Sweating, literally and figuratively through a workout when you’re unsure if you’re doing the moves right can quickly snuff out inspiration (also, you might get hurt). If you have a question even if it’s in the middle of a class, raise your hand to get the instructor’s attention. Or if you’re on the gym floor, grab a nearby trainer and ask how to show you the proper form. It will pay off: A new study found that proactively asking for advice helped exercisers learn a skill better and feel more confident.
The right tunes can be as important as the workout itself. Listening to music while doing cardio can up your endurance by 15 percent, it works while lifting weights; too researchers found that women improved leg-strength endurance if they listened to motivational music during four weeks of leg-resistance training. Just be sure to follow the “80 for 90” rule to protect your hearing. Keep the volume at 80 percent of max level and listen for no more than 90 minutes a day.
Women tend to play it safe when it comes to fitness, sticking with the same weights, running pace, or intensity level. Try this: Always act 20 percent stronger than you feel. So, if your inclination is to grab the eight-pound weights, use 10-pounders instead. It’s often your mind (not your muscles) that is holding you back. Also, practice positive self-talk by telling yourself things like “I am strong, I can do this,” one study found that people who told themselves “This feels good” were able to exercise longer and said the work felt easier.
It’s not about yesterday or tomorrow; it’s about right now. Really focusing on the exercise at hand can lend you extra energy. Research shows that using associative techniques (such as concentrating on your body and environment) will help you perform better than using dissociative techniques (e.g., mentally running through your to-do list or post-workout snack options). Zeroing in on your breathing pattern is one way to start. Take deep breaths, inhaling through your nose for two counts and exhaling through your mouth for two counts.
Even slight dehydration can make tasks feel more difficult and mess with your concentration. Swig some water every 15 minutes, or anytime you feel your focus or intensity fading. Another trick: Sip a sports drink and then spit it out. Researchers found that cyclists rode faster after swishing a carbohydrate-rich bev. Your taste buds fire off a message to your brain that energy-ramping sugar is on its way. The signal alone (minus the cals) can be enough to charge up your performance.