There’s no such thing as a distraction-free workout. Even at the gym, someone always wants to chat or spend too long on the machine you need. Home workouts seem convenient -- no commute! -- but partners, roommates, neighbors, kids, pets, devices, and even the laundry fracture your focus.
Once you’ve made the decision to work out, you’ve already cleared a massive hurdle. Here’s how to turn distractions into action.
You know how it goes: A construction crew starts jackhammering outside your window the second you turn on your workout video. Yes, it’s annoying, but embrace what you can’t control.
“During a recent pickleball game with friends, someone started power-washing a nearby playground so loud I couldn’t hear the score from across the net,” says Michelle Cleere, PhD, an elite performance expert based in Oakland, CA. “I was frustrated at first, but forgot about it after a few minutes.
“Part of working out at home is a willingness to accept that there are barriers to what we can do. We get into trouble when we put up resistance to things,” she says.
Don’t Sweat Your Space
You don’t need a home gym to get a great workout.
When she teaches Pilates-inspired workouts online, Melissa Uehara rearranges her living room to create space and ambience. But when she takes a class, all she needs is room to lay a mat and move comfortably.
“You don’t have to transform your house to have a designated workout area,” says Uehara, a fitness instructor with Studio Metamorphosis in Los Feliz, CA. She suggests storing your equipment in a visible basket or corner of the room. “It shouldn’t overtake what makes you feel at home.”
Set a Time (and Stick to It)
Unless you’re motivated to move after dark, set aside a specific time to work out in the morning.
“Morning is great because you can get jammed up as the day goes on,” Cleere says. “Meals, time with kids, and the need for downtime creep in. It’s so easy to say, ‘I’ll do it tomorrow.’ Those tomorrows add up.”
Bonus: You’ll be a better version of yourself afterward. Exercise activates brain chemicals that can reduce anxiety and boost energy.
“No one I know works out and feels crappy afterward,” Uehara says.
Don’t Sabotage Yourself
If you don’t want to exercise, you may unconsciously seek out distractions.
Minimize the interruptions: Before your workout, set your phone and watch to Do Not Disturb.
Communicate ahead of time with spouses, partners, co-workers, and kids who are old enough to understand. Say, “I’m not available from 8:30 to 9:15 this morning, unless there’s a crisis.”
Involve Your Kids
When she teaches her Pilates-inspired classes online, Uehara’s 4-year-old son, Felix, listens to music or draws nearby. When she takes an online class, he’s welcome to join.
“He gets excited to do a few squats with me, then he’s done,” she says. “If I tell him to leave, it makes him bug me more. When he gets to join, he feels included. Yes, it’s a distraction, but we’re doing something together and he’s being active.”
Work Your Workout Into Your Schedule
Once you get in the zone, it can be hard to work a workout into your workday. If you can’t set aside 30 minutes, break it up into smaller chunks to offset stress and stop you from sitting still for long periods of time.
“Work for 45 minutes then put on your shoes, walk around the block for 10 minutes, and see how that feels,” Cleere says. “If it feels good, work another 45 minutes and do another 10-minute walk around the block.”
Uehara agrees. “Take out your mat and sit on it,” she says. “If you take it out, you’ll do something on it. Try two or three moves and work up from there.”
All Movement Is Good Movement
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends 30 minutes of moderate physical activity daily. You get to decide how that looks.
“One woman told me she hadn’t exercised in a while,” Cleere says. “‘I used to Rollerblade and loved it,’ she said. I asked why she stopped and she said, ‘That’s not exercise.'”
But it is. Don’t distract yourself with stories about what exercise should or shouldn’t be. Just get out there and move in ways you enjoy.
Say Goodbye to Guilt
You might think, “How can I possibly work out when there are so many things to do?” Then again, how can you not? Exercise helps you handle them better.
Think about it as a doctor appointment: Choose to exercise so you don’t have a heart attack or cardiovascular disease. Choose to exercise to be more clear-headed for your family.
“If you can tie it back to your choices and values, you realize there’s nothing to feel guilty about,” Cleere says.
Hold Yourself Accountable
If you sign up for a live online class, it increases your accountability. If that doesn’t work with your schedule, invite friends to do a recorded class with you via Zoom.
“I’d text my girlfriends around the country a link to a specific class and ask if they wanted to take it with me,” Uehara says. “We’d work out together and have a 15-minute convo afterward to see how everyone was doing. Not only did I get the physical benefit of the workout, but I felt better mentally because I’d connected with friends.”
Exercise Your Right Not to Worry
The pandemic is a master distractor. Is it safe to get in the pool? Go for a run? Take a walk with a friend? Worry keeps you stuck; exercise can set you free mentally and physically.
According to the CDC, pools can’t transmit COVID-19, and outdoor exercise is fine as long as you stay socially distant. Bring a mask, just in case.