Most of us avoid one type of exercise or another. Here’s how to become a (happy) convert.

Do what you love and love what you do may be an aspirational Oprah-esque career goal, but it also applies to how most of us approach the time we log at the gym. Our favored activities easily win out and we avoid those we dread, feeling satisfied with the runs, reps, or vinyasanas we do put in.

But that leaves us wondering: Can you learn to appreciate a different form of exercise? Even one you feel you hate? And if ‘changing it up’ is a core construct of fitness, shouldn’t you just do it?   

The answer: Yes. According to Amy Church Lao, M.S., National Manager, Equinox Fitness Training Institute, not only can you retrain your preferences, there are reasons you should. “The way you improve at a given sport is by creating change within that activity. Say you’re a runner—you run hills, you do sprints, and those changes help you get stronger and get faster. It’s the basis of exercise science—you create a stimulus and that challenge creates change in the body,” says Church Lao. “And doing an entirely different form of exercise is a version of that.” 

In other words, it leads to results. “It’s a type of cross-training and it helps to think of it that way, especially if it’s something you dislike,” says Church Lao, who has a masters in sports psychology. “It can also give your body a break from the stresses of your normal workout. But it does require a shift in perspective.” The psychological component of moving from bike or treadmill to yoga mat (or vice versa) is often the biggest hurdle, so don’t chastise yourself if you start out approaching your dreaded activity as a means to an end. 

“Say you love to run on the treadmill, but you hate yoga, think: I may be a runner at heart but the benefits of doing yoga can make me an even better runner. I’ll have better thoracic rotation, better dexterity, better breathing. In that case, yoga becomes a supplement, rather than a chore,” says Church Lao, who notes that you can sub any activity and apply the philosophy. “The idea is that it’s a different stimulus for the body but it actually helps you get to where you want to go.” 

The happy side note is that from there, another shift in perspective can gradually occur. If you give it a chance, that activity you used to dread can become something you enjoy. 

Here, Church Lao’s tips on how to mentally approach the task of expanding your workout activities: 

1. Focus on the physical (and psychological) reward. 
Don’t think about how you don’t like the activity or about how it’s taking you away from what you love doing. Focus on how it’s helping your core engage in a new way or how it’s offering your body a form of active rest. 

2. Cut yourself some slack. 
It’s often because you don’t feel good at a new activity—especially when you’re used to excelling at your primary workout. But when it’s not your primary activity, you don’t have to be great at it because it doesn’t ‘count’ in the same way. That can be liberating and has the psychological benefit of being a great stress reliever. 

3. See the big picture.
In terms of adherence, there’s a lot of exercise psychology out there that encourages you to include a different type of activity—a form of play in your routine. That way it’s not all about hard-core training, which can lead to burn-out even with something you love. Doing something different helps keep everything else fresh, and it really can be fun.

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