It’s happened to most people who exercise at some point. It’s time to go to the gym/yoga/karate/spin class or for a walk-run-swim-bike ride, and you’re just not feeling it. Maybe you didn’t sleep enough, you had a stressful day at work, forgot to eat enough or well, or all of the above. There could be a plethora of valid reasons to take it easy and park your butt on the couch. And some days, that’s exactly what you need (see my posts Rainy Day Blahg: The Value of Sleep and Rest Days for Cyclists and The Rest of the Story About Rest Days for Cyclists).
But when your tiredness is mental and you still have some gas in the tank, you should go for it. Getting yourself moving may feel like climbing Mount Everest, but it is doable. And you won’t even need crampons. Because those pointy shoe things look dangerous and probably give you cramps. Come on inside this post to find out how I make myself bike, walk and do yoga even when it’s the last thing I want to do. And Happy Spring Equinox and Super Moon, y’all!
Mind Over Matter Is a Thing
I’ve written a number of times about sports psychology, goals, discipline, motivation, and habits. Search my blog for any of those key words and you’ll find my musings, or sometimes ramblings. I’m no expert, but after biking over 15,000 miles in just over three years, I do have some experience and insight to share. Of course your mileage may literally vary, so consult your doctor before starting any exercise program, and this is all just my opinion not certified medical advice.
Although we have some days that we do adulting better than others, the higher brain functions of humans do have the ability to delay gratification, make good choices, and forego pleasure for a little pain. So even though today, the first day of spring, was a lovely warmish one with some sun, little wind and no rain, I simply was still wiped out — even though I slept in late. After spending the day trying to get things done like cleaning, organizing, cooking, and phone calls, I accomplished a little of that. But I’d had enough and with only my daily walk under my belt, I was itching for a way to wake up and get more energy. Trouble is, it takes energy to create it.
So what did I do? I had a little argument with myself. Sure, I was very tempted to give myself a break, because chronic fatigue is real and lately its been worse, especially with the very long hours of volunteering and then attending SXSW. I also recognized some allergy symptoms were happening. But I ran out of objections and simply started going through the motions of getting ready for a bike ride, as I’ve done over 2,000 times since I began using Strava, the fitness tracking app, and my Garmin vivoactiv HR watch.
LESSON: By allowing myself to raise my objections and even gripe a little, but also to get that part of my brain out of the way, I set myself up for success.
PRO TIP: Meditation, or just sitting quietly for a few minutes, paying attention to your breathing, can help. Notice but don’t indulge in your thoughts. Thank the negative talk for protecting you, and move on.
Food Is Fuel (Usually)
While my eating regimen is far from ideal, after seeing a nutritionist yesterday I’m attempting to be more mindful about what I put in my grocery hole. Suspecting that I might be going on a bike ride, and to keep my blood sugar from plunging, I made some oatmeal with peanut butter and raisins. The carbs, fat and protein would help sustain me over the next hour or two.
I also drank some water. For a long bike ride, this is recommended to begin hydrating and “carbing up” the day or two before. But for my purposes, a snack and two glasses of water was sufficient (plus what I put in my water bottle). And yes, I did stop for free ice cream day. Don’t be hatin’, like I said, it was free. It may have even had some actual calcium and protein in it. A little reward never killed anybody.
LESSON: You wouldn’t drive your car without gas, so don’t operate your body without some energy and fluids.
PRO TIP: Give your food time to settle, and don’t try anything new you aren’t sure your stomach can handle right before exercise.
Take It Easy
Unless you’re a pro athlete, there’s no law saying you have to go hard and fast every single time. I had one person advise me to ride as fast as I can or as slow as I can. That makes sense at some level for racers, which she was, although it’s not practical for the commuting, utility and recreational cycling I do. But she had a point: varying speeds is useful. If you’re wiped out, you’re going to make mistakes and possibly injure yourself if you overdo it.
So don’t. Enjoy a nice, leisurely, sustainable pace. Maybe curtail your effort by cutting the time in half. I told myself I would do 60 minutes, or 5-6 miles out and the same back, and just see how I felt. If you’re a runner, maybe it wouldn’t kill you to walk a while. If you’re a cyclist, get off the bike and rest. Choose routes that are less challenging and instead focus on your form, take in your surroundings for a change, or smile and clang your bike bell and smile like a crazy person at every person who rides by. (You can say hi later on Strava’s Flyby function, if they use Strava, and make some new friends.)
LESSON: Lighter exercise is a good compromise between going all out and doing nothing. Know your limitations — and respect them. But don’t give up on yourself too easily.
PRO TIP: Take a bus or rideshare home. It’s not cheating, it’s being smart with your energy.
Find Second Gear
You may find once you get out there that your muscle memory kicks in. Your mental fog lifts. By expending some energy, you create more energy. Remember your high school science? “An object in motion tends to stay in motion and an object at rest tends to stay at rest.” For me, once I began my ride, I considered bailing a number of times. But I knew from experience that I wasn’t so sick or tired that I couldn’t dig a little deeper at first to get over the hump of my resistance. Every body is different, but for me, after the blood and legs get to pumping, the heart rate elevated, some sweat off the brow, and having a little confidence in my abilities and respect for my experience, I settled down.
LESSON: You are stronger than you know! At first, it may take more effort than usual to learn this. Over time, you can train yourself to dig deep for short periods until second gear kicks in.
PRO TIP: Remember a time you overcame your exercise resistance. Visualize doing it again. Your subconcious brain and body don’t know the difference between now and then.
In the end, I did a 15-mile ride. It wasn’t fast, I didn’t get any personal bests, but I did feel better: physically, mentally, and emotionally. The magic of exercise worked its wonders once again. And I came home to a mellow half hour of yoga, too, as I have done daily for over five years now. If I had given in to the voices of doubt and laziness, I would not have given myself these experiences. And next time I’m tired, I can call up this time as a reminder that I do have the guts to “just do it.”
***If any of this resonates for you, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!***
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