Fitness & workouts

6 ways to feel comfortable when exercise feels hard

Here’s how to push through your workout and reach your weekly activity goals.
Published 16 September, 2018

Some people love the feeling of their heart rate rising and sweat dripping from their body during a workout. Others never developed that affinity with fitness, and work out solely to stay healthy and in shape. No matter which camp you fall into, exercise is going to feel hard at certain times.

It’s especially common if you’re new to working out and your body is still getting used to being active - or if you’re recovering from an injury, you have a lack of mobility, or you just don’t feel comfortable exercising.

“Comfort is typically found in a place with no challenges; physical or mental. But without challenge, there is no change,” says Adam Rosante, a strength and conditioning coach and founder of Strong(h)er. 

But struggle and feeling pain are two very different things. If an exercise is ever causing actual pain, you should stop right away. For instance, if you’re doing a lunge and feel a shooting pain in your knee, there’s a problem, Rosante explains. It could be your form or something worse, so you should stop.

“If you’re just starting an exercise programme, it’s important to have some guidance to make sure that what you’re doing is physiologically safe and sound, and that your form is correct,” Rosante says.

Here are six ways to help you feel comfortable if you find yourself struggling through an activity. 

1. Focus on your breath.

Lifting heavy weights, holding a challenging yoga pose, walking faster than you ever have before - these are all times when you might feel uncomfortable. You may even hold your breath to focus on the effort at hand. Instead, breathe. 

Think about it: anytime we're stressed, including during physical activity, we tend to lose control of our breath. It can become shallow and erratic and it can all go downhill from there. “Focus on taking slow, controlled breaths deep into your belly and exhaling with control,” says Rosante. “This will help mellow out your central nervous system and let you get control of your mind.” And help you get through your workout!

2. Know you’re not alone.

Yes, some people look like they were born in the gym, but remember, everyone was an exercise novice at one point in time. “As a coach, I try to empathise with my clients and remind them that I, too, was once in their shoes and that all gym goers have been where they are as well,” says Noam Tamir, CSCS, founder of TS Fitness in New York City. “It helps to remind yourself this when you’re struggling.”

3. Talk to yourself.

A little self-compassion can go a long way. “Using positive self-talk can help you overcome self-doubt and move from a place of discomfort to one of strength,” says Rosante. “Give yourself a power phrase to repeat when the going gets tough. ‘You’re stronger than you think,’ is a great one.” Skip the self-judgement and use kind, inspirational words to motivate yourself through your workout.

4. Remember why you started.

Why did you do your first workout? Chances are it wasn’t so your health could remain the same; it’s because you wanted to change for the better. “Think about why you started when a workout starts to feel hard,” says Tamir. “The struggle is what creates the results and help you achieve the goals you set out to reach.”

5. Adjust to make it through.

Check in with your body and see if you can make any changes to what you're doing. Sometimes just moving a little slower or even changing your position can make whatever movement you're doing easier. Then, the next time you do the activity, see how long you can handle the discomfort before adjusting your movement. Soon, it won’t be so difficult that you need to ease back.

6. Just do it!

Think about a time when you overcame an obstacle in the past, suggests Tamir. Or, think about an occasion when you did anything in your life for the first time. Chances are, you weren’t very good at it. It was only through repetition, explains Rosante, that you got better - and exercise is no different. “The more you do it, the more comfortable you’ll get with pushing beyond your comfort zone,” he says. “In order to gain confidence, you have to first do the thing you’re scared of. The confidence comes after, never before.”

If you can create that kind of power while exercising, it’s contagious and can spill into your life as well. “I’ve seen people push themselves in their workouts and then start to step outside their comfort zones at work or in their love lives,” says Rosante. "The change is amazing!"