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Re-Think Your Rewards

ASK THE HEALTH AND FITNESS EXPERT Evie Serventi is a health and fitness journalist who focuses on the body and mind connection. Currently studying sports psychology, Evie loves helping people connect the dots between mental performance, motivation, goal setting and dealing with injury. Email her or follow her on Twitter.

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“I can’t believe I actually feel more unfit now than before I joined the gym!” That’s what Rachel, a friend of mine, said when she discovered not only had she gained weight three months into her new gym membership, but she also felt more sluggish on the treadmill.

Rachel runs three times a week (for 40-50mins) finishing with a 20-minute core work/stretching routine. Sounds great, right? However, each session Rachel runs at the same pace for the same length of time – so, as her body adapts, her workouts become less intense, and therefore less effective. But, the main issue is that Rachel uses these workouts to justify what she perceives as ‘guilty pleasures’, such as chomping on junk food after a run, going out for a boozy dinner/night out or having regular dessert. She’s conditioned to ‘reward’ herself after exercise, and she’s not alone.

A recent survey found that over 25% of people gained weight once they joined a gym because they gave themselves treats after a workout. Rewarding yourself after exercise with chocolates, alcohol or ‘splurging’ habits might initially help to motivate you to step out for a run or to hit the gym, but it’s counter-productive and highlights the importance of understanding what really motivates you and being clear about what it is you really want to achieve.

“You have to believe in yourself and really know how you’re going to achieve your goals, ” explains Martin Hagger, Professor of Psychology and Director of the Health Psychology and Behavioural Medicine Research Group at Curtin University in Perth. “You must explore your own reasons for changing in order to be fully committed to making a change.”

“These key questions are based on outcome expectancies and self-efficacy, such as, ‘how confident am I?’ and ‘what is it I really want?’”, he says.

To stay motivated and be consistent in your training, shift your focus from external rewards – such as buying a chocolate bar or ordering dessert – to internal rewards or ‘feelings’ such as enjoying the reward of feeling much fitter and having more energy during the day. Sleeping better, laughing more, thinking sharper and being more creative – are all effective rewards and will start to feel innate, which will keep you on track and enjoying your running.

Top post-run rewards:

  • A warm bath with a few drops of essential oils
  • A post-workout routine of stretching, breathing and foam rolling to manage niggles
  • Stand under a hot (or cold!) shower and use ginger shower gel, which is said to boost circulation and feelings of wellbeing
  • Time your run to finish at the start of a yoga class at your gym – you’ll benefit from the endorphins and body/mind workout
  • After an early morning run, enjoy a healthy breakfast of poached eggs or fruit, or snack on some nuts
  • Book a massage for the afternoon on a day when you do a tough session or long run in the morning
  • Go shopping for your favourite or much needed running gear
  • Make a cup of herbal tea – peppermint (muscle relaxant), nettle (packed with iron and boosts circulation) or chamomile (calming)
  • Put your feet up, or use a foot spa – your feet will appreciate it!
  • If you exercise at the gym, go for a sauna or spa after your run/cardio session

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