How To Make Exercise Easier—Even When You Don't Want To Work Out

When your workout starts to feel like work, try incorporating these 7 tricks.

No matter how challenging any workout is, there's always a subjective element to it. Depending on your mood and mindset at the time, exercise can feel harder or easier than it should.

Feeling good about exercise gets results. Mental fatigue can negatively affect performance by making exercise feel harder.

How To Make Exercising Feel Easier

Here's the good news: Even when you're pushing yourself to the limit, working out doesn't have to feel like work. These seven tips can make any sweat session feel easier.

Commit to Shorter Workouts

Instead of feeling like you have to complete 45- or 60-minute workouts at a time, your main goal could be to get up to 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week (or some combo of the two).

Rather than scheduling an hour-long workout, go for shorter ones throughout the day or week, and your exercise minutes will add up. "What do you do when you work out for an hour? You do five minutes of core, five minutes of arms, five minutes of legs," exercise physiologist Tom Holland, MS, told Health. "The research is there: You don't have to do that continuously. Break up those workouts, and you're more likely to do them and do them at the required effort level to get the benefits."

Play the Right Music

Listening to upbeat, fast-paced songs with a tempo of 170 to 190 beats per minute reduced the perceived effort associated with endurance exercise. It increased the overall benefits of a workout, according to a 2020 study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology. That's likely because the music, an external stimulus, blocks internal stimuli, like fatigue.

A good song acts as a distraction because it elicits an emotional response, Hillary Cauthen, PsyD, executive board member for the Association for Applied Sport Psychology, told Health. For example, motivational lyrics can inspire you, and a good memory associated with a tune can excite you.

And when your body syncs up with the rhythm and matches the energy that comes from a song, you naturally become more engaged in the workout—which creates a positive feedback loop where exercise feels easier, so you can work out harder.

Smile (Or Fake One)

Sure, it's hard to paste a grin on your face when you're sweating and breathing heavily. But runners who smiled used less oxygen, ran more efficiently, and reported a lower rate of perceived exertion (or RPE) compared to those who frowned during their run in a study published in Psychology of Sport and Exercise.

That doesn't mean you should force yourself to grin throughout your entire workout. But "smiling during the grueling parts will have physiological effects like reducing muscle tension," Holland told Health.

Everything in your body is connected, so tensing even your face can affect the rest of your muscles and make a workout feel harder. "Smiling sends a message to your brain that you're enjoying yourself, and—as a result—you're more likely to enjoy yourself," said Holland.

Hype Yourself Up

Negative self-talk is essentially self-sabotage. "The pain will be there, but if we magnify it, then it will consume us," said Cauthen. Positive self-talk, on the other hand, has been shown to boost athletic endurance.

"Positive self-talk connects us to our self-belief, our self-worth, our motivation as to why we're doing a workout," said Cauthen. "It really targets what we believe in, and if we believe we can accomplish something, then we're going to work towards it and have more energy to reach that goal."

But instead of telling yourself, "I can do this," try saying, "You can do this"—the Journal of Sports Sciences study found that athletes who used the second person were faster and generated more power.

Work Out With a Dedicated Friend

People who exercised with someone increased the amount of exercise they did. This increased even more when the new partner was emotionally supportive. You can push yourself harder without making it feel harder if you have a partner in sweat.

You don't have to exercise with someone in person to reap the benefits, said Holland. "With Zoom workouts and all these connected machines and apps, it's so easy to work out with someone remotely and get those same benefits," said Holland. Not only will a workout buddy make you more accountable (it's easier to convince yourself to bail on a 6 a.m. workout than to flake on someone else), but exercising with someone you enjoy being with—even virtually—makes the time pass even faster.

Practice Mindfulness

When people practiced mindfulness techniques for 30 minutes twice a week, they could work out longer without feeling exhausted, according to a recent study published in Neural Plasticity. The authors suggested that may be due to improved breathing and posture. Being mindful is easier said than done, but practicing outside of your workout will make it easier for you to reach that state when you are breaking a sweat.

And "if you're focused on breath, what you're currently experiencing or how your body feels, or finding a rhythm and the movement, that can increase your focus and make it easier for you to go into that flow state that makes exercise more enjoyable," said Cauthen. That flow state—aka, being in the zone—doesn't change the difficulty of your workout, but it puts you in a more positive mental space to enjoy the challenge.

Keep Your Gaze Focused

It's tempting to look around for distractions while you're working out, but narrowing your gaze can help you move faster and lower your rate of perceived exertion, reported a study published in the journal Motivation and Emotion. "You know how you're driving, and as soon as you pull into your driveway, you can't remember the last 10 miles?" said Holland. "That's because you've narrowed your focus."

It's the same in exercise: A narrowed focus helps you stay more present and in the moment. Basically, "you're shutting out any external cues that aren't making you feel good—you're not listening to your brain, you're not checking the clock, you're just moving," said Holland. Instead, you're completely dialed into your workout, which may help induce that elusive flow state.

A Quick Review

Mood and mindset can make exercise feel good, or at least not like work. Tips such as shorter workouts, playing music, smiling, hyping yourself up, working out with a buddy, being mindful, and keeping your eye on the prize can help you get the most out of a workout.

And the more manageable your workout feels, the more benefits you'll get.

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