Your mind may not be a muscle but it can really determine whether your workout is fulfilling or just another exercise in futility. Our think-tank of specialists reveal the mental strategies that can help you get more out of your routine—even when you feel like throwing in the towel.
Visualization: Choose a set of images that inspire or make you feel good (a crowd roaring as you run around a track, skiing at your favorite resort) and replay them in your mind as you work out, says Steven Ungerleider, Ph.D., a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee's sports psychology group. Not only will these mental images help to motivate you, he adds, but they can also improve your performance if you visualize your form and see yourself achieving your goals.
Meditation: Before you leave the locker room, sit down and quiet your mind for four or five minutes. "Empty your mind of all thoughts and then think about your workout and how you're going to feel," says Jerry Lynch, author of Working Out, Working Within. When you stand up, your body should feel relaxed and you should perform better than if you had started your workout with a cluttered mind.
Breathing: Once you've warmed up, try to get into a breathing rhythm, says Walter Thompson, Ph.D., director of the Center for Sports Medicine Science and Technology at Georgia State University. If you're not sure how this works, try breathing in time with your feet, (in-in, out-out), and alter the pattern from there as necessary. "Focusing on your breathing will help you relax," adds Thompson.
Mind games: Count your steps, synchronize your movements to a mantra in your head or tell yourself to speed up for 15 seconds, then keep adding time (10 more seconds, five more seconds). "If you're listening to music, pick up the pace during the chorus and then return to regular speed afterward," suggests Patty Heniff, wellness coordinator at Chicago's swanky East Bank Club.