Give it all you got.
September 11, 2012 6:25 AM   Subscribe

Tips on focusing during workouts, and how to push myself through the hard parts?

I found that I am easily discouraged when I'm working out - whether I'm running, lifting heavy weights or racing my bike - I'm easily discouraged. I get lapped when racing bikes, I am not a fast runner, and I don't always get the perfect squat/deadlift. And that's ok - I'm slowly improving. But I am so hard on myself whenever this happens and it gets me in a bad head-space and then I give up. I don't push myself enough.

For example, when I race my bike (or when I'm running), and it starts to hurt and I slow down, I slow down even more (or stop when I'm running) because I tell myself that I won't be able to keep up anyways. I just don't think that this is a good attitude. With lifting I just start to worry and I can no longer focus, which consequently hinders my lifting form, and my lifts suffer.

What are some tricks you have used to get yourself into the zone? And what does that mean anyways? I think I *can* continue to run, so how do I make sure that I do, instead of stopping the second it starts to get hard? I never really did sports growing up so never really learned how to focus and push myself. My trainers are constantly telling me to focus or to push harder, but I'm not sure how to get myself into that mindset. When I'm coming to the end of the workout and I have to push that 100lb sled 5 more meters, how do I make sure I'm "giving it all I got"?
posted by carmel to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
that I won't be able to keep up anyways.

Keep up with who?

Unless you're in a race and looking for a spot on the podium, it doesn't really matter who you 'keep up with.' Their run is not your run. The only person you need to best is your previous effort.

With lifting I just start to worry

What are you worried about?

how do I make sure I'm "giving it all I got"?

Make sure that you are stopping because you are actually physically unable to continue, not because you've chosen to.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:30 AM on September 11, 2012

In terms of specific tricks, the Bruce Lee "Then die" story has helped me overcome many an urge to just take it easy today and walk the rest of the route.
posted by No-sword at 6:33 AM on September 11, 2012 [5 favorites]

I'll stick to the cycling part, as that is something I know a bit about from years of racing competitively. Are you in actual races or are you referring to generally riding fast when you talk about racing your bike? Is this road, mountain biking or something else?

With endurance sports like cycling the biggest indicator of success is what is called you functional threshold power (FTP). This is the rate you can sustain for about an hour. Go much over and you blow up and finish slower. Go much slower and you have something left in the tank, but you are, well slower. The current science says that you will gain the most by spending considerable time in the 90-95% range of FTP. This adapts your body really well to riding faster.

Now, how do you mentally do this? I spend the winter months on an indoor trainer doing 20 minute sets (usually 2 in an evening) of sub-FTP efforts. Toward the end you are begging for mercy, but the key is to realize that the gain comes in this hurt box. I imagine my fellow cycling buddies (or competitors) sitting on a couch taking it easy. I envision some 150lb dog nipping at my heals or some mountain summit just in view ahead.

That works if a competitive streak is your thing. Psychologically most people fall into two camps for motivating through something hard:

1) Focus on something else. Distract yourself with music, video or in some capacity put your mind somewhere else.

2) Focus intently on the pain of the task. Get into it. Make it your ally and revel in the here-and-now of suffering and make that interval your bitch. Cuss at it and when finished triumphantly stand on its neck.

I'm in the second camp (obviously I suppose) but find which describes you and experiment with ways to feed your motivation.
posted by dgran at 6:37 AM on September 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think I *can* continue to run, so how do I make sure that I do,

First: just put one foot in front of the other. If you keep doing that (and you said you can), then you will finish.

And no one -- NO ONE -- at the end of a workout said, "gee, I sure regret doing that."

And look -- don't worry about the genetic mutants passing you by at a 5-minute-mile pace. You're not competing with them. They are who they are. You job is to concentrate on your own goals.
posted by deanc at 6:43 AM on September 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

Your brain will give up before your body does. Sometimes you just need to ignore your brain. Of course if you're feeling light headed, or gasping for breath you'll want to slow down or stop. Sometimes it's good to say "Okay, I'll just run to the next stop sign, and I can stop there if I need to"... and then keep giving yourself small goals like that to get through.

Don't be afraid of doing long slow runs - these will help you build speed in the end. No one else who is running that day knows if you're just starting your run, or on the last leg of a 30km run, so why worry what they think?
posted by backwards guitar at 6:46 AM on September 11, 2012

In college I took a recreational fencing class, taught by the school's long time, quite successful fencing coach.

