How To Stop Fixating on Workout Metrics, According to an Exercise Psychologist

Photo: Stocksy/Mihajlo Ckovric
It feels like I'm constantly checking the metrics of my workout—how much time has passed or how much "distance" I've traveled—during virtual spin classes. And it's no surprise that such a habit isn't exactly what an expert in exercise psychology recommends.

"Attending to the metrics during a workout can be harmful because our reliance on time, pace, or distance can replace our ability to listen to our bodies," says Amber Shipherd, PhD, CMPC, executive board member for the Association for Applied Sport Psychology. "Rather than getting on the bike or treadmill and doing what feels right for our body, we end up either doing less than we’re capable of or pushing ourselves too hard because we’re so concerned with hitting the numbers."

"Attending to the metrics during a workout can be harmful because our reliance on time, pace, or distance can replace our ability to listen to our bodies." —Amber Shipherd, exercise psychologist

Fixating on workout metrics is also a bad habit for anyone who's trying to fall in love with working out. "For someone who doesn’t really enjoy exercise, focusing on the metrics too often during a workout can also encourage negative self-talk, like 'Ugh, I have to do this for another 15 minutes,'" says Shipherd. No matter what's making you put too much attention on the metrics, there are some actionable tips she says will help you rely less on the numbers and more on your body.

How to shift your focus away from workout metrics

1. Rethink your goal for the workout

Rethinking your goal for your workouts is a great way to switch your mindset. "Instead of aiming to work out for a set time or distance, aim to reduce your stress or increase your energy level," says Shipherd. "Then exercise until you feel you’ve accomplished that goal."

2. Cover up the screen

If you can't take your eyes off the metrics screen, there's no shame in making it disappear. "Cover up that screen on the bike or treadmill with a towel and exercise more mindfully," she says. "Notice and appreciate how your body moves—as well as your breathing—and stop when you feel ready to finish the workout, regardless of the time or distance."

3. Turn negative thoughts into positive ones

If you already struggle with enjoying exercise, there's a simple way to transform your negative thoughts into positive ones. "When you catch yourself thinking 'I have to work out for another 10 minutes,' try to reframe that into 'I get to finish another podcast' or 'I get to spend more time working on my fitness,'" says Shipherd. "Self-talk can also reduce your perception of effort, so you'll get the added bonus of feeling like your workout is easier."

4. Lower the intensity

Workouts don't need to be done at the highest possible intensity level in order to be effective. "Try exercising at a low to moderate intensity," she says. "Enjoyment during a workout decreases at higher intensities, so lowering your intensity may help you enjoy your workout more (and be more likely to stick with it longer!)."

5. View exercise as a reward

Viewing exercise as a reward instead of something you have to do can take your attention off the metrics and put it on the enjoyment of moving your body. "Maybe it's an opportunity to take a break from your work/family obligations, to listen to that new audiobook you just got, to decrease stress, increase your energy, or spend some time with a friend or exercise buddy," says Shipherd. Whatever it may be, truly enjoy it—no numbers or countdowns necessary.

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