By Anne Stein, Special to Tribune Newspapers
9:49 PM EDT, March 21, 2012
Dozens of things can derail a workout. You're too tired, too hungry or too stressed. You're bored with your workout or progressing too slowly. Your favorite machine is occupied or the swimming pool is closed for repairs. Your throat is sore or your knee hurts.
The American Council on Exercise calls these "fitness saboteurs," and whether these annoyances are big or little, they can easily prevent a well-intentioned exerciser from getting a workout in.
We asked a few experts how to fend off fitness saboteurs — and why it's so important to make the effort.
Stress: There's so much going on that the last thing you can do is fit in a workout. Do it anyway. "Studies have shown that exercise is as powerful or more powerful than any kind of medication or therapy to mitigate stress," says Gregory Florez, spokesman for ACE and chief executive of FitAdvisor.com. Even if it's a half-hour walk or quick run, the stress-lowering power of a workout is worth taking a little bit of time out of your day.
No time/competing commitments: Most of us are time-crunched, says Dr. Christina Geithner, chairwoman of Gonzaga University's department of exercise physiology and a fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine. "But exercise is too important to your health and well-being not to make time for it," she said. Geithner schedules workout sessions into her week and adds incentives to support that commitment, like paying for an exercise class or making a date with a running partner who she's unlikely to blow off. "Exercise is about the cheapest thing you can do for your health and well-being overall, and it extends not only the length of your life, but the quality of life as well," she says.
You're too tired: Some days you may be eager to head straight to the gym after work; other days you can't wait to get home and plop on the couch with a beer and the TV. "Find a time when your energy is highest," Geithner says. "If it's not after work, be a morning exerciser. Schedule it at a different point in the workday, like lunch, and bring your gear with you. Or try an activity that you feel you can accomplish even when tired." Or try working out anyway, even if it's for a short time. You'll most likely feel better once you get started and much more energized after you finish.
You're frustrated with your results (not getting any faster/fitter/thinner, etc.): "It's time to change your routine," says Florez. You may not be exercising hard enough, or your body has adapted to your routine. "You've got to stress the body in a different way, with more strenuous or different exercises," he says. Consider hiring a personal trainer for a few sessions to reprogram what you're doing. Take a class, try challenging yourself in ways you haven't done before.
Overtraining: You want to exercise but you're simply … pooped. Other symptoms are lethargy, injury, crankiness, lack of motivation. It's classic burnout from overdoing it, and the only remedy is to back off, says Florez. Substitute yoga, Pilates or meditation for a few days a week if doing nothing isn't an option for you.
Unexpected obstacles: There are five bikes at your gym, and none is available. Or you were looking forward to a swim and the pool has been shut down. Take this as an opportunity to try something you've never tried. Can't bike? Go for a run or use the recumbent bike. Can't swim? Try a class or do some strength training and stretching. "Unless you're an Olympic athlete training for a particular sport, it's good to try something else," Florez says.
Not in the mood: Commit to a short workout, says Geithner, and see what happens. "You'll usually end up staying longer and feeling better when you're done." This is when a class or exercising with friends comes in handy; they'll make it more fun and you'll be less likely to give in and quit.
You're sick: If it's just a mild cold and you feel like working out, go ahead but dial things down a bit to avoid overstressing your body. If you're working out in a gym, give the machine an extra-thorough wiping with towel and spray to clean off your germs. If you're exhausted and feeling pretty bad, "you're doing more damage to your immune system if you don't call it off for the day," Florez says.
You're injured: If your doc says it's OK, or if it is just a mild strain or ache, use this as a chance to try other machines or routines that will avoid stressing the injury but will provide a good workout. Lap swimming or aqua jogging can be great substitutes for injured runners. If strength training and stretching are recommended for healing, get in the weight room and get to work. The recumbent bike and elliptical are also gentler on sensitive joints. There's such a variety of machines and exercises that you can often work around the injury, says Florez. Get guidelines to working with your injury from a physical therapist or certified personal trainer.
You're starving: Always carry a couple of energy bars or gel packs in your workout bag. Or, take a quick trip to the vending machine or stop by a convenience store for a light snack; two granola bars and a bottle of water should keep you going for at least an hour.
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