What can I do to not get bored while exercising?
November 10, 2007 2:56 PM   Subscribe

What can I do to cure my boredom while exercising?

I generally prefer to bike or run outside for exercise, but here in Colorado when it's 15 degrees and snowing outside, it's not exactly a good time to burn calories outdoors.

This usually forces me to go inside and use something like an elliptical machine or treadmill.

The problem is that I just get bored out of my mind. I've got an iPod loaded with music, but I just can't seem to get my mind off of how absurdly bored I get.

I realize I'm a bit limited on "activities" with this, but what are some ways I can pass the time? I usually try to workout for 30-45 minutes.
posted by JPigford to Health & Fitness (36 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
When I have a gym membership, I try to mae sure it's at a gym with TVs on the machines. This is seriously the only way I can keep myself on a stationary exercise machine for 30-45 minutes a few times a week! Works even better if you have cable at the gym but not at home, to force you to go if there's a show you want to watch. Seriously, the workout flies by.
posted by lunasol at 2:59 PM on November 10, 2007

I'm the same way, I get so bored. I don't even have an mp3 player, and I find that if I'm reading anything while I work out it compromises the intensity of my workout - I slow down to be able to better focus on reading. So I basically just use this time to think and daydream, try to work through my various life goals and frustrations, or just zone out completely. Some really great ideas have come to me while I've been working out. I also realized that it is probably the only time other than when I'm sleeping where I don't feel like I have to be doing something else. Which is kind of nice.
posted by SassHat at 3:00 PM on November 10, 2007

Listen to the MetaFilter podcast.
posted by danb at 3:02 PM on November 10, 2007

I listen to podcasts and read.
posted by sugarfish at 3:03 PM on November 10, 2007

Er, not at the same time. When I read I listen to music.
posted by sugarfish at 3:03 PM on November 10, 2007

I watch movies and episodic shows while riding an exercise bike. I set up a laptop next to the bike, so that I can watch DVDs or online stuff. I use Netflix, iTunes and other services to get the video. I own a stationary bike, but if I was forced to work out in a gym, I'd get some small device on which I could watch videos. There are dozens of such devices nowadays.

I really like episodic shows for this, e.g. "Lost", "The Sopranos" or "24." And my rules is that I can ONLY watch them while working out. Sometimes, I get so addicted to the show, I want to work out just to see what happens next.
posted by grumblebee at 3:10 PM on November 10, 2007 [2 favorites]

Podcasts. My favorites, especially for exercise-time, are This American Life and Studio 360, both from NPR. They are long enough that I don't need to be fiddling with my ipod during a workout, and interesting enough to make time go by faster.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 3:19 PM on November 10, 2007

Why not exercise outside? 15F isn't that cold and snow gives you more options. You can still run, you can cross-country ski, you can snowshoe, you can skate, and so on.
posted by ssg at 3:27 PM on November 10, 2007

Pretend to be in a race or a competition of some sort. Really get into it, with goals, imaginary opponents and cheering crowds and the whole works. It's fun, and it really kills the time and entertains your mind. I do it all the time, mostly because I'm a huge dork. Just this morning I kicked Lance Armstrong's sorry ass on the stationary bike at the YMCA, and tomorrow on the treadmill I'll probably win the Olympic gold medal in the marathon. It's good to be me.
posted by iconomy at 3:35 PM on November 10, 2007 [2 favorites]

I get really bored exercising inside as well. I try to read fluff magazines and watch television. Actually, today I watch the Wisconsin-Michigan football game while running on the treadmill, and it was one of the best ways to exercise (I am a Badger fan). Watching sports while running is great.
posted by msali at 3:38 PM on November 10, 2007

@SSG: I have no desire to freeze my lungs, I have to drive 2 hours to go ski or really snowshoe, and the closest ice skating rink would be like 30 minutes. I'm looking for things to do on a _regular_ basis. :)
posted by JPigford at 3:50 PM on November 10, 2007

if an ipod video is anywhere nearby, grab it. TV episodes run to about 42-55 minutes sans ads. kinda perfect. even better if you have an iphone, but from experience: turn on airplane mode so none of your douchebag co-workers can call you.
posted by patricking at 3:53 PM on November 10, 2007

Try doing different exercises. I had the same problem, but my gym has a couple of good trainers that regularly supply a workout routine for the entire gym and change it up daily. They're big on doing short, intensive bursts that change daily so your mind and body don't get bored.

