Bad Workout? Do the Hokey Pokey and Turn Yourself Around!
Nita Sweeney – Award-Winning Author and Mindfulness Coach
Some workouts just go south. A workout may start out going well, but some days things just happen and soon you’re struggling. Or, a workout might start out tough and get worse. We all have those days.
No matter the reason, there are many things we can do to turn around a “bad” workout. Have these at your disposal. You never know which tool will work on any given day.
Ignore it: You always have the choice to do nothing. Don’t laugh. Thoughts and body sensations shift and change. Everything is impermanent. Sometimes, things resolve on their own.
Zone out: You might not actually stick your fingers in your ears and chant “La, la, la,” but if you let your mind drift, thoughts might take you far enough away from the present moment that time simply passes and before you know it, the workout is complete.
Distract yourself: We each have our preferred method for shifting awareness away from unpleasant thoughts and body sensations. These can include cranking your tunes (preferably in your bone-conducting headphones so you can still hear the traffic), chanting your favorite Sanskrit mantra (to yourself please, unless you’re alone), or telling your workout partner all the lawyer jokes you collected back in the Dark Ages when you practiced law.
Break it down: Especially for “LSD” (long, slow, distance), when you’re on a familiar route, mentally break down the distance. On the ‘good ole’ Olentangy Trail, don’t think “Mt. Frontrunner to the Horseshoe.” Instead, think “Worthington Industries to Thomas Worthington trailhead.” Then to Antrim. Then Henderson, etc. Bite sized bits make the MIT workout flow.
Reframe it: See if you can muster some gratitude for the fact that we “GET” to do this rather than “HAVE” to do it. So many are less fortunate. Lean into that gift.
Trust the process: Every workout trains you mentally for race day. If you’re struggling, remind yourself that showing up for and continuing to run or walk during a difficult workout will prepare you for whatever you face on your big day. Lean into that too.
Tune in: Instead of turning your attention away from your unpleasant experience, tune into it. Get curious. What do heavy legs actually feel like? Is it the entire leg or simply the back of your thigh? Do your best to let the sensation be. Notice if it moves and changes. Also notice if it is easier to bear when you do not fight it.
Use your senses: Notice what you see, hear, smell. Bring yourself into the moment and keep your mind occupied. Lilacs in the spring? There is not much better. Your armpits in mid-August at mile 22? Maybe not your best choice.
Gamify it: If you’re in a neighborhood in October, count the number of pumpkins you see. On a track? Reduce fractions. (e.g. 10 miles on a track that is 10 laps per mile = 100 laps. Lap 1 = 1/100th finished. Lap 2 = 2/100th reduces to 1/50th, etc.)
Adjust the workout: I know. HERESY! But if things are going badly enough, you might consider calling it short, especially if the issue is physical. Go home and live to walk or run another day.
How do you turn around a “bad” workout? Email Nita at email@example.com and let us know.
Nita Sweeney is a long-time MIT member and the award-winning author of three books including Make Every Move a Meditation and Depression Hates a Moving Target. A certified mindfulness teacher and coach, Nita helps athletes, professionals, and creatives thrive.