Try these solutions to overcoming an exercise lull, from meditation to finding a workout buddy.
Sometimes even your best-laid exercise plans go awry. A crappy commute, substandard sleep or other stressors can make you feel both wired and tired, unable to either gear down or gear up for exercise.
Recently when my mojo was low, I read an announcement for Breathe, a mindfulness-based health app on the new Apple Series 2 watches. The app coaches you through timed breathing sessions, which you can set up in advance with reminders. After each session, your watch displays a summary that includes your recorded heart rate.
Intrigued, I searched online and discovered other health-tracking sensors that promised to tell me if I’m overtraining (Restwise), under-sleeping (Fitbit), or in need of a brain-wave overhaul (Thync). The Thync website shows a woman receiving calming vibes from a white module on her forehead, and a track athlete busting out of the blocks, presumably charged by his 10-minute energy vibe.
Could Breathe and other real-time, interactive technologies aid people who are waffling on workouts? Or are there equally effective, low-tech ways for exercisers to overcome their couch-potato urges?
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Evidence-based research on “OM tech” efficacy is in its infancy, but studies have already shown that athletes who practice meditation and visualization can reduce pre-competition stress and improve their focus while competing. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and Rio Olympics 800-meter runner Kate Grace are among the many sports professionals who credit mindfulness techniques with helping them prepare for events.
So what do everyday athletes use to “gear down” before gearing up? Among the 46 people I surveyed on their use of technology for exercise, only four had ever used meditation apps such as Insight Timer or Breathe, and only one person used them to decompress before competitions.
While nearly all respondents (primarily Northwest runners, cyclists, swimmers and walkers) reported using some kind of GPS sports watch, fitness-tracking app or wristband, only 16 said their devices motivated them to work out. Instead, people seemed to favor low- or no-tech motivational tools. Their favorite? The buddy system!
For Ashley Vaughan, a Seattle-based cyclist, runner and scientist, the buddy system “not only makes the workout more bearable as you are with others, but also … you don’t want to let down your friends by not showing up.”
Others reported that setting race goals, laying out gear, sipping coffee and even using mantras help motivate them. When Brenda Alvarez, an avid runner and assistant manager at Oiselle women’s running apparel in Seattle, needs to rally, her magic mantra is “Just go out for 20 minutes.”
Do exercise scientists and researchers think OM tech can help smooth one’s transition to workouts? Dr. Molly Welsh, who teaches mindfulness meditation as part of her Health and Wellness curriculum at Seattle University’s Center for the Study of Sport and Exercise, says yes — absolutely!
“If your goal is to physiologically decrease your level of arousal, then I can see the devices as being useful,” Welsh said. “The advantage to biofeedback monitoring is real-time data. Pre-workout tech could be a lot more useful (than wearables during exercise) because you don’t need to save the data.”
Wearables researcher Dan Ledger, principal at Endeavor Partners in Boston, says items like the Fitbit tracker or Muse meditation headband “serve as meditation training wheels” for building healthful habits. Over time, he says, “a lot of people graduate. They’re able to sustain behaviors. (They’re) not as heavily reliant on data as they were in the beginning.”
Both Ledger and Welsh acknowledge the burdens of health-monitoring apps and wearables (cost, complexity, battery life, data reliability and durability) and note that manufacturers must address these obstacles to promote long-term engagement.
In the meantime, some of my favorite athlete-authors, Varia Makagonova (“Too Tired to Run?”) and Sage Rountree (“The Athlete’s Guide to Recovery”) offer some pre-workout advice to the wired and tired:
1. Take a mental break. “You need a full tank of mental gas to really push your workouts,” Rountree says. “Walk around, do some light stretching, stare out the window, or meditate, all screen-free!”
2. Take a 20-minute nap. Makagonova says, “The nap gives me the energy to get out the door for the run, and once I’m out there, I’m fully awake and energized within 5 minutes.”