Using Distractions To Your Advantage

Today I was not looking forward to my workout.

I had a late workout yesterday and that meant I ate dinner later than I would have liked. The combination of a late workout followed by a late dinner negatively impacted my sleep. I was tired, and I felt a little sore in my legs from the workout the night before.

Of course today’s workout involved 12-15 rep trap bar deadlifts, chin ups, rows, lunges, and grip work for 4 sets with better density (aka in less time than last week). Besides my legs being sore I taxed my grip and upper body in the workout the night before.

Needless to say my brain was saying “you’re fatigued, this is going to be bad”.

Despite not looking forward to the workout I decided to give it a go.

First up was the deadlifts supersetted with the chin ups.

I told myself, “if you have to drop the weight or do less chin ups that is fine, just get through these first two exercises and if you really feel like garbage then just scrap the rest.”

Since I was heading down to the gym, aka the basement pain cave, I decided to bring down a box of groceries that had just gotten delivered and put them away while I was down there.

I grabbed the box, headed down the stairs and started doing my reflexive performance reset drills. Things felt OK, so I moved on to my warm-up sets. The deadlifts started out a little rough, but I stuck with it, I got up to my working weight and it felt much better (funny how sometimes lighter loads feel harder than the heavier ones). Chin ups were going OK, my grip felt better than I thought it would.

In between the sets of deadlifts and chin ups I decided to give myself a little extra rest so I started to unbox and put away the groceries. I would put away a few things, and then do a set of deadlifts and chin ups. Then go back to the groceries.

Before I knew it I had made my way through the 4 sets of deadlifts and chin ups and they actually went pretty well! While I did not add any reps or weight to my deadlifts compared to last week, last week my grip started to fail towards the end of the last 2 sets and I had to use chalk. This week no chalk at all and I felt like my grip was stronger. In addition I managed to add 2 more chin ups over last week’s total.

After working through the two hardest exercises and realizing the worst was behind me I breezed through the rest of the workout with better density (less time) than the same workout last week!

At the end of the workout I reflected back on what had just happened, and I realized that what actually helped me get through this workout was the distraction of the groceries.

Instead of plopping down between sets and commiserating on how fatigued and tired I felt from last night’s workout, I distracted myself with the groceries and didn’t even think about it. I was kind of on autopilot, just going through the motions of the workout.

The more I thought about it, distraction is often used when running or other endurance activities as well. The most common form of distraction is music [1]. If you have even run, biked, swam, or rowed for a significant period of time, say multiple hours, you have most likely used music or maybe even a podcast or audio book to pass the time. Without it many people may start to commiserate on how tired they feel, or be constantly checking their watch to see how much longer they have to go.

Another time I have used distraction to my benefit was when I was doing my ultra distance obstacle course race. One of the things that helped me get through the 13 hours it took me to complete the race was talking to people along the way. You are moving slow enough that it is easy to talk and you are commiserating with people in a similar situation as you. It helps take your mind off the absolute suck fest you are experiencing later in the race [2].

Now is distraction something you should use for every workout?


If you need some kind of distraction to do a workout all the time, chances are that workout is not right for you and you will most likely stop doing it eventually. If you don’t feel motivated to do a workout a majority of the time you likely need to switch things up.

In addition some workouts require your full attention and having your mind elsewhere is not a good thing. Times where you are pushing your limits, for example sprints or max lifts or time trials, are not the time to be distracted. Your attention needs to be on what you are doing or else you could hurt yourself.

I often think about how the things we do for our health relate back to what we would have done ancestrally. Did our ancestors use distraction to take their mind off uncomfortable situations they might be in? It is probably hard to say for sure, but I could certainly imagine them talking with fellow hunters when tracking prey over a very long distance and rough terrain, just like I was doing during my ultra distance obstacle course race. I could also see them using songs to help pass the time when out gathering food.

The next time you are trying to get motivated to do a workout on a day where you perhaps are not feeling your best, try using a little distraction to help take your mind off things. If that still doesn’t help then just scrap the workout and take the day off. However it might change your mindset enough that you are able to complete the workout and continue to make progress towards your goals!

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  1. (2019, December 5). Effects of music in exercise and sport: A meta-analytic … – PubMed. Retrieved July 8, 2021, from
  2. (2020, May 25). Mindfulness Versus Distraction to Improve Affective … – PubMed – NIH. Retrieved July 8, 2021, from

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