Here's some a few examples to give you an idea:
November 7
5 min cardio warm-up
Introduce Split Squats & Burpees
Then …
3 Rounds of
Db Swings

November 9
“Angry Angie”
Walk/Run 4 Laps
100 Squats
100 Push-ups (majority on the floor)
100 RDLs
100 Sit-ups
Walk/Run 4 Laps
This way we're being constantly challenged. It's gotta so that I don't even need an iPod anymore, because my mind is so busy concentrating on form and the routines.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:55 PM on November 10, 2007

My gym has TVs on every machine. I go and watch part of a hockey game or basketball game. Its the only way I cure my boredom and get out of feeling like I'm a mouse on a wheel.
posted by maxpower at 4:04 PM on November 10, 2007

Read or listen to a podcast or audiobook. Closing your eyes also helps when stuck on a bike/elliptical.
posted by fire&wings at 4:12 PM on November 10, 2007

Podcasts, definitely. My recommendations are This American Life (already mentioned) and Radio Lab. They make the time fly by because they're so consistently interesting, and each is about an hour long.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 4:22 PM on November 10, 2007

besides the aforementioned podcasts, I like to play games with the tv. If I am cycling thru channels I will sometimes force myself to figure out what the point of the current show/commerical/movie/etc is before I can flip to the next channel. That helps to engage the mind. Also interesting is to use the commercial breaks as a way to do interval training. You can increase your speed x MPHs for each commercial you see until the break is over when you can return to your normal pace. Lastly, if I am really into a football game, sometimes I will pick a team to run while their play offense and then power walk during the defense. It mixes it up.
posted by mmascolino at 4:26 PM on November 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

I like to mix in some intervals or speed-play; it breaks up the time for me, and lets me think, "Okay, just one minute more at level 7" so I don't have to think of the whole 30 or 45 minutes at once.

The other thing I do may be sort of counterproductive, because in the long term it's not so smart to think of exercise as just something to get it over with, but I like doing math in my head, just calculating what percentage or fraction of the workout I've completed so far. That gives me the illusion of progress and also gives me something to occupy my mind.

I also have a site called Imaginary Bike. This lets me track my progress against a real map -- I'm traveling from the northern tip of Japan's main island and going southward, and it's really motivating to see that I've gone 180 miles by now!
posted by Jeanne at 4:30 PM on November 10, 2007

When I'm in the pool and electronics are not an option, I review things I've memorized, or things I've half-memorized that I need to solidify. You have probably got a lot more things half-memorized than you suspect, so give it a shot. A sixty-line poem passes the yards a lot quicker than admiring the pool tile does.
posted by eritain at 4:33 PM on November 10, 2007

(Imaginary Bike, sorry)
posted by Jeanne at 4:45 PM on November 10, 2007 [2 favorites]

I have a recumbent style exercise bike and can play video games (console) perfectly fine while using it.
posted by Riemann at 4:59 PM on November 10, 2007

I do a fair bit of swimming and like eritain I tend to use the time for thought.

Nothing particularly meaningful, mind you. Just rehashing what I'll be doing in the next week or so, or what I've done. Trying to go faster than people in other lanes also helps, and I've made workouts up on the fly, so that every length or so I'm pondering what I'll be doing next.

Oh, and I've had a good hour go by trying to remember the lines to certain songs (Happy Happy Birthday by the Arrogant Worms in particular)

If you're on a treadmill or something that allows you to read, why not study or read an interesting book? Strengthen mind and body at the same time.
posted by Orange Pamplemousse at 5:10 PM on November 10, 2007

Like Brandon suggests, varying your routine off the elliptical and treadmill would help. A program like Crossfit would provide constant variance. Or do interval training--not only would it improve your speed an anaerobic capacity, but it's difficult to be bored when half of your workout is going so hard you think you'l die and the other half is attempting to keep moving until you get to the next period of going so hard you think you'll die.
posted by schroedinger at 5:20 PM on November 10, 2007

I have listened to npr podcasts like 'sound opinions' or 'left right and center' while running on treadmills in the past. it's a bit weird at first but ended up working for me.
posted by krautland at 5:40 PM on November 10, 2007

Another vote for reading. Magazines work reasonably on exercise bikes, the pages stay put. You sometimes get sweat on them though, or at least I did.
posted by sien at 7:17 PM on November 10, 2007

Take up a martial art instead. Aikido classes can be great workouts.
posted by Coventry at 7:23 PM on November 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

I generally prefer to bike or run outside for exercise, but here in Colorado when it's 15 degrees and snowing outside, it's not exactly a good time to burn calories outdoors.

Actually, it's a great time to run outdoors. My best runs, without question, have been my subzero ones. I live in Northwestern Ontario, where we hit -40 C/F in December and January for about two weeks, and have a lot of -20C/-30C on either side. Properly equipped, the most exhilarating runs are the ones where you come back, and your head/balaclava are covered in hoarfrost, like this. That's me after running the International Falls "Freeze Your Gizzard" Blizzard Run in 2005.

When you're properly equipped, you won't be cold, your feet won't slip in the snow, and you won't "freeze your lungs," as some uninformed folk might suggest. Cool Running has an excellent article on how to prep to run outside. Give it a try -- I swear, you'll want it to be winter all year.

