Physical activity is the key to good health but that doesn’t mean that workouts are always pleasant. Burning muscles and extreme fatigue are not something most of us enjoy – but we love the feeling of accomplishment that comes afterward. What we love even more are the results we see as our bodies change! You want to work hard (without overtraining), yet make the experience as pleasant as possible – and, yes, there are ways to do that. Here are five ways to make your next workout a bit more enjoyable.
Sip Coffee Before Your Next Workout
Science shows that caffeine not only improves exercise performance, it also reduces the level of perceived exertion. With caffeine on board, you don’t feel as if you’re working as hard as you actually are. In terms of exercise performance, caffeine is most beneficial for endurance exercise and muscle endurance rather than strength & short-term exercise like sprinting. Caffeine prior to a workout bolsters areas of the brain involved in attention and focus.
How does it make exercise feel easier? According to a study published in Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, one way caffeine may reduce the perception of effort is by stimulating the release of endorphins, feel-good chemicals that ease discomfort and improve mood. How much caffeine do you need? For the average person, 200 to 400 milligrams of caffeine an hour prior to a workout works best. If you’re not accustomed to drinking caffeine, start with less.
There’s a reason fitness classes turn up the music volume during a class. According to a study published in Journal of Sport and Health Science, music reduces the perception of how hard you’re exercising and it does it for both for low intensity and high-intensity exercise. If you don’t feel like you’re working as hard, you can theoretically push harder and go longer. So compelling is the link between music and exercise performance, that it’s sometimes called an ergogenic aid.
How does music work its magic? For one, it’s a distractor. When you listen to music, you’re less aware of how hard you’re breathing or how much your muscles are burning. An upbeat tune can also be motivating. The type of music matters as well. Listening to slow, relaxational music during a HIIT workout won’t have the same benefits as a tune with a fast tempo. Match the music to the workout.
Studies looking at whether music actually improves exercise performance are mixed. Some show improvements, especially for low to moderate-intensity exercise, while others do not. However, music does seem to make workouts more enjoyable. Choose music you like with a tempo that corresponds to the intensity of your workouts.
If you don’t hydrate adequately before a workout, your workout will feel harder and your performance may suffer. Even mild dehydration (around 2% of body mass) places strain on your body and reduces exercise performance. In fact, a study showed 2% dehydration decreases exercise performance by around 15%. Why is drinking enough water so important?
Without adequate hydration, the volume of fluid in your blood vessels decreases and the amount of fluid pumped with each heart beat drops. So, your heart has to beat faster to compensate. Your body temperature also rises and exercise feels harder. The solution, of course, is to make sure you’re well-hydrated before your workout and replace the fluids that you lost afterward. When you’re tempted to skimp on hydration, think about how your workout will feel harder – and drink up!
Cool Your Head and Face
No doubt about it – a cool towel or mist on your face when you’re working out feels delightful and it could make your workout easier and more enjoyable. A small study showed that a spray of cold water on the face reduced the amount of perceived exertion during a cycling workout. Exercise becomes more challenging as your body temperature rises. The more effectively you cool off, by drinking more water or by other cooling mechanisms, the easier exercise will feel.
In one study involving cyclists, face cooling lowered the heart rate response to sub-maximal exercise and lowered blood lactate levels. It also reduced the participants’ perception of how hard they were working, mainly toward the end of the workout. The benefits of cooling your face are most pronounced if you work out in a warm environment.
In a meta-analysis looking at the effect of cooling during exercise showed benefits in 15 out of 21 studies. The most effective means of cooling was use of an ice vest. Second was drinking cold water followed by cooling packs.
How can you put this into practice? Keep a cool towel or cold pack handy and place it on your face during breaks. You could also keep a spray bottle cool in the fridge and use it to spray your face lightly with a cool mist. When you drink water, make sure it’s cold.
Have you ever tried to work out after not eating for many hours? The glycogen stores in your muscles are low and your muscles have less glucose available for quick energy. Not fueling properly impacts high-intensity workouts the most since you’re more dependent on carbohydrates to fuel intense bursts of exercise. If you haven’t fueled up properly, and glycogen stores are low, your workout will feel more challenging. So, have a snack before your next high-intensity workout.
The Bottom Line
Exercise is supposed to be challenging but doing these things could make your next sweat session a little more pleasant.
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Authority Nutrition. “How Caffeine Improves Exercise Performance”
Nutrients. 2014 May; 6(5): 1782–1808. Published online 2014 Apr 29. doi: 10.3390/nu6051782
Journal of Sport and Health Science. “Effects of music and video on perceived exertion during high-intensity exercise” January 2016.
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