Bored at the gym: how to keep my head in the game?
September 19, 2011 7:37 PM   Subscribe

I want to go to the gym, but the gym is so boring. Reading books/listening to music/watching TV during compatible exercises (i.e. no books with free weights) doesn't seem to help. How can I keep myself stimulated so that I can get through more than 30 minutes of working out?

FYI: I have ADHD. I suspect that's part of why I find this so difficult. Also, for at least this month, I really want to learn how to exercise in a gym in a meaningful and useful way. I can do other kinds of non-gym exercise later.
posted by ocherdraco to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (30 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Can you find someone to go with you? Having a partner to talk to can help a lot. It also creates some external accountability in that there will be someone to notice if you don't show up.
posted by ambrosia at 7:42 PM on September 19, 2011

What always helped me was working out when I knew someone (or multiple people) hot who I had a crush on would be there. Then you also work out harder to in order to be impressive (see also: jogging super fast past the guy's soccer team full of hot men, and then needing to slow down to half the speed after turning the corner).
posted by Ashley801 at 7:42 PM on September 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Do you have an iPod that you can strap to your arm/clip to your shorts/whatever? Throw some podcasts on there and you'll be good to go. Check out the podcast tag in AskMe for tons of good recommendations.

Good podcasts have made boring tasks so much more appealing to me recently.
posted by auto-correct at 7:58 PM on September 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

If you can read or watch TV while working out then you're not working out hard enough. Doing shorter more intensive exercises might suit you better. If you really push yourself then 30 minutes is plenty and you'll be too tired to be bored. The best workout I ever did was the 'Dirty Dozen' in which you do a set of simple exercises like push ups or burpees or dumb bells or whatever you have then run around the gym - 12 times. You can do this outside too with very little equipment.
posted by joannemullen at 7:59 PM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Box. It's in the gym, it will get you fit, and you can't be bored.
posted by ellF at 8:03 PM on September 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Well, what's your reward orientation? Would you be excited if you saw your weight lifted/reps going up or your weight going down? Like would tracking it over time on a daily basis with a little notebook keep you motivated, then keeping a digital record at home? Or maybe you need to find an activity more suited to your attention span and exercise goals (something like swimming or basketball?) that'd be more engrossing than churning away on the treadmill or just lifting weights? Maybe engage a personal trainer to come up with activities more exciting than whatever it is you're doing? Or you could do one of those workout systems where they do a different thing every day like Crossfit or even your own version with a Deck of Cards workout?

Or maybe you need to up the intensity so much you have to focus on not dying of exhaustion rather than letting your mind wander?
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:10 PM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Audio books work pretty well for me. The more interesting (non-fiction) or intellectual (fiction) the better. Gym activity doesn't take a lot of mental work and getting wrapped in a good book will make the time fly. I'll often stay working out longer just to hear more of the book.
posted by zemaj at 8:27 PM on September 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

What is boring you: weights, cardio or both?

You might be bored with weights because of of the wait between sets, especially if the gym is crowded and you have to wait longer for your turn. Can you try supersets, where a set of a bench or machine exercises is immediately followed with a body weight or dumb bells exercise that would work opposing muscles? This won't give you time to be bored, because you'll always be changing it up. Talk to an experienced friend or a trainer about this.

If steady state cardio in the gym bores you, I think that's pretty normal. Try intervals, where your whole workout only lasts about 10-20 minutes.

If you think you need steady state as well, strap on the iPod and walk hard around the park while listening to something riveting.

Why are you trying to focus on gym workouts right now? What is this giving you that other exercise doesn't?
posted by maudlin at 8:30 PM on September 19, 2011

I get bored when im not exercising hard enough. Mixing up the intensity helped a lot. Also, i find weights less boring than cardio, although i have enjoyed some classes.

