How to Get Through a Mentally Tough Workout

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Okay. Yesterday was cold. I know everyone is probably tired of hearing everyone complain of the cold, but it seriously was cold. In fact my dog pretty much refused to stay outside for more than 5 minutes which made this whole “go to the bathroom” thing we do pretty hard to accomplish.

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This was after we left the gym last night. 

The temperature here felt like -35 degrees. Seriously, I don’t know how people live in this. It made me so thankful that we will be moving later this year!


I figured there was really only one thing you can do when it is that cold outside.

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Fix yourself a hot cup of decaf coffee and snuggle under a blanket with your husband for the rest of the night.


There was also another reason that I was snuggled up under a blanket and not moving. I had an awful workout day. We all have those days where we just don’t want to go workout. In fact I have those several times a week, but this was a day where I was looking forward to my workout, but my body just never got into it.

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I already had plans to break my workout up between running and biking.  The running part was fine. With my position anytime I get any kind of run I always look forward to it no matter how small.

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The hard part started when I went into the spin room. I could tell my legs were already tired before I went in but I was hoping they would kick in once I got started. Nope. 

I ended up doing a very long, very awful, very challenging 70 minutes on the spin bike before calling it a day.

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This was the most mentally challenging workout I have had in months. I don’t know what happened.  There were probably several factors that played into it, but I knew what to do to get through it so I sucked it up.

I put together a few tips for you for the next time you face one of these days.


How to Get Through A Mentally Tough Workout


How to Get Through a Mentally Tough Workout

1. Try to get Through the First 10 Minutes

If you aren’t into it at the very beginning, give it another 5-10 minutes before you completely give up and cough it up to a terrible workout day. Sometimes you will be surprised how your body will adapt once it gets into it.


2. Start with a Warm Up

Start the workout with a warm up. When I run I try to start with a 1-5 minute walk to get my legs into it. On the spin bike my warm up can be anywhere from 10-15 minutes depending on how tough of a spinning session I have planned. This allows your body to get warm, moving, and helps to get your mind ready to workout.


3. Find Something Else to Focus Your Mind On

If I am not getting into a workout sometimes I will turn on the TV (if I am in the gym), turn my music up, or just simply try to find something else to focus my mind on. So many times our mind gives out before the rest of our body so it is important to play “tricks” on your brain and focus on something else.


4. Know When to Quit

This is an important but tricky step. There are workouts that I never get into and I just quit. I take it as a sign that my body needs to rest and that I shouldn’t continue with the workout. This is a very important step to help avoid injury. The thing is you also have to know when your mind is just fighting you. Yesterday I knew my body was well rested because I had come off a rest day. I knew that most of the tiredness was coming form waiting until later in the day to do my workout. You have to recognize the signs in your body, and if you can tell your body just needs to rest – let it!


5. Change It Up

If you already have a planned workout (like I do 95% of the time) allow yourself room to change it. If your body can’t handle a hard workout, ease it down some and just take it easy.  There is nothing wrong with switching up your plan. I have had to learn this the hard way. You can always do it another day.


We all have tough days, and it is important to work through them. No matter what you will be proud at the end. Some days we just have to work for it a little harder.

PicMonkey Collage

You can turn your tough day into a great day, but sometimes it just takes a little extra work.


What are your tips to getting through a tough workout?

How do you know the difference between when your body is telling you to take a rest day or your mind is just not where it needs to be?

About Sara

Welcome to my blog! My name is Sara and this blog documents my journey as a wife and a runner. I train hard and put my heart and soul into my running. My life is a crazy journey full of ups and downs, and I am here to share it all with you!


  1. Here is another thought that we got from when our kids were in a great karate program when they were younger back in Mass – STAR. It stands for Stop, Think, Act and Review. In other words, take a minute to assess your situation and try to Think why you are just ‘not feeling it’. Then choose what to do and go with it. Finally, when separated from the situation, Review your thought process and decision … did it make sense?

