I’m battling a set of Gap Jumps on minute 36 of P90X‘s Plyo X, and I’m getting my butt handed to me. I’m breathing heavily, sweat is dripping onto the rug, and my wet-noodle legs might not allow me to clear the next invisible gap Tony Horton insists I leap over.
I want to quit and do something—anything—else instead of finish what is left of the workout. But I don’t. For some reason, it’s important that I prove to you, a stranger, that I’m no quitter!
Trouble is, that’s not entirely true. Although I stuck this one out, I bail on my workouts more often that I’d like to admit. I’m too tired. I’m too pressed for time. I’m already too ripped. Okay, that last one’s an overstatement, but you get the idea: I manufacture reasons as to why stopping makes more sense than continuing.
I’m not sure why I do that, or more importantly, how to reverse the process. Thankfully, sports psychologist Dr. JoAnn Dahlkoetter, author of Sports Psychology Coaching for Your Performing Edge: Mental Training for Performance in Sports, Business, and Life, does. Dr. Dahlkoetter has worked with handfuls of top-level athletes—including five Olympic gold medal winners—as well as countless people who simply want to live healthily and look halfway decent naked. She also won the San Francisco Marathon in 1980. She knows a thing or two about how to make it through your toughest workouts.
1. Mentally Prepare
“People can fail from not being in touch with their bodies,” she says. Some Beachbody workouts will wipe you out. (There’s a reason the plyometric workout in P90X2 is called Plyocide and not Plyo-this-might-be-kinda-tough.) But understanding, embracing, and anticipating that you’ve signed up to tackle a ball-busting workout can help you size up the challenge and muster the fortitude required to overcome it.
2. Find a Workout Buddy
If during a grueling workout you find yourself taking a break from taking a break after you just got finished taking a break, consider recruiting someone to train with you. Researchers at Kansas State University found that people who train with a more skilled workout partner who doesn’t cheerlead you through the workouts worked out for longer periods of time.1 That’s because this competitive attitude supposedly makes you not want to feel like the “weak link” and encourages you to work harder.
3. Get into a Routine
Make your workout session as much of a priority as you would other important daily activities, like brushing your teeth, getting to work on time, or DVRing America’s Got Talent. “Build a routine so you’re doing [your workout] at the same time each day,” Dr. Dahlkoetter suggests. “If you don’t have a routine, the workout becomes a low priority that might get overlooked.”
4. Make Your Goals Specific
Instead of saying you want to “lose weight” or “look better,” come up with specific goals you want to accomplish, like “losing six pounds,” or “finally fitting into my wrestling singlet from college.” Those details will offer you something tangible to strive for. The S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-targeted) goal technique has proven to be popular and effective for constructing a plan of attack, whether you’re tackling work projects or getting through a workout.
5. Use the 3 Ps
It sounds pretty hippie, but Dr. Dahlkoetter has “Three Ps”—Positive Images, Power Words, and Present Focus—that can actually help. Studies show that athletes who visualize themselves winning are more likely to succeed.2 Visualize the whole process, from going to bed at the right time to finishing your workout, and you’ll be more likely to get through it, improving your overall concentration in the process.
Then, create some “Power Words” to help you push through those super-tough moments. I’m usually spewing four-letter words after about 25 minutes of most of my workouts. Instead, try this exercise: On a piece of paper, write all of your excuses, self-doubts, and negative thoughts about the workout on the left side. Then, on the right side, write what the opposite of that would be. For example: If you write you’re “too tired” on the left side, write your “mind and body are stronger and healthier each day” on the right. When you’re lagging, tell yourself those things you’ve written on the right side of the paper.
And, finally, focus on the present. From worrying about work to your kids to whether the Inland Empire 66ers are going to cover the run line (I’m letting it ride on you, fellas!), we all have plenty of daily stresses to contend with. But your workout shouldn’t be one of them; in fact, it might be the only hour of the day you get to focus entirely on yourself. To do that and offer your best effort, you need to be present from beginning to end. That said, during your Wall Sits or another difficult move that doesn’t pose a high risk of injury, feel free to let your mind wander to your “happy place.”
How do you get through your toughest workouts?