On the first day, after explaining the equipment we needed, and some safety considerations, she straightened into the Coach's Motivational Pose and asked us to think ahead to the day after the last day of class.

Would we look back on the previous 16 weeks and find efforts to be proud of?

Or would we look back on the previous 16 weeks and find excuses for our lack of success?

That's worked pretty well for me ever since.

As for the day-to-day, in the workout motivation, two things get me through on days I'm not into it and want to give up on reps or whatever:

1) Stop thinking about ALL THE REPS; think about this one rep.

2) When thinking about this one rep, think about achieving good form.

Good luck. Keep at it.
posted by notyou at 6:48 AM on September 11, 2012 [6 favorites]

my boxing coach says, "just when you think you need to stop -- DON'T."

it's so simple, but it works for me every time. her other greatest hit in my mind is, "be willing to be that tired, and you'll win."
posted by crawfo at 7:20 AM on September 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

I don't know- motivating yourself to go further is fine, but there is a such thing as overdoing it. Was just reading an article by a woman who had to get invasive surgery because she screwed up her back from running too much.

Not saying you are doing too much- but there is a such thing as needing to listen to your body sometimes, and not push yourself past a point where it could be dangerous.

Are you working towards a certain goal or competition? If not, i think it's great that you get regular exercise but don't see why you speciufically need to keep pushing yourself.
posted by bearette at 7:29 AM on September 11, 2012

Response by poster: dgran - This specifically is for cyclocross, although I eventually plan on trying out track and doing road criteriums.

To everyone else - this is not a matter of me hurting myself because I'm pushing too hard, it's a matter of knowing how to push myself so I can make progress and not give up. Example: I want to go for a 3 mile run, which I can physically do, but I start breathing heavily and just give up in the middle. Or, I have a race to attend, and everyone is much faster than me, so I give up and just go slow, because in my head it doesn't matter anymore.
posted by carmel at 7:36 AM on September 11, 2012

My mantra is "Pick one: excuses or results." That usually guilts me into finishing while giving it my all. Why bother being out there sweating if you're not going to get all you can out of that misery?
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:36 AM on September 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

Cyclocross specifically has a lot of peak efforts that put you over lactate threshold. Shorter intervals over FTP (3 min or less) are the key to adapting to that type of event, but only if you have built up a decent plateau of 20 minute sub-FTP training.

Not to be a downer, but the odds of regrouping after getting dropped in a race and making an impact in the finish are very slim. Racing is good training, but it sounds like you need to integrate some interval work and adequate recovery into your mid-week regimen.
posted by dgran at 7:43 AM on September 11, 2012

I wind up chanting "No pain!" at myself like in Rocky IV.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:14 AM on September 11, 2012

When it comes to running, I get that despairing feeling sometimes when I think about how much distance I have in front of me. So I trick my brain into shortening that distance. I'll look at the nearest telephone pole, and focus on running to that. Then to the next parking meter. Then to the nearest parked car. The markers may only be ten feet away but five minutes of approaching the run that way usually digs me out of the hole.

I guess it's like the one-rep-at-a-time train of thought while lifting -- do anything you can to stop thinking about how much of the workout/race you have left.
posted by ann_disaster at 8:14 AM on September 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

: I want to go for a 3 mile run, which I can physically do, but I start breathing heavily and just give up in the middle.

Well, what's going to change if you take another step? And then what's going to change if you take another step after that, and so on? If you are generally becoming too winded to go on, try to run at a pace where, if necessary, you could still talk if you needed to. That's a good rule for keeping a pace that can be maintained over the long term.
posted by deanc at 8:26 AM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Whether it's running or biking, I prefer training by going to a destination and back (instead of in a circle over and over) because you can't just give up - you have to get home somehow. And the faster your pace, the faster you'll get back. I know this is not the nature of cyclocross, though!

Also, can you find someone who is more your speed, maybe just a slight bit faster than you? I know exactly what you mean - I completely feel like giving up when I'm trying to keep up with someone who is much faster than me, and they start slipping away. I can't explain it rationally, but it instantly makes me want to give up! That's why I prefer either training alone (and measuring my time for goal-setting) or training with someone who is just slightly faster than me, which helps push my limits a bit. Also, while I am biking / running with another person I remind myself of this annoying psychological tic and how important it is for me to keep up with them.

