It’s no secret that I prefer to exercise outdoors.  I’ve always felt rather trapped in gyms – I know some people love the gym experience, but it’s just not for me.  There are some moments, of course, when I must exercise inside.  Last night was a perfect example – I was traveling in an unfamiliar city, it was dark out, and it was pouring.  So to the gym I went!


Here are seven ways to make gym cardio a bit more bearable.  Most of these techniques are simply Jedi mind tricks, but others will actually help you work new muscles in different ways.  Win, win!


Trick #1:  Towel over screen.  The primary reason I hate cardio equipment is because I have to stare at a little clock that mockingly tells me how much longer I have to be there.  Ugh.  Cover it with a towel, and your workout will go by much, much faster.


Trick #2:  Listen to Podcasts.  I love to run outdoors to music, but for some reason, music doesn’t have the same effect when I’m on cardio equipment.  Listening to a PodCast (I like This American Life) or a book on tape is great.  I get lost in the story and pay less attention to my boring surroundings.


Trick #3:  Change machines every 10 minutes.  It’s really hard for me to stay on one piece of equipment for a full 30 minutes, so sometimes, I bounce between the treadmill, elliptical, the rower, or the stationary bike.


Trick #4: Write down a workout.  If I am going to stay on the treadmill the entire time, I usually bring a Post-It with a planned workout.  Constantly changing up the speed or hill according to the directions is distracting and fun.  One of my favorites is this Rolling Intervals Treadmill Workout.


Trick #5:  On that note, vary speed and intensity.  Even if you don’t have a planned workout or aren’t on the treadmill, doing speedwork (occasional sprints) helps bust boredom.  Sometimes, I do the pre-planned elliptical workouts so the machine will change the settings automatically for me.


Trick #6:  Go backwards.  When in doubt, change direction.  Yes, I am that person who walks (very carefully and slowly) backwards on the treadmill up an incline.  I also elliptical backwards.  You engage different muscles and challenge your coordination and balance.  A trainer once told me that it’s very important not to hang onto the side rails while walking backwards because it compromises posture, so I just hover my hands over the rails so I can catch myself if necessary.  It’s fun, too!  Just go slow and be careful.


Trick #7:  Carry weights.  If I’m not in the mood to run on the treadmill, or am doing walk/run intervals, I’ll grab two barbells and do bicep curls, punch the air, or mini overhead presses while I walk.  It’s important you don’t let you mind wander too much while doing this because proper form, of course, is of the utmost importance.


How do you beat gym cardio boredom?



  • Angela @ Eat Spin Run Repeat December 8, 2011, 7:57 am

    Oooh yes I totally agree with these tips! For me, I like to beat boredom by switching up my machines frequently, listening to music with a fast beat (I’ve never tried podcasts but am wondering if I’d enjoy those for a change – thanks for the tip!) varying speed/intensity, and of course, writing my workouts down. If it’s written, it gets done, but if not…. well… that’s when I start slacking!

  • Kristy @ KristyRuns December 8, 2011, 7:58 am

    Fortunately, I don’t have access to a gym, so I don’t have to worry about getting bored. However, this means that if it’s raining, snowing, or whatever, I have the pleasure of hitting the roads… 🙂

  • Emily December 8, 2011, 8:13 am

    We have treadmills that have the TV attached at my gym. This helps! But I might need to try a book on tape sometime to mix it up.

  • Lindsay @ The Reluctant Runner December 8, 2011, 8:14 am

    Podcasts! I’m a little slow, and I just figured out what they were a couple of weeks ago…they are awesome! They make the time fly. My main source of cardio now is walking to and from class every weekday (for 50 minutes total), and while I used to hate the walk and hitch a ride, now I really look forward to the time every day.
    When I use my elliptical inside, I set my computer up in front of it and watch TV on Netflix, and I take a quick break to hop off, stretch and get a drink every 100 calories, which works better for me than every __ minutes because if I really want to hop off for a minute, I can crank up the resistance and work harder for a little bit to get there faster.

  • Jamie @ Don't Forget the Cinnamon December 8, 2011, 8:17 am

    LOVE the book on tape idea–thanks!
    I also like to switch up my cardio equipment. When the gym is really busy and that’s not realistic though, I’ll just switch up what I’m doing on the same machine. For example on the treadmill, I’ll alternate between five minutes of steady running, five minutes of incline walking, 5 mins of sprint intervals, etc.

  • Rebecca @ Naturally Healthy and Gorgeous December 8, 2011, 8:21 am

    I like watching trashy TV, keeps my mid off the workout!

  • m December 8, 2011, 8:22 am

    My number 1 choice is always the TV… it also helps motivate me (seriously, I always work out in some form or another when Law and Order is on because how can I NOT stay til the end to see the results – plus its on about 7 hours every day so it’ll match w/ my morning or evening workouts).

    Additionally, and this is tougher for some, I trained myself to read while working out. Some people argue that you cannot do them at the same time, but I think its actually good to practice. My running form got better as I learned to keep my head steady and not waste as much energy with a “bouncing” run… I started off going easy when learning to read, but now I can read a trashy magazine up to 7.7mph or a better one (like Shape or Women’s health) at about 7.0mph (more words = little slower). The best is on a stair master and then I can read something much more in depth (ala Time or Newsweek) and hop off with something usually to talk to my husband about.

    Ha, clearly I am a gym lover. I just get too nervous running in the dark despite realizing NYC is totally safe and my schedule is one where its tough to plan around daylight.

