How To Psych Yourself Up Before, After, And During A Workout

Here are the mental tricks to get your body in gear.

If you find yourself tensing up or tuning out in the middle of a workout, you’re doing something wrong.

Fitness isn’t just about working the body—it’s also about engaging your mind. “Our thoughts and feelings influence what goes on inside our bodies,” write sports psychologists James Beauchemin, MSW, LISW-S, Sandra Facemire, MSW, LSW, and Chris McGrath, MS in the American College of Sports Medicine’s Health and Fitness Journal.

To upgrade your workout, these three researchers devised six easy tricks that you can pull out whenever you feel like your head isn’t quite in the game.

1. Establish a routine.
Do it: Before a workout

Establishing a very specific habit—like always putting your right sock and right shoe on first before you go running, or mentally counting to three before you do a high-intensity workout—forms a clear signal to your mind that it’s time to get to work.

2. Visualize your exercise.
Do it: Before your workout

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This technique is especially helpful in strength- and endurance-based exercises, according to Beauchemin and his colleagues. “When individuals use imagery, they are mentally guided through an event as if it were actually happening, with images their brains interpret as identical to the actual situation.” If you’ve got a trainer, ask him to give you instructions that are more visual to help reinforce the movement in your mind.

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3. Roll your traps.
Do it: Before your workout

Your upper trapezius, the large muscle that shrugs your shoulders, stores a lot of tension. (Which is why it feels so damn good when your boyfriend massages it.) Elevate your shoulders, hold for 2 seconds, then bring them down.

4. Concentrate on what you’re doing.
Do it: During your workout

Stop thinking about that cute guy on the fourth treadmill from the right. Focus your mind on every move of the exercise you’re performing. Catch yourself if you find your mind drifting or focusing too much on the burn.

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5. Talk to yourself.
Do it: During and after the workout

Well, not literally. Otherwise, you probably won’t be the cool girl in the gym. Develop a mantra that you can mentally say (or unintentionally grunt out loud) on your in-breath and out-breath. Also, the study authors suggest using self-talk to reframe negative thoughts.

For example: Missed a workout? Don’t sweat it. Just think of it as a normal part of your fitness process...and use it as a challenge to get better.

6. Breathe from the diaphragm.
Do it: All throughout the workout

“Performance tends to be enhanced when we are in a relaxed, but alert state,” comment the researchers. Deep breaths are your go-to tool for tension release.

Unfortunately, most of us tend to breathe too shallowly. If you haven’t practiced yoga pranayama breathing (which has been shown to also reduce blood pressure), just make sure that you always breathe from the diaphragm. Your belly should always expand when you breathe in, and contract when you breathe out. Forget about trying to suck that gut in. 

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* Minor edits have been made by editors

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