If you’re feeling slammed by the time you clock out, it’s no surprise you’re struggling to drag yourself to the gym and do your workouts. A new study has found that mental fatigue can inhibit your athletic performance, turning already-grueling workouts into near-impossible torture.
The University of Birmingham’s School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabiliation Sciences found people who are experiencing mental fatigue also suffer from an increased sense of exertion during their training sessions. The study, which was published in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, provides great insight into how we should be training.
Ultimately, if the brain drain of your 9-to-5 is hurting your fitness goals, you might need to tweak your calendar to make sure that your mental exertions aren’t preventing you from shifting tin (or clocking miles) at the a level you’re happy with.
In the study, researchers looked at how mental fatigue affected partcipants’ physical performance. During tests, participants were tasked with completing a 90-minute task wherein they had to identify letter sequences popping up on a screen. Then, those same participants were asked to perform a number of weight-lifting reps. The control group—those lucky few—were spared the problem solving, and were instead asked to watch a series of neutral videos before smashing out their sets.
In another experiment, participants were asked to perform cognitive tasks between sessions of resistance training and cycling time trials. Once they had completed this grueling to-do list, they were asked to fill out an online test to gauge their energy levels.
In both experiments, those who were tackling cognitive tasks perceived a greater sense of exertion than those who were able to relax between their physical efforts. Their findings do lend further credence to the idea that where the mind goes, the muscle follows.
Clear Your Head
If you’ve been struggling during your workouts and have ruled out the usual culprits—lack of sleep, dehydration, bad diet—taking a few minutes to reset your state of mind before a workout could result in a better session.
However, there’s no hard-and-fast strategy for achieving that mental refresh. Some research suggests leaving breathing room between taxing tasks (like work) before heading for the gym. However, other papers on the topics have found a strong link between physical exertion and stress relief.
You could, however, try a quick five-minute stint of breathing exercises before tackling your first set of the day. Try taking 6 to 10 deep breaths, really filling up your chest, before exhaling slowly. Not only will you feel calmer, but you might be able to find that reset button for your head afterall.