to during exercise.
I do listen to private trainers when I’ve had them. That’s fine. I’m not a total prideful jerk when it comes to coaches helping me, ok??? Just in group settings.
The other obvious suggestion that some of you may be thinking is, “Go outside!” Running on a path is so much more interesting than running on a machine, right? Well, yes and no. I’d say that it is, but I also don’t push myself as much outside as I do in a gym for some reason. The only time I think doing cardio outside is truly beneficial is during a race. I absolutely love running organized 5Ks or 5 milers, because the energy is so high and the course is already mapped out. People cheer for you, and you can feed off the excitement, but there’s no expectation to “keep up” with anyone like there is in a running club or a class. I don’t run them “with” other people side by side. I always say bye to my friends at the starting line, then find them at the end. The run is still “me time,” despite having the energy of a group and the distractions of outdoors.
But the point is to say that on a daily basis, being outside doesn’t really help me push through my cardio session any better than being in the gym. It may for some people– just like some people like classes– but not for this gal.
Since I can’t do classes, and being outside doesn’t significantly help, how else can I keep my solo cardio sessions interesting enough to do them at least four days a week without wanting to die? Well, here are my tactics! I hope they work for you, too.
1. Look cute
I probably need to do this one more than I do, but it’s so true that the cuter you look when you’re working out, the more enthusiastic you are while doing so. If I have on a little racer back tank with slimming black running tights, paired with my cute Nikes and a perfect pony tail, I am bound to be a happier camper on the elliptical. I can pretend I’m in a commercial or something, plus it helps remind me that the more I run, the better I’ll look in my cute little outfit, too. Shallow? COMPLETELY. Effective? You bet.
2. Don’t look at the timer
If you’re running for 30 minutes, don’t let yourself look at the timer on your watch or on the machine. That’s like watching water boil. Instead, focus your eyes at least 10 feet in front of you and convince your mind to experience Zone.
3. Listen to a podcast
Pump-you-up gym music is great for strength training, and occasionally hits the spot during a cardio session when I’ve had a really bad day or need to take out some sort of emotion through exercise. But generally, I still get really bored and impatient when I’m listening to music for 30 minutes. It’s hard to ignore how much I want to just quit and go eat pizza on the couch when the only distraction I have is some tunes. Through years of talking over music at restaurants and in my car, I am perfectly capable of thinking while listening to music. Sometimes thinking during cardio is AWESOME. But most of the time, all I can think about is how badly I want to stop.
Podcasts don’t allow your brain to think about anything. It focuses your mind on listening to the words you’re hearing. It’s nearly impossible to let your thoughts wander to pizza at the same time you’re paying attention to a person talking. And if you let your brain trail off, you have to rewind to find out what you missed, which is a huge pain. Therefore, it’s just better to keep paying attention– especially when that’s made easy by an awesome podcast. I mentioned this last week, but my three go-tos are How to Adult (when I want to laugh), Brain Candy (when I want to learn something interesting), or Invisibilia (when I want to expand my horizons and be intellectually challenged). I cannot begin to explain how much faster my workouts go when I’m actively trying to hold in laughter so people at the gym don’t look at my like I’m crazy, or enthralled by a story of a man whose whole life changed simply by wearing sunglasses 24/7.
4. Switch up the intensity
This is a pretty well known trick, but it’s worth mentioning, nonetheless. Not only does going from a Level 7 for 10 minutes to a Level 12 for 1 minute, then a Level 6 for 2 minutes, etc. shock your body into burning more calories, but it gives you miniature goals throughout the workout to keep your brain from being overwhelmed by the amount of time you still have left in the overall session. I don’t even switch things up that drastically. I tend to do 5-10 minute intervals of only 1-2 increment differences in resistance or incline, but that’s enough to push myself to reach the little goals and keep things interesting.
5. Keep a water bottle with you
You certainly don’t want to gulp down too much water in the middle of running or rowing or cycling or stepping, but I’ve found that taking a little sip here and there somehow revitalizes me to keep pushing ahead.
6. Remind yourself why you’re doing this
If you can’t stay focused on the podcast, at least use your brain to remind you why you’re doing this in the first place. For me, I vowed to my husband to always take care of my body so that I could take care of him and our family well. This doesn’t mean “looking hot,” but means keeping my heart strong, and my body capable of all the things we want to do together– travel, ride bikes to lunch, have children, etc. But looking hot isn’t so bad either. I like imagining myself wearing pretty clothes and feeling super attractive. Those things aren’t that important in the grand scheme of things, but I still find them motivating. So when I feel like quitting, I make a point to really think about the reason I’m there.
7. Never workout hungry
Cardio is always a million times more painful when my body isn’t properly nourished. Duh. Make sure you have a little something in your system about 30-60 minutes before starting. Nothing big, of course, but maybe half a protein bar, a banana, or a piece of bread with peanut butter. My brother and sister-in-law actually introduced me to the single piece of bread with peanut butter as an early morning energizing breakfast before we did the LGBT 5 Miler through Central Park two summers ago, and it changed my life. It’s the perfect mix of heavy and light to get your body properly fueled for a decent run.
Well, you sexy beasts, good luck during your next cardio session! Some of these tips might be things you’ve heard before, and some might be new ideas you want to try. Either way, I hope they’re helpful and that you can hate life a little less next time sweat is dripping down your butt!