How To Stay Mentally Tough During a Workout

Engage your mind before, during and after exercising to keep your body moving – even when all you really want to do is quit.


You’ve been there — we’ve all been there — during a workout: dripping sweat, out of breath and ready to surrender. You must be out of shape, right? Not entirely. Mind and body greatly influence one another, and you could just be mentally flabby. Even non-exercise-aholics can benefit from getting their minds in fighting shape. Mental strength boosts your self-esteem, not just during your elliptical marathon but across life’s board.

So, how do you whip your mind into shape? Enter the adage “Practice makes perfect.” By consistently practicing a few choice tactics, you can not only get through your workout but appreciate and enjoy it.

Pre-Workout Prep

Make a playlist

Music gives you extra pep in your step when you’d rather be anywhere else. Update your playlist often and pay attention to the songs’ order. Strategically place upbeat tunes at the middle and end to combat mental exhaustion. Can’t find new tunes? Websites such as jog.fm and playlist.com compile the motivational mixes of well-known athletes and fitness junkies, so you can hustle like they hustle. Refresh your playlist every day if you’re inclined.

Develop an inspirational manifesto

A list of three or four fitness goals will encourage you and serve as an ongoing pep talk delivered to you by, well, you. Stick to affirmative words and be specific: You “will” run a half marathon by next year, not you “might” register for a race sometime soon. Give yourself a deadline and have the integrity to follow through.

Adopt a mantra

When Downward Dog is a struggle or you’d rather walk on hot coals than continue on the stair-stepper, recite a mantra to distract your mind from the fatigue and renew your will. Never connected with a word or phrase? Try “I am healthy, strong and able,” “Pain is my purpose” or “I power through with gratitude and joy.” The catch is that you have to mean what you say. If you half-think a mantra, you’ll half-do a workout.

Mid-Workout Motivation

Get comfortable being uncomfortable

Toned muscles don’t just happen. You have to work them beyond what’s comfortable, to the point of complete fatigue. Embrace the sensation by affirming out loud that pain is all part of the plan: “Yes, my thighs burn, but I’m fine with it; that’s the purpose here.” This gets your mind out of panic mode.

Stare at the results

Your new shapeliness, stamina and strength will keep you coming back for more. Look down at your body or in the mirror while working out. See only the good: the emerging muscle, the nicer lines. Consciously link your investment with the results.

Post-Workout Reflection

Focus on times when you were tough

Take pride in the moments you climbed over a mental wall during your workout. Staying in an exercise for even 10 more seconds helps the mind, and muscles, grow stronger. Before you know it, you’ll have the endurance to withstand an even more intense fitness routine.

Forgive and forget

Let go of any moments of mental weakness. Dwelling on the negative only drags you down; instead, be your own best cheerleader. Remember what you did right and challenge yourself to push through next time. Mental toughness is only as hard as we perceive it to be. Perceive it to be no big deal and yourself to be one tough cookie.