How to Keep Your Mind Engaged in the Ride

Mindful cycling can help you get more out of your workouts.

A woman who’s a regular in my indoor cycling classes has a self-professed tendency to become bored easily, and I can see this during her workouts. I don’t take it personally because she often tells me that I’m her favorite instructor and she gets more out of my workouts than others. Still, I have wondered about the source of her boredom, and I think it stems from letting her mind wander too much. While other riders are paying attention to my cues, tuning into the music, or focusing on the scenic video that’s playing, she often engages in people-watching: Her head routinely swivels left and right as she checks out other riders or watches them in the mirror.

Enough about her. The point is: If you don’t bring your head into the ride, you’ll naturally set yourself up for boredom or burnout. Plus, being mentally disengaged is like riding the brake on the bike. You won’t get as much out of the workout as you could because you won’t be listening to your body or pushing your limits. Instead, you’ll be spinning your wheels mindlessly. To prevent these unfortunate results from occurring, get your mind involved. Here’s how:

Take out the trash: Before you start pushing the pedals, close your eyes, take some deep breaths, and clear your mind. Forget about what happened earlier in the day or what’s likely to happen later. Forget about your worries, your “to do” list, and other mental distractions. All that matters right now is the ride ahead: This is your time and you should enjoy it. 

Set a goal: Think about what you’re working towards. It doesn’t have to be a big-picture agenda or a long-term goal, but you should consider what you want to get out of that particular workout.

Do you want a kickass workout that will crank up your heart rate and make you sweat buckets? Do you want to work out your frustrations, relieve stress, and boost your mood? Any goal is fair game but in order to achieve it you need to identify what it is.

Tune into how you feel: One of the best ways to bring your head into the picture is to pay attention to how your body feels.

Notice which muscles are working hard and feel particularly strong. Pay attention to how your breathing changes when you’re riding a flat road versus climbing a steep hill. Bring your mind in touch with your physicality, and you’ll be better able to immerse yourself in your session.

Find new ways to challenge yourself: Try maintaining a higher gear than you’re comfortable with for longer or push your pace by 10 RPMs for an extended period of time. Identify your comfort zone—the gear and pace at which you could ride for a long time—then challenge yourself to exceed it. Besides boosting your physical conditioning, consciously choosing to push your limits requires mental engagement and fortitude that will enhance the quality and enjoyment of your ride.

Focus on messages that motivate you: When you catch yourself starting to zone out, bring it back to the moment with key words such as focus, energy, power, or breathe! You can also use a motivating mantra to help you continue pushing hard when fatigue sets in or to help you get to the top of a steep climb or persevere during an endurance ride.

Ultimately, bringing your mind into the equation can help you bring your best effort to the ride, which will in turn help you get more out of it. The mind and the body are so connected that trying to rely exclusively on your physical prowess without your mental acuity on board really is like handicapping yourself. Why do it?!

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