It might sound counterintuitive, but swimming is great for this. No music, no books, no podcasts, no tv. Just mix up your strokes and let your mind roam.
posted by thinkingwoman at 8:31 PM on September 19, 2011

The easiest way for me not to be bored at the gym (other than loud music in my ears) is to take a class. Spinning, kick boxing, zumba, yoga, circuit training etc.
posted by nasayre at 8:32 PM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I had an extremely short attention span (not ADHD though) and learning several styles of yoga has helped me a lot. Doing it in class together with other students and an instructor forced me to concentrate. I can now practice at home alone and am amazed at how well I can focus (95% of the time).

This learned concentration has been applicable to other areas of my life as well (work, reading, conversations, etc).
posted by ameca at 8:41 PM on September 19, 2011

Dude, if you're getting that bored in the gym then you are not working out hard enough.
posted by schroedinger at 9:00 PM on September 19, 2011

When I was doing cardio, I did interval training. When you have to change the pace or incline every 1-2 minutes, the time goes by damn quick, especially because working as hard as you possibly can for 2 of those minutes. My basic routine started out as 2 minutes slow, then 1 minute as fast as I could, and I would just alternate that for 25-30 minutes. As I got more in shape, I swapped the two, so that it was 1 minute slow, 2 minutes fast, but if you look at this idea of switching things up frequently throughout your workout, there are countless combinations you can do.

As a bonus, I think this is actually a technique high-intensity interval training, which is supposed to be a great way of improving fitness. The fact that you have clear progress ("Wow, today I can do 2 minutes on instead of 1, yeah!") also makes the whole thing more fun, IMO.

For weight lifting, I always find that having a clear routine that I stuck to made it pretty easy to not get bored, because you just constantly had another thing to do.

I think the key in both cases is to challenge yourself as much as you can safely.
posted by !Jim at 9:02 PM on September 19, 2011

Have you tried Cross Fit? It's intense workouts that usually last less than 30 minutes. You rarely do the same thing from week to week.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:04 PM on September 19, 2011 [4 favorites]

Just to echo the above, I have never been bored during a Crossfit workout. I have been tired, excited, giggly and silly, nauseated, exhausted, and thinking about how awesome I am, but never bored.
posted by so_gracefully at 9:41 PM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ideally, exercise should feel rewarding. If you're getting bored, perhaps you are not enjoying it Working the hamster wheels in a gym drives me batty. Perhaps you might enjoy cycling or running or other outdoor workout? Maybe a sport like basketball, handball or such?
posted by 2N2222 at 10:32 PM on September 19, 2011

My boyfriend tells me that us having sex regularly makes his workouts that much more rewarding and satisfying. YMMV. ;)
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 11:25 PM on September 19, 2011

See if there are classes you can take at your gym (tai bo, dancing, whatever you like). Taking a Zumba class has made working out very enjoyable for me.
posted by bearette at 12:06 AM on September 20, 2011

I try to take 1-2 classes per week in addition to whatever other gym activities I do. One has to be an asskicker, too. Like, intensive cardio with weights.* That was I'm not always directing my activities and I'm too focused on getting through the class to be bored. I know it sounds weird, because if you told me a couple years ago that I would pay for the privilege of taking classes like the ones I hated in Middle School PE, I would have laughed in your face. But here we are.

*Also, if it's really rough the first time you try it PLEASE stick with it anyway! The first week I did this, I had to leave for the last 10 minuted because I thought I was going to puke. I went back the next week and I've been going for about 4 months now and I really enjoy it and can see how far I've come and how much I've pushed myself.
posted by piratebowling at 4:35 AM on September 20, 2011

Funny podcasts are the way to go. I've actually stayed longer at the gym than necessary to keep listening to Jordan, Jesse Go! or My Brother, My Brother, and Me.
posted by something something at 5:05 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Nthing Crossfit.

They really have a good formula going - intense workouts in a group, continuously varied to keep them from becoming routine or boring, with coaches and other crossfitters constantly making rounds and encouraging everyone during the workout. My local crossfit really makes an emphasis on community - everyone is expected to know each other's names and greet each other.

You will likely work out harder than you ever have before, but will also enjoy it more, see results faster and make some new friends.

