Time is relative. Einstein proved that many years ago. But when it comes to exercise, how you perceive time has a great deal to do with the benefits you derive from each exercise session. In fact, taking charge of the time element in exercise will go a long way towards heightening your enjoyment of the time spent. Additionally, when the time element is perceived as short, your whole program becomes enhanced.
Have you ever wondered while running on a treadmill or sitting on an exercise bike why time seems to stand still? Or how it appears that when you’re in the great outdoors running or cycling a favorite path you’re oblivious to time and it seems to fly by? The answer is simple: time is relative to our perceptions. In fact, your perception of time has everything to do with the physiological benefit you gain from exercise and affects the likelihood of you adhering to a program.
When you enjoy an activity, time does fly by; when you are in discomfort, every minute of time seems to crawl past. This is so true with exercise. The key to success is to learn to relax during activity and become lost in the movement. In that way, time will speed up, and your benefits will also increase. By being overly conscious of every moment and fanatically tracking time during a workout, you inhibit your ability to relax and actually slow time down. Result: the perception of a long workout for an actual short duration of real time.
Most beginning exercisers are too focused on the clock. Once you learn to relax and just be in the moment, the time will speed up, and before you know it your session will be over. Becoming engrossed in activity is one sure way to ensure that you perceive training time as short, in that way, your exercise will seem less daunting and the time element will be controlled.
Another way around the perceived “long time” problem is to choose a starting length for your workouts of short duration, so brief that you feel it’s over in no time. By performing a few of these shorter sessions you will find that they seem easy, you will relax about spending the time, and you will reset your internal clock to perceive the sessions as short. In this way, as you gradually increase the physical time of your sessions, you will be able to hang onto your perception that the sessions are short.
This principle applies to endurance athletes as well. Many first time Marathoners or Ironman triathletes perceive their events as long and impossible. It’s often not until they have experienced a race or exercise session of equal length that they begin to settle into the reality that they can accomplish their goal. That’s why in the first few years of training it is important to schedule long workouts that mimic the duration or even exceed the duration of your planned race. After this type of training, you develop the perception that your actual race is short and doable.
One way around this training problem is to match your predicted time for the event with a training session that is of equal length. If properly designed, with adequate low impact activity to avoid over training, this session will allow you to experience the time element and reset your internal confidence and perception of the event. Some coaches even suggest that a few over-distance training sessions are more beneficial psychologically than physiologically because of this perception of the time element. It’s important to approach these long sessions in a relaxed manner, that way the time will fly by and the duration perception will be shorter than the actual time spent training.
Another way to reset your perception of time during exercise is to change your environment and slow down your pace. Now you have more interesting terrain to cover, and your focus shifts outward. This slows your perception of time, and the actual minutes fly by. Also, by slowing your pace your enjoyment factor increases, which in turn allows you to focus more externally; these factors combine to speed up the perception of time. Result: the workout zips past and you feel a deep sense of accomplishment because a real-time long workout feels short.
Walk/running works the same way, since you get a break every few minutes your body perceives the event as a bunch of short runs. Here you are able to break a long event into bite sized chunks. By focusing on these “chunks,” you compress time, and before you know it the whole event passes by.
Now if you still perceive your exercise session or event as long, seek ways to compress time. Try shortening the training to match what seems short time wise; then lengthen your longer workouts to reset your perception of time; finally change your environment, your pace, and your walk /run time. In this way you will reset your internal clock.
I know of many endurance athletes who used to think a 30-minute session was “long,” and now they only think of it as a warm-up. You will know that long-term progress has been made when this perception change occurs inside of you.
Sample Workouts That Change Your Perception of Time:
The Practice Triathlon: By combining all three sports, you can create a long workout that is fun and enjoyable. Try to get off road for the run and use a walk/run strategy. This will take the pressure off you to pace yourself while at the same time allowing you to extend the time. Always go in a group, carry on a conversation, and don’t worry about the pace. Keep the workout aerobic, as your body derives the same endurance benefits regardless of your pace. If you feel like it, stop and rest frequently to re-fuel and drink.
The Trail Run: You can run 50 percent farther on a trail than you can on pavement. The impact stress is lower and the scenery is better. Also by having to place your feet and adjust your stride constantly you will avoid chronic overuse injuries that are a result of repetitive strain. Dress well, carry lots of provisions, and leave your watch behind, you can ballpark your trip time later. By focusing on your environment you will be able to pay less attention to your body, your internal clock will be re-set, and the time will fly!
The Open Water Swim: This is a great way to end pool boredom and counting laps. It will enhance your sighting skills, get you used to your wet suit, and allow you to swim farther without the pressure of the clock. Always swim in groups and practice drafting - a valuable skill for open water swimming. Practice breathing on both sides and adjust if the waves warrant. Swim easily, enjoy being in the water, make a game of swimming to various landmarks, stay close to shore, and have fun.
The Climb, Hike, or Snowshoe: These alternate training ideas incorporate good solid recreation and a destination that will motivate you towards accomplishment. Pick a viewpoint climb or snowshoe, get a good group together, and set out. Consider a pack for extra weight and added resistance if you desire to elevate your heart rate, wear good shoes, and try a set of poles for added balance. The viewpoint adds the element of a goal and the feeling of accomplishment to your session, which will leave you with a healthy dose of positive energy. After all, a big part of endurance athletics is the notion that you can accomplish something you at one point didn’t think you could.