Once you finally cross that threshold where exercise becomes a routine, there's a big "what's next?" question that pops into your brain. For many of us, simply doing the work just isn't exciting enough. As a cyclist, I needed to push myself out of my comfort zone to keep things interesting.
Bicycle picture from Shutterstock
We've talked before about making workouts less boring and most of those tips apply here too. If you find yourself getting bored, it's worth mixing up your routine intervals, trying gamification, reading, or finding friends to work out with. I needed something a little different, though. I mainly bike because I enjoy it, but enjoying exercise is just part of the battle. You still have to keep it interesting.
Change Up The Location
It's easy to get set in a routine when you're doing any kind of cardio exercise. Whether it's a route you take every day (or even a handful of them), you will get burnt out eventually. The obvious step here is to find new routes and change up your location whenever you can. We've walked you through creating a running route before, and cycling works the same way.
Beyond that, I also needed to train my brain to seek out routes beyond the proximity of my own home. It has always been a bit absurd to me to drive somewhere to work out. After all, no matter where you are, you can find a place to run, bike, hike, or walk. That's great for your average day of exercise, but it limits your options.
So, I've learned to suck it up and toss my bike in a car so I can bike in new places. There are so many great areas to ride a bike (or go on hikes and run) that aren't accessible to me from my house. Once I broadened my search beyond my little bubble, I found all kinds of crazy rides filled with amazing scenery. If you're like me and avoid driving to go work out, reconsider. I was limiting my options for no good reason.
If you're not sure where to look in your area, MapMyRide provides all kinds of routes to get you started in a wide variety of activities. The fitness tracking app Strava has global heatmaps that are also great for finding popular places to run and bike.
Learn To Love The Gadgets (And Occasionally Leave Them Behind)
Despite working for Lifehacker, I'm gadget obsessed. I try to own as few things as possible and for the most part, fitness trackers have always been at the bottom of my list.
But I've found that I do like tracking my rides and runs because it offers a set of metrics that help you understand where you're improving. Heart rate trackers GPS, and all that other stuff is handy way to see how hard you're working. While I've been doing a better job of searching out new routes, I still stick with my old favourites throughout the week because I know exactly how long they will take. Unfortunately, when you're doing the same route all the time it's easy to get too relaxed (and thus bored) without realising it.
The right gadgets can help prevent you from falling into that relaxed mindset. With cycling, a GPS device like a Garmin can show you live stats and monitor your performance so you know how hard you're working. For multi-sport people, our friends over at Gizmodo recommend the Garmin Fenix 3.
Using software like Strava (or your phone app of choice) can do the same thing. You can see how fast you're going, how fast you've gone in the past, and even virtually race other people to improve your times. It sounds so stupid to participate in imaginary races with people you've never met (or yourself), but it's useful when you exercise on the same route a lot.
That said, it's also good to leave them behind completely sometimes. Not every bit of exercise needs to get tracked, shared on social media, or analysed. Sometimes, it's fun to just hit the streets and go wherever your legs take you. I make it a point every couple of weeks to go out without GPS tracking and just follow various bike paths until I hit a dead end somewhere. This way I find new routes and keep things casual occasionally.
Embrace Your Stupid Hobby
I've always been a "bike guy" who'd prefer to ride somewhere rather than walk. But I've never been that bike guy. You know the one. The guy with the spandex. The bikes everywhere in their house. The wide array of helmets. But one day, I finally dove in. When I shrugged off my preconceptions about the type of person who wore spandex, I realised how useful it actually is for long rides. I felt stupid for a while, sure, but eventually I stopped caring. Once I embraced it as both a hobby and a way to exercise, I found I loved it even more.
I try not to own much stuff. Because of that, I've always had a complicated relationship with hobbies. It's easy accumulate a lot of junk you don't actually need, and cycling's no different. I have cycling kits I've only worn once. I have a variety of socks and helmets that I've tested and found didn't work great. I only have one bike at the moment, but after years of repairing it, tinkering with it, and manipulating it to fit my needs, it finally needs replacing. Either way, I've accumulated more stuff than I'm comfortable with, so I have to remind myself to donate or give stuff away every now and then.
But that's the tradeoff when you're invested in a hobby. A new bike is something to look forward to and that can make all the difference in reinvigorating your passion. Even new clothes can do the trick, which surprised me because I've never cared about that kind of thing.
All this is to say: when you hit that boring plateau, think about whether your exercise of choice is a hobby for you or not. If it is, shamelessly dive into it and don't look back.
Find Something To Train For
Some of us are competitive, and some of us aren't. I tend to fall into the latter group, but that doesn't keep me from finding things to "train" for. Whether it's a race, a new mountainous route to tackle, or whatever else, if you're always training for something new, it's a lot easier to get off your arse everyday.
For example, I recently moved to a mountainous area. The bike routes I was used to previously were pretty flat, which meant I hadn't climbed anything noteworthy except in a blue moon. So I was pretty unprepared for cycling routes through actual mountain ranges. After years on flat paths, my legs weren't up to the task. I spent a lot of days riding up and down hills to get my legs in shape before I could head off into the mountains for a real day of riding. I felt like I was training for something important. Like there was a purpose beyond just exercising so I don't die an early death, and that was much more motivating than I thought it'd be.
Runners have 5Ks, 10K, half-marathons and marathons. Cyclists have all kinds of rides, from criteriums to century rides. Most major cities have competitive races as well as noncompetitive ones, so if you're competitive like me, you can still find things to train for. I always thought training was pretty silly. I thought the fun and thrill of a ride should be enough, but that thrill's died down over the years. Now, I need a little extra push. Training, even if it's for made-up events, is enough to keep me going.
Give Yourself Ridiculous Goals
"Give yourself achievable goals" is common advice in fitness circles of all types. That's all well and good when you're first starting out, but honestly, that's not particularly useful for me at this point. Instead, I give myself ridiculous, nearly impossible goals, and I have a blast failing them at every step.
For example, my home's at the top of an incredibly steep hill. Right now, my best time up that hill is around three minutes. I want to eventually get it done in two minutes. That will probably never actually happen, but every time I tick away at that time I can feel myself getting a little closer...and it feels badass.
Likewise, last weekend, I decided I wanted to do 3000 metres of climbing. Why? I have no idea. I just wanted to do it. So I went into the mountains and rode until I hit 3000 metres. I could barely walk afterwards, but I felt great knowing I'd accomplished that. Next stop? 6000 metres. Will I ever get there? Probably not. But who cares? The more absurd I can make goals, the harder I'll try to get to them. It seems counterintuitive, but ridiculous goals can be just as fun and useful as achievable ones.
Accept Boredom And Embrace The "Time Off from Thinking"
No matter what you do, cardio exercise will always fall back into a routine. That's just how it works. It's not a bad thing though. If I'm honest with myself, cycling is pretty much the only time during the day where I'm not in front of a person or a screen. That means it's also the only time I have to shut my brain down and enter the void of not thinking.
In his book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami discusses "the void." It's that moment when you're exercising and your brain just shuts off. The Oatmeal plays off this same concept in his comic, The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons I Run Long Distances. The stresses in your life — your finances, your relationship problems, your sick grandparents, or whatever else — just disappear for a few moments. The world is loud and chaotic, but when you're out there pushing yourself as hard as you can, zoning out in that moment gives you a break from it all.
In a way, it's a kind of meditation. It clears my brain and gives me a little bit of clarity. It's fleeting, but I still welcome it. Boredom's not so bad, and exercise is an easy way to let yourself have those moments. Obviously you don't want it all the time, but keep those workout routes where you don't have to think on your calendar.