Coach Tip Tuesday: How to Make Workouts Go By Quickly
No matter what type of endurance sport you train for, a quality training plan or schedule should have a long workout (or a series of long workouts) scheduled weekly. What “long” means is relative; for athletes training for shorter events, long might mean 40-90 minutes. For athletes training for long course events, long might mean 6-8 hours (or more!).
While the “glory”of finishing a goal event might seem really appealing when you sign up for a race, I often hear from athletes that they dread the longer workouts once they get into the thick of training. Sometimes that dread is due to the actual amount of time that these workouts take (and therefore what it means the athlete is unable to do - remember that saying yes always means saying no). Other times this dread stems from a place of the actual workout being boring and/or feeling like it takes longer than it really does.
Regardless of the type of race, long workouts are key for building durability and endurance, which snowballs into success on race day. Here are some tips on how to stave off that dread and make these workouts feel like they’re going by quickly.
Use a New Route
Many, many athletes train on the same routes over and over again. Sometimes this is done out of necessity (depending on where you live, there may only be a few safe routes to train on and/or there may only be one or two locations to train for your sport of choice), but many times, it’s done out of habit and out of an attempt to simplify things. While planning a new-to-your route may take a bit of effort in the form of planning, the payoff from it can be really rewarding.
While training on familiar routes can definitely allow you to go on “autopilot” mode and zone out (perhaps one of the desired effects of exercise!), one of the drawbacks is that it can make workouts feel longer because you’re not stimulating your brain by giving it something new to look at. Training on a new route - or at least a route that you haven’t been on in awhile - can pass the time more quickly not only because you have to pay a bit more attention to where you are, but because there are new-to-you things to look at and observe as you progress through the workout.
Building on the idea of using a new-to-you route for training, I recommend that you rotate your routes. Even if you have trained on this route before, if you haven’t trained on it recently, it will likely feel new to your brain. One nice way to rotate routes is seasonally; there are always different things to look at in each season, even if the route is the same. So if you haven’t been on a particular route since the spring, getting back on it now in the fall might be a nice change of scenery.
In my experience both as an endurance athlete and as a coach, I have found that rotating routes every two months or so seems to work really well. For me personally, it keeps my training fresh, and I’ve observed something similar with athletes who I have worked with over the years.
Plan a Route Somewhere that Inspires Awe
We’re often so focused on what we need to do (or think we need to do ;) ) on a daily basis that we often don’t stop and look at the world around us. Americans only spend 7% of their time outdoors. SEVEN percent. This translates to 1 hour, 40 minutes per day outside. Remember that that is the average, which means that the folks who spend a lot of time outside are skewing those numbers; the majority of Americans are actually spending less time than that outside on a daily basis.
This increase in indoor time has come concurrently with an increase of screen time. Even if people do go outside, they’re often looking at their phones. As such, the true benefit of that outside time is lost.
Finding ways to inspire awe - truly inspire it - is so beneficial for our overall health, and especially our brain/mental health. Awe can easily be found in nature, but can also be found by looking at art, architecture, moving music, seeking examples of human kindness, or observing high-level skill. In the context of helping you have your workouts go by faster, I will encourage you to plan a route somewhere that exposes you to nature or some level of awe through nature (though if you wanted to plan a route through an art park or by a concert, that would work, too ;) ).
According to a 2015 study, awe - more than any other positive emotion you can experience - is linked to lower levels of Interleukin-6, which is a molecule associated with stress and inflammation. Awe forces us to expand our awareness and to look outside of ourselves. Planning training routes in locations that inspire awe is a two-fer: You will give your brain and body a recharge/boost, which in turn can help the workout feel more enjoyable and like the time is going by faster.
One Bite at a Time
How do you eat a sandwich? Do you shove the entire thing in your face at once? I’d venture a guess that you probably do not do that. Nope, you eat it one bite at a time.
When it comes to workouts, we can deploy a similar tactic. Rather than thinking about the totality of the entire workout (and then potentially becoming overwhelmed by it), break it up into chunks. The triathletes I’ve coached over the years know that I tell them to stay focused in each discipline as they are completing it; when they are swimming, there isn’t any benefit to stressing about what might happen later on the run. By focusing on each element in the moment, you give yourself the best possible chance of having a progressively strong and smart race or workout.
This tactic is not specific to multisport or triathlon. There are many ways to break up a workout into chunks. If you are deploying a run/walk strategy while running, it’s honestly pretty easy; think about each interval as it comes. If you don’t use that strategy, you can break up the workout into duration-based or distance-based chunks. For instance, you could break up a run into one-mile or 10-minute chunks, a bicycle ride into five-mile or 15-minute chunks, or a swim into 500-meter or 10-minute chunks. You could also use visual cues; think about getting to a particular landmark that you pick out along your route, then pick another one once you reach it, then pick another one once you reach that one, and so on.
Smaller intervals - by their very definition - take less time. Therefore, they go by faster. Breaking up your workout mentally into a series of smaller chunks that ultimately get strung together to create a total workout really helps with making the time feel like it’s going by quickly.
Give Yourself Something to Do
What do you do when you go for a run, bike ride, or swim? Do you just run, cycle, or swim? For some of you, the answer is yes. But for many of you, you are actually doing many things while you are completing a workout. (And if you aren’t, you probably should be. ;) )
Hydrating and fueling during workouts isn’t just great for your body, for performance, and for recovery. Having those tasks to do during a workout effectively distracts your brain temporarily from the workout you’re doing since you have a microtask to do.
Hydrating and fueling are the two most important microtasks you can do during a workout, but you can also check in on your breathing.
Are you completely exhaling? (Only a complete exhale will allow you to fill up all of your lungs.)
Are your breaths shallow and rapid or smooth and controlled?
Are you creating tension through your core and pelvic floor as you breathe, or are you able to breathe while remaining relaxed?
You can also do a body scan to check in on form checkpoints. For instance:
Are you death-gripping the handlebars on your bike?
Are you pedaling smoothly?
Are you carrying tension in your arms as you run?
Are your feet landing under your hips as you run?
Are you actually picking up your feet to run, or are you just slogging/shuffling along?
Are you getting a complete arm pull as you swim?
Are you rotating your body to breathe as you swim, or just twisting your neck and head?
You Get to Do This
The majority of you reading this will never be professional athletes (sorry, folks! ;) ). You are recreational athletes who spend your disposable income and time on endurance sports. This is what you do for leisure and fun. Ideally, this shouldn’t feel like a job. (Especially if you already have one or two of those.) Yes, depending on the goals you set, there may be days when you have to complete the necessary work to set you up successfully to reach your goals, and that might feel like work. But overall, this is something you get to do. It’s not something you have to do.
Shifting your perspective and/or reminding yourself of that truth can help workouts feel less like a grind. And when something is fun, it goes by quickly. Remember to embrace the fun factor and also incorporate some of the above tips to see if your workouts go by faster and feel more joyful overall.
Coach Laura Henry
Laura Henry is a Syracuse, NY-based coach who is a USA Triathlon Level II Long Course and Level II Paratriathlon Certified Coach, USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, VFS Certified Bike Fitter, and has successfully completed NASM's Certified Personal Trainer course. Coach Laura is passionate about helping athletes of all ability levels reach their goals and has coached many athletes to success.