For distraction, I either like music with a steady pace (there are free podcasts out there that maintain a specific BPM for training) or talk podcasts that are truly interesting - though the latter don't usually get me going quickly, but help distract me through a long run.
posted by beyond_pink at 8:48 AM on September 11, 2012

My husband participates in cyclocross races. I don't say "competes" because he knows that he is not on the level of most of the athletes he races with. The bike company who sponsors him knows this too. He races because it's fun, and because he loves being on his bike. If you can somehow get yourself into that mindset, instead of getting discouraged by not winning, it may become a lot more fun for you.
posted by bedhead at 8:51 AM on September 11, 2012

I have a couple things that I say to myself to keep motivated. I remember that Im'm 'running my own race" I'm competing against myself. This can be very motivating if I'm tracking progress. So with weights, I write down how many reps and weight I did and try to improve over time.

When flagging in cardio, I sing the chorus of "Hold your head up". And when I'm about to give up, just try to do 5 more seconds/steps, then once I did 5 more seconds, I challenge myself to do 5 more. Sometimes the tiredness moves off and I can complete the run!
posted by Gor-ella at 9:31 AM on September 11, 2012

You didn't clarify, so I'm going to guess with the weightlifting: you're worried about failing. Dropping the bar, dropping the weights, losing control when pushing yourself near your limits. One good way to overcome this is: practicing failure.

What happens when you can't get out of a squat? Try it. Load the bar, squat, and dump forward into the rack. Try the 'roll of shame' with an unloaded bench press. Practice dropping a deadlift. Learn what failure feels like, so you can still control the weights on the way down, and stay safe.

And if you're squatting without safety bars, you're much braver than I.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:42 AM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Role playing.

Seriously, the idea of hurting yourself for seemingly no reason (or for an abstract, far off reason) seems so absurd to me that I need to get into the spirit of it via an equally absurd (but works for me and my overactive imagination and improv background) game of pretend. Running without a destination is boring but running away from a herd of dinosaurs is exciting! Your music choice will help here too but I only got through my first month of serious gym-ing by pretending I was training for a specific, totally fictional event and allowing that level of quasi-delusional thinking push me along.
posted by The Whelk at 12:42 PM on September 11, 2012

Couple of suggestions.

Running and cycling:

- If i'm in pain (difficult effort) and thinking about quitting or slowing down or other negative thoughts, I'll start counting breaths to get myself back into the "now".

- I wear a heart rate monitor for both training and racing. I have a good (quantitative) idea of what kind of effort I can sustain. If I am dropping below the heart rate I know I can maintain, that is a wake up call to pick up the pace. It also gives me some feedback to determine if I am tired/overtrained on that day.


- I've never raced cyclocross, but have done quite a bit of mountain bike and road racing. A big part of racing is not getting shelled off when the going gets tough (someone at the front picks up the pace, a steep climb, a prime in a criterium, that sort of thing). The way to make sure that doesn't happen is to do short, hard intervals in your training rides.


- This is a different thing -- the effort is going to be like 1 to 5 seconds -- so the main thing is going to be to clear your mind before the lift and focus on making just that lift or rep. I don't listen to music when I run or ride, but lifting is one time when a good soundtrack can help me get "in the mood" to make the lift.


- The more you run fast, bike hard, lift heavy, the more comfortable you'll get being in those zones. If you're spending one day every week on a track running 400m repeats, then there isn't much to fear from running race pace in a 5K or 10K -- you will have a deep understanding of just how much pain you can suffer.

- My last resort trick is to imagine that, for whatever I'm doing (running, cycling, lifting), this is the last day of my life I'll be doing it. I think in terms of this: if I never can run again, how do I want to remember this last day of running?
posted by kovacs at 7:58 PM on September 11, 2012

I think the anxieties that come with working out, whether it be from cycling, weights, or running, tend to go away after repeating over and over again. I do all three of these sports to stay fit, and, it aint easy. Sometimes just doin acouple extra reps in a set, or a 100 yds. more, or one more friggin block! Makes you feel better, even if slow or not in your best form, the effort adds up, and your mind will increase those little mental/ physical challlenges as you accomplish them because meanwhile your developing physically. Make it all about you and not those around you. Some days you just dont feel like it, thats ok too, because theres another day you will perform better than you expect. Diet helps a lot, and water!
posted by SteelDancin at 10:08 PM on November 30, 2012

« Older i before e, except after c.. and also v?   |   Identify a sci-fi book? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.