Some days, working out really does feel like work. Your legs are heavy, every breath feels more like a gasp and you have the uncanny suspicion that your next rep is going to be your last.
But here’s the research-backed fact: Exercising doesn’t have to feel so hard. Here are 15 tips to make every workout – from running and weight lifting to yoga and cycling – feel so much easier. Plus, the easier your workouts become, the more benefits you’ll reap – and without any extra sweat.
And invest in a smartphone armband if you don’t already have one. In a 2015 study from McMaster University in Canada, when researchers had people perform high-intensity interval workouts they didn’t feel their workout getting any harder when they were also listening to their favorite songs. When they went sans tunes, they had no such illusions. In a previous Northwestern University study, researchers found that more bass equals more feelings of power and control.
Workout buddies and classes are about way more than accountability. It turns out, people have double the pain tolerance (and double the endorphin boost!) when they perform workouts together versus solo, according to Oxford University research.
On runs, walks and bike rides, it can be tempting to look around and take in the sights, but according to one 2014 New York University study of walkers, it’s in your best interest to narrow your gaze. In the study, researchers found that people who looked straight ahead while walking a course thought the finish line was 28 percent closer and walked 23 percent faster than those who let their eyes wander. They also said the workout felt easier.
Caffeine can do more than get you through a 3 p.m. slump. In one Appetite study, cyclists who downed caffeine an hour before taking the saddle ranked their workouts as being less difficult and more pleasurable compared to the non-caffeinated riders.
No pain, no gain? Not quite. In a 2015 PLoS One study, researchers found that changing how you think about side stitches and muscle fatigue changes how much they hurt. For instance, by thinking “this is the feeling of my body changing,” your workout will feel less, well, painful than if you just think, “this is hard!”
It’s about more than vanity: If you watch yourself as you bop along on the treadmill, you’ll do a better job at sticking to your own gait pattern, expend less mental energy and feel like every step is just a little bit easier than if you look at other things like a weight stack or fitness poster, per one Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise experiment.
Whether whole or in juice form, beets contain nitrates to help more blood and oxygen reach your muscles with every breath. In one study from the University of Exeter in the U.K., when people drank half a liter of the red stuff two and a half hours before a workout, they needed less oxygen to power their workouts and were able to run or bike 15 to 20 percent longer before tuckering out. What gives?
Downing an icy beverage before you work out can boost how long and hard you can exercise before hitting “the wall,” especially when you’re sweating it out in hot and humid temps, per 2016 research in Gait Posture. A previous study in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports found wearing frozen undies also does the trick. Yikes!
Sports drinks are part physical, part mental. While in one 2015 Nutrients study the carbs and electrolytes in sports drinks fueled people to help them run 16 percent longer before they zonked out, a previous Psychology of Sport and Exercise study found that just looking at a sports drink or water bottle made people feel like they could exercise longer.
Waking up to bright light does more than help you drag yourself out of bed in the morning. According to 2014 research from the University College London, exposing your eyes to light 30 minutes before your alarm goes off and throughout the morning hours helps increase oxygen flow to your muscles, boosting physical performance big time.
Some of us are morning people. Others, not so much. Know which one you are. You’ll perceive any workout to be easier if you perform it during your own peak hours, suggests 2014 research from the University of Cape Town in South Africa.
Have you decided you’re a morning workout person? Don’t leave your front door before you’ve eaten something. Exercising in a fasted state (not having eaten within a couple of hours) makes workouts feel so much tougher, per 2014 research in Sport Sciences for Health. Plus, it makes you get less out of every rep.
Forget the ice baths. Soaking in a hot bath after each workout isn’t just more enjoyable, it makes subsequent workouts, especially in the heat, feel easier, per 2015 research from Bangor University in the U.K.
Iron does the body good. In one University of Melbourne study looking at women of reproductive age, those who increased their iron intake were able to exercise more efficiently and with a lower heart rate. That was especially true when it came to women who had been iron-deficient or anemic.
Exercise makes it easier to sleep, sure. But sleep makes exercise even easier. It turns out, the longer it takes you to fall asleep and the less time you spend snoozing tonight, the less time you’ll spend at the gym before you’ve just got to call it quits, according to research in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.