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Mind Games for Big Gains

No motivation to exercise? Its all in your head: Your brain is
wired to keep your body at rest. Here are 5 ways to rewire it

Reminisce for a moment about the first time she slipped her hand below your waistline and
inched it lower lower lower. Now imagine biting into a warm, buttery cookie. And
remember when the older kids used to chase you and your friends? You ran for your life,
terrified, but once youd escaped, the rush you felt bordered euphoria.
In each case, your brains survival circuitry flooded your synapses with dopamine and other
reward chemicals, forever conditioning you to mate, eat, fight, flee, or bond with others as the
situation warranted. Odds are, your first months in the gym inspired similar feelings of
awesomeness that rippled beyond those walls whenever your girlfriend caught you shirtless.

Evolutionarily, it makes perfect sense: Exercise not only boosts your sexappeal but also, as you
become fitter, increases your odds of living to see your next meal. At least thats how your
brains pleasure=reward centers (the frontal cortex and nucleus accumbens) view the situation;
they dont realize that working out isnt, in fact, necessary for survival in the modern world.
Indeed, exercise burns calories that could be used to mate, flee, and fight.
We know the hardwiring that promotes voluntary movement and playingor in this case
exercisingis likely tied to the same neurocircuits involved in searching and feeding, says
Rodney Dishman, Ph.D., a professor of exercise science at the University of Georgia whos been
studying the role of motivation in physical activity for 30 years. So if our bodies have evolved
to conserve energy and resist things like fat loss, then it makes perfect sense that our brains will
actually defend against moving too much.
The solution is to hack your brains hardwiring to trick those pleasure-reward centers into once
again perceiving exercise as necessary to your survival. In other words, you need to make your
workouts seem as desirable as sex, as stimulating as running for your life, and as sublimely
hedonic as biting into a warm cookie. And you can do that with just a few simple tweaks to your
existing fitness routine.
Speed Up Your Workouts
When you sprint all out toward a goalas when our prehistoric ancestors chased down food
your brains reward is a blast of dopamine that imprints the memory of your success and how
good it felt. High-intensity interval training [HIIT] has a similar effect, says Dishman. Unlike
resistance training or even long-distance cardio, it significantly increases blood flow in the
frontal cortex.
Your Move: Find a hill that takes about 20 to 30 seconds to sprint up, and after a brief warm-up
(10 minutes of jogging will do the trick), race to the top as fast as you can. When you get there,
do 40 mountain climbers followed by 10 pushups, and then walk back down. Repeat the entire
circuit (sprint, mountain climbers, pushups, walk) as many times as you can in 20 minutes. Hills
do triple duty, says Josh Stolz, C.S.C.S, a personal trainer at Equinox in New York City. You
have a goal you can see, youre building power and reaching exhaustion faster than you would
on flat ground, and the walk back down provides a natural recovery period so youll be able to
push it during the next uphill interval. Its the perfect cardio workout.
Use Sex as a Motivator
Have you ever found yourself doing something wholly unpleasantshopping for linens,
attending a baby shower, watching Greys Anatomysimply to please a woman? That is your
brain on sex; your neurochemistry is prodding you to muscle through the anguish to increase
your odds of copulating. Similarly, you can use sex as a motivator to keep yourself moving
through your workouts and coming back for more day after day, says Mens Health sex and
relationships advisor Debby Herbenick, Ph.D., Shes a research scientist at Indiana University,
and the author of Great in Bed, so she oughta know.
Your Move: One week each month, strike a bargain with your partner that you can have sex only
on the days you (even better, both of you) work out. The benefits extend beyond simple

motivation, says Herbenick. Increased bloodflow from exercise stimulates the genitals,
enhancing arousal and pleasure. Lets face it: Sex requires a lot of repetitive motions, especially
in the core. If you want to sustain that woman-pleasing rhythm, youd better hit the gym
regularly. Single? Strike up a contract with Porn Hub.
Lift to the Death
The human brain is one of natures most advanced systems, but nevertheless has a hard time
distinguishing the difference between real and imagined threats. You can use that programming
to your advantage by creating life or death scenarios in the weight room that trick your brain
into releasing reward chemicals, helping you push yourself harder and longer, says Stolz.
Your Move: Grab a pair of 24-kilogram (50-pound) kettlebells and have a buddy jump on a
rowing machine. Rack the kettlebellsthat is, hold them in front of your shoulders with your
elbows tucked and your palms facing inand have your buddy start rowing as fast as he can. If
you lower the weights before he reaches 250 meters, hes dead. Once he hits his mark, switch
positions and repeat. Thats one round. Go for five. It forces you to save your friend, says
Stolz. After one or two rounds, youll be holding onand rowingfor what seems like dear
Showcase Your Skills
Socializing, playing, and cooperating with othersbehaviors long known to be essential for
human survivalcan have a significant impact on workout performance, according to a
Michigan State University study. The researchers found that people who worked out together as
part of a team exercised harder and more than twice as long as those who sweated solo. Their
motivation? Fear of being the weakest link. And anyone can enjoy the same performance boost
by backing off the lone-wolf sweat sessions and participating in more group workouts, preferably
with complete strangers, says Greg Robins, C.S.C.S., C.P.T., a coach at Cressey Performance in
Your Move: Join a pickup game at an unfamiliar basketball court, sign up for an intramural sport,
or just take a new group class. If youre playing or exercising with new people, youll hustle
and work harder to elevate your game, says Robins.
Taste Something Sweet
Theres a reason you have a sweet tooth: Your brain rewards you for ingesting sugar, which is a
major source of cellular energy once its converted to glucose. Energy drinks are meant to
replenish those glucose stores, but you dont need to actually drink them to enjoy a boost. In
research from the U.K., endurance cyclists who simply rinsed their mouths with glucose-infused
water (a sports drink by any other name) pedaled faster, had more power, and showed increased
activation in their brains reward centers, resulting in increased overall performance.
Your Move: When you feel yourself hitting a wall during a spin class or long run, swish a
mouthful of your favorite sports drink and spit it out. Youll get the neurochemical reward
without the caloric price tag. Just dont try to swap in a zero-calorie beverage. In the study,
cyclists who were given an artificially sweetened drink failed to feel a lift.