You *definitely* will not be bored.
posted by de void at 6:40 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I agree with joannemullen--you can solve this problem AND get a more efficient workout--kill two birds with one stone!--doing something intense enough you can't be distracted that is faster. Like HIIT or as you already mentioned heavy weights with good complicated form.
posted by ifjuly at 6:53 AM on September 20, 2011

The mention of CrossFit reminds me--I don't have firsthand experience, but a ton of my friends are addicted to 5am boot camp outdoors routines--they like e guy running it, how they don't have to think because he just tells them what to do, and how every day it's different and no one activity lasts too long.
posted by ifjuly at 6:55 AM on September 20, 2011

Yes, nthing comedy podcasts. There's this whole world of fluffyish comedy podcasts out there that would feel like a total waste of time to me if I were listening to them at any time other than when exercising. The AV Club does a roundup every week that might give you a sense of the landscape. I'm kind of partial to Mike and Tom Eat Snacks recently - total nonsense, but amusing.
posted by yarrow at 7:27 AM on September 20, 2011

Maybe keeping it short would be a good option?--No time to get bored and you can bribe yourself with the thought that it'll be over before you know it. You could try aiming for sessions of 20 to 25 minutes, alternating between cardio and strength training on different days, i.e. one workout would be cardio (15-20 minutes at full speed + some warm-up before and warm-down after); the next workout would be sets of weight training on machines and with dumbells, taking a couple of minutes per set, and taking breaks of a couple of minutes between sets.
posted by Paquda at 9:31 AM on September 20, 2011

FWIW I got really bored of jogging, as far as I can tell, because I was listening to music and podcasts on an iPod, and running outdoors with no iPod is now way more enjoyable. I think in my case the whole process of "deciding what to listen to in order to relieve the boredom" somehow siganlled to my brain that the activity itself was boring. But running in a park is sensory overload, not boring at all. I realise you're talking about the gym though.
posted by oliverburkeman at 9:58 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I want to go to the gym, but the gym is so boring.

Have you tried NOT going to the gym then? There's swimming and cycling too!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:29 AM on September 20, 2011

Go outside. Sounds snarky, but it isn't. I much prefer being outside to being in the gym.
posted by cnc at 11:11 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, for at least this month, I really want to learn how to exercise in a gym in a meaningful and useful way. I can do other kinds of non-gym exercise later.

Why do you want to learn how to exercise in a gym? Some people click with the gym environment, some don't. I've never much enjoyed gyms and wasted money over the years before I figured out that it didn't matter how much I paid (or how great a deal I got and hence wasn't paying much) or how hard I pushed myself, I just wasn't going to go to the gym. I tried repeatedly and it didn't happen.

Now I've figured out that what works for me is to find the things I like to do that don't involve a gym (running, riding my bike, climbing trees, swinging kettlebells, the Convict Conditioning progressive calisthenics program) and incorporate them in my everyday life. I find that since I don't have to try to push myself over the huge hurdle of not wanting to go to the gym, I'm actually exercising.
posted by Lexica at 11:25 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am pretty much textbook ADHD and I usually either listen to podcasts(things like BBC newshour or Fresh Air - I make sure the topic will be very interesting to me) or something pop/catchy if I'm listening to music. I am sort of odd in that if there are 1 or 2 songs I am really into at the time, I will just repeat those songs for the duration of my workout.

I actually like weight training so when I go to the gym I usually do 10-20 minutes of cardio to warm-up - that part doesn't get less boring - then I stretch and do weights. I get bored with a lot of the classes that are offered at most gyms unless I am doing them with a friend.

I have found that bikram yoga is awesome. Classes are 90 minutes long but it does not seem like 90 minutes and most people seem to agree that the time just flows. Normal yoga classes are pretty boring to me; I really think it is the temp/humidity in bikram that helps me both focus on that and clear my mind at the same time. Be careful though - I no longer do bikram because I overdid it and tore muscle(s).

After typing all of this out, I think the important thing is to find something that is challenging and rewarding. Bikram did that for me because first I think it is impossible to get bored during the class(don't care how good of shape you're in, it will kick your ass), and I felt so great afterwards that 90 minutes in hell seems worth it.
posted by fromageball at 9:04 PM on September 30, 2011

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