(Okay, not really, but you get the point :)

Some good gear and tips for winter running:

-A base layer of snug, wicking material (underarmour, polypropylene, polyester, Thermax, or wool)
-A mid-layer of looser material that insulates and carries moisture from the base layer (down, polyester, or fleece).
-An outer layer to block wind and allow moisture to escape (Gore-Tex)

Get A Grips
Yak Trax
(Both for footing issues)

Good luck!
posted by liquado at 8:00 PM on November 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm also a big fan of interval training to break up indoor workouts. I can't stand being on a treadmill for five minutes running the same speed, but if I alternate running at speed for one minute, then recovery walking for another minute, it makes the time fly.

And if you're interested in cycling during the winter, IceBike might be a good reference.
posted by meowzilla at 8:18 PM on November 10, 2007

Try making some flash cards and learning something (maybe a foreign language?).

I spent a lot of time at the gym when I was studying for the bar exam. I've never had workouts feel shorter -- I was fixated on those flashcards. True, the stakes involved may have helped make this successful.

Meanwhile, I'm pretty sure that I soaked up information quicker/better while running/on the elliptical than when I was sitting at home reading.
posted by rdn at 9:59 PM on November 10, 2007

Podcasts (again) and similarly, audio books. Check out Audible.com, they have a huge selection.
posted by sophist at 3:19 AM on November 11, 2007

This is going to sound weird, but I meditate. I run roughly 5 miles / day (outdoors, thank God), and once I get settled into my pace, I use a few techniques I learned in martial arts school to help guide my thinking. It generally goes like this:

Mile 1 - work on getting into my pace, think through my form, work on my breathing.

Mile 2 - start meditation process - this begins with what I will call "letting thoughts go." Whatever I'm thinking about at the moment - breathing on the left foot-fall, problems at work, some girl I want to see, the biker that just passed me - anything that comes into the mind, I consciously choose to not think about it, instead to let it go. It kind of feels like they just float away. Sometimes the same one returns, you have to decide not to think on it again. You just keep doing this with each thought that comes into your mind.

Mile 3-4 - these usually fly by b/c I'm in the zone at this point. Thoughts have stopped cropping up and it feels like the brain is doing a disk-cleanup of sorts, but in the background. There's a few advanced forms of meditation I could go into at this point, but seeing as I'm running on a road, I generally try to stay away from that, saving those for meditation when I'm sitting down somewhere.

Mile 5 - shake myself out of it and focus on my form / breathing for the last mile / warm down. The important thing here (at least for me) is to have a visual cue along my route that makes me remember to come out of the meditative state. I use a particular road that I pass - once I get there I usually take a deep breath and then start thinking about what I'm doing again.

So yeah. That's my trick. I either do that, or I just think about chicks the whole time.
posted by allkindsoftime at 6:19 AM on November 11, 2007 [2 favorites]

Check out Stepmania - it's a free Dance-Dance Revolution style game that you can play on your PC with a USB dancemat. I bought one for the Xbox from ebay for about $A30 and then got a USB adapter for about $A15. You can also play it with your keyboard, which will give you an idea of how it works if you're not familiar with DDR.

It's a massively fun way to get an excellent cardio workout (without leaving your house in the colder months), and because it rates your performance you get the pleasure of watching yourself slowly improve. There are heaps of sites you can download courses from (the actual download doesn't come with any songs), usually for free, or you can make your own with music of your choosing. If I'm feeling particularly energetic I use barbells as well while I'm on there.

I was someone who "hated exercise" but I have to say this is great fun and now I have trouble stopping once I get started. There are few things that will put you in as good a mood as starting your day off jumping around to J-pop!
posted by sleep_walker at 6:47 AM on November 11, 2007 [2 favorites]

Not ot derail- but does the little iPod shuffle allow podcasts?

I would like to combat boredome this way too but can the Shuffle load podcasts, or is it limited to music only?
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 9:23 AM on November 11, 2007

I do interval training, so with one minute periods of exercise which run the gamut from "moderate" to "excruciating" I find it tough to get bored through a 30 minutes cardio workout.

When I do things, like jog for 40 minutes though it it much trickier and the things I do to keep entertained is kind of embarrassing.

1) I get a rhythm going in my job and then I start singing a little song to that. It usually ends up sounding like a slave song, and I feel a little guilty. But that takes ten minutes before it happens.

2) If i am running around a track and the lawn is being mowed around it I like to harmonize with the mower. That thing is like a dirge so it is really easy. People start noticing that and I have to think of something else. Being stuck indoors to do this I am sure it can work with a dryer, an oil-burner, or what ever crazy machines are in your basement.
posted by munchingzombie at 10:12 AM on November 11, 2007

I_love_bananas, yep, you can use an iPod Shuffle to pay podcasts, but only when it's in "continuous play" (not "shuffle") mode. I would be bored as hell at the gym if I couldn't play podcasts on my Shuffle...
posted by hazelshade at 5:01 PM on November 11, 2007

when it's 15 degrees and snowing outside, it's not exactly a good time to burn calories outdoors.

No such thing. I'm actually a bit jealous about not being able to run in the snow where I live.

If you're way too snowed in, hopefully there's a cross-country ski-able trail nearby. If not, well then I bet it's possible to run just fine.
posted by azazello at 8:31 AM on November 13, 2007

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