    I like your 5 tips in general, but the one called ‘know when to quit’ would be more accurate if you labeled it ‘know when NOT to quit’, since that is most of what you discuss. You had a rest day and therefore made the decision that you SHOULD be physically rested enough and therefore the block was mental.

    But was that true? There are always other possibilities – maybe your body is resisting your ramp-up more than you think, maybe it is the weather impacting your energy, perhaps stress or other exhausting forces are at work, and so on. Or maybe it was just one of those days when you need to say ‘suck it up’ and push yourself through.

    My point is that the review process is incredibly important, especially for someone coming back from injury. Your ‘system’ (mind/body) was sending you a message – and thankfully rather than ignoring it you listened and made a choice. Now the next day is time to assess if you made the right one.

    • Really like the STAR! That is a great way to look at it.

      In terms of the “know when to quit” I think it is best said that way because often times you will quit. I have done it numerous times and it is important, however, after working and getting to the gym late in the day sometimes our body is just tired. There is not much more to it. Yes, we could take a rest day but if you did that every day after a long day you wouldn’t get very far. I try to focus on what the signs are my body is telling me. Typically if I am just tired from a long day I will get into it slowly but if not then often times I will cut it short and quit – a workout is never worth putting your body through more it can handle, but there will be days when it is just tough and you have to push through.

      I agree about the review system – you have to know your body and know the signs. I have learned now (it did take me quite a while) the difference between exhaustion from over use and the exhaustion from a long day and that is what I think I was trying to show – you have to listen to your body and know it’s signals. Stop, Evaluate, and make the best decision for you!

      • Sorry – wasn’t being critical, just reflecting that your writing reflected that you had done everything right – knew you were rested, did the most important thing and got yourself started, and so on. At that point we all ask ourselves ‘c’mon, WTF?’ … and try to evaluate WHY we just want to stop.

        And like you say, knowing your body is one thing, but realizing that your mind can sometimes work against you! I never ran in the daylight until spring of 2012 (remember I started running in 1989) – there were a ton of reasons, all mental. And even getting into weekend or evening runs was a mental challenge – because once you are doing stuff your mind is in a different place.

        Great post, really love it … oh, and totally psyched to see the running progress!

        • Oh no didn’t think you were being critical at all :) Just rephrasing I guess!

          Thank you I am excited too! I already feel the itch to do more but I FINALLY have learn the importance of taking it slow. I’m making sure to do it right this time!

  2. I think our bodies know when to hit it and when we maybe just can’t….no biggie to me there will be another better day soon. 😉

  3. I remind myself that it will get better – it usually does. If it hasn’t and I’m more than halfway through, I countdown to the end – ticking off the miles in my head.

  4. I completely agree with trying to get through the first 10 minutes. Typically, once I start and get going, I find my groove and the motivation kicks in. You make a great point about knowing when to stop. Usually when my mind wants to go and my body needs rest, I will do something easy like take a walk or do low resistance on the elliptical. That way I satisfy both needs.

  5. I like to try to remind myself how lucky I am to be able to exercise! So many people have limitations that keep them from being able to move like we do, so although it is hard sometimes I try to approach tough workouts with a smile and gratitude. But I also agree that sometimes you may just need to rest! If its not your day, it is not your day and it is just one day, get some mental or physical R&R and come back the next day stronger and more ready (:

    • This is so true! Since I just came off an injury it is important to remember and be thankful that I AM able to workout and ejoy

    • Very true Hayley!

      It was the pacer in my first marathon who really drove that message home for me about those who cannot run for one reason or other … I have a wife with arthritis and lousy joints who can’t run, a son with joint issues who has had PT but still struggles with many types of running-based activities … and it really brings it home for me that I can just get up and go for a run whenever and wherever I want.

  6. Holy smokes.. -35 degrees? Yeah, it can be hard to get motivated when it is that nasty-cold outside. Without a doubt, the first 10 minutes are the hardest. Get through that, and you are golden.

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