By Holly Pennington, DPT/Outpatient Physical Therapy
When the next race is 5 months away, the new season of This Is Us is finally here, and there is nowhere to park at the gym thanks to New Year’s resolutions of the masses, even the most committed triathletes can start to lose their motivation. Inspiring training quotes on Instagram may be enough to get you through the next workout, but what are the best ways to stay motivated through the long, dark days of the off-season?
For decades, health psychologists and exercise scientists have been trying to get to the bottom of what motivates people to exercise. While the magic bullet remains elusive, scientific inquiries into the mental game of training provide some answers to what works best when it comes to sticking to a training plan.
Not surprisingly, research points to enjoyment as a driving force of the most disciplined athletes. The human brain is wired for pleasure; if you enjoy a workout, you will most likely do it again. Most triathletes can check this box off – you wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t love triathlons – but does enjoyment of your sport translate to your daily workouts? If not, driving an extra ten minutes to a scenic trail to run or playing a video game while you ride the stationary bike at the gym could be the difference between a workout and your couch.
In 2016, psychologists took the concept of workout pleasure a step farther and asked what specific factors contributed to positive emotions associated with training. Perceived competence – a sense of mastery or winning – was most strongly correlated with enjoyment. Believing that you are good at something makes it more fun. So, when you find yourself in a rut this winter, try zoning in on your technical skills in the pool or on the track. Hire a coach, do your own research or ask a friend for feedback on your form – the more proficient you feel in each sport, the more enjoyable it will be. And, bonus, the more motivated you will feel!
If focusing on fun isn’t your thing, the unexpected results of a recent study comparing social support with social comparison (in other words, competition) may give you some ideas. Researchers compared supportive online networks with competitive ones to find out which were most effective in motivating people to exercise. The results give a nod to tools like the CrossFit scoreboard, as competition came out on top. So, the next time your friends invite you on a 3-hour ride and you don’t feel like going, ask if they would be up for some friendly competition. And when your Facebook friend posts their Map My Run results for everyone to see, instead of rolling your eyes or unfriending them, think social comparison: sharing and comparing may be more self-care than self-obsession.
The off-season is not only a time to build a fitness foundation, it’s an opportunity to try new things with your training and learn about yourself. What motivates you? Find out by trying these research-backed techniques and remember to find the fun in your training, no matter what!
Therapists at Outpatient Physical Therapy love working with triathletes to keep you training pain-free. Call any of the seven locations to schedule a free consult (no referral needed). www.outpatientpt.com
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