    Oh, one last favorite is mixing my weights and cardio… 1 mile warm up, 1 sets of 2-3 weight exercises, .5 miles, weights, .5 miles, weights, etc… I try to sprint hard during the runs to keep my HR up during the weights!

    • CaitlinHTP December 8, 2011, 2:35 pm

      @m: These are really awesome tips!

  • Lindsay @ biking before bed December 8, 2011, 8:22 am

    I completely agree with the podcast one! Some of my favorites are Freakanmomics and The Splendid Table. I sometimes like to pretend that I am “racing” the people around me.

  • Lori Lynn December 8, 2011, 8:25 am

    I have to do 15-20 min intervals, b/c like you I get bored easily. If I can get back into the momentum of running (I seem to have taken a bit of break from it…) , I tend to handle running for 30 minutes. I walk on incline, usually from 3.0-13.0 with 1 minute intervals. But I do hang on to the handles, b/c I’m walking at 4.3, sometimes 4.4. I guess I should try walking slower and not hang on!

  • katie @ KatieDid December 8, 2011, 8:25 am

    How do I beat gym cardio boredom… I avoid it! haha. I can’t handle it so I try to always stick to outdoor activity or just do weight training indoors. Just my personal preference.

  • kathleen @ the daily crumb December 8, 2011, 8:25 am

    i’m all about the towel over the screen. it is absolutely painful to watch the seconds tick by… i would try going backwards but pretty sure with my coordination that would end with me on my face!

  • Halley (Blunder Construction) December 8, 2011, 8:29 am

    Great tips, I really struggle with this. It’s nice to hear that someone who is very active can’t stand to be on the treadmill for more than 10 minutes at a time! I like to switch it up, too.

  • Brittany (A Healthy Slice of Life) December 8, 2011, 8:30 am

    Great tip to change equipment! Why is it that 30 minutes in gym time seems a billion times longer than 30 minutes outside??

  • Jen G. December 8, 2011, 8:30 am

    I like the elliptical for gym workouts because I can easily vary it up. Not only do I set it to change resistance/hills, I do 5-6 minutes forward, 4-5 minutes backward and repeat. It makes the time go by MUCH more quickly!

  • Brandy December 8, 2011, 8:31 am

    I only let myself read on my Kindle when I am working out. It motivates me to get to the gym and keep working out so I can read!

  • Khushboo December 8, 2011, 8:31 am

    I am a gym junkie :)! Podcasts really help when I’m running long distances on the treadmill- people watching helps too 😉

  • Samantha Angela @ Bikini Birthday December 8, 2011, 8:33 am

    I’m surprised that watching TV or movies isn’t up there. It’s the only thing that gets me through.

  • Heather December 8, 2011, 8:38 am

    You could always try this: I’m sure you would never be bored if you could dance like that on the treadmill!

    • Jen December 8, 2011, 11:22 am

      @Heather: Oh. my. god. I can barely run in a forward direction on a treadmill without accidentally tripping or hitting the sides. It blows my mind that someone can do this!

    • CaitlinHTP December 8, 2011, 2:36 pm

      @Heather: hahah that was awesome!

  • Julia December 8, 2011, 8:42 am

    I have to say that I really like working out in the gym as much as I do like working out outside. I just like to mix things up – and sometimes, running on the treadmill seams like an easier alternative for me (even though I always push myself on the treadmill).
    I have a piece of paper with different treadmill workouts in my gym bag. Having a plan concerning speed and incline works best against the boredom! Instead of thinking “How much longer til this ends!” I think “How much time til the next section.” You stay focused and the time flies by. 🙂

  • Heather @ Better With Veggies December 8, 2011, 8:50 am

    I use the towel trick and treadmill workouts (intervals) to make it more interesting. Great tricks!

  • Sarah @ w30 December 8, 2011, 8:56 am

    Great tips! I am a machine-hopper and towel-coverer, too. I love the idea of podcasts. I can’t watch TV or read while working out, but sometimes get bored with my playlists. And I LOVE This American Life!
    Also – GO YOU for pushing yourself to get to the gym on the road!! 🙂

  • Amanda December 8, 2011, 9:01 am

    These are all great suggestions. I’m lucky that my gym plays a couple of movies, in addition to having personal TVs, so that helps to fight off boredom. I’ll sometimes time my workouts when Ellen is on too. 🙂

  • Tiff @ Love Sweat and Beers December 8, 2011, 9:06 am

    I’m a big believer in #5. I’m always playing with resistance/incline/crossramp/whateva’. It’s hard to do 30+ minutes on the straight and narrow.

  • Carolina John December 8, 2011, 9:06 am

    I’ve never had that much trouble with the gym. I get bored sometimes, but really prefer to always be close to a bathroom and water fountain. Plus I can watch tv and/or get lost in my mp3 player’s music without having to worry about following a route or getting lost. Especially on the bike it’s a lot safer.

  • HRCK @ December 8, 2011, 9:07 am

    Good suggestions. I try to plan a workout during a favorite tv show, and then make up some sort of interval workout. If the Kardashians are on, for example, I’ll turn up the intensity whenever anyone is mean to Bruce. 🙂

  • Allie Q (Fit Geek) December 8, 2011, 9:09 am

    As a gym veteran I do most of these when I can actually muster the motivation to do cardio. I think what helps me the most is to get a ROCKIN’ playlist that makes me want to moonwalk despite the fact that I can’t do it at all. Then it kind of feels like I’m dancing on the elliptical…kind of.

  • Kris December 8, 2011, 9:11 am

    I use many of your tricks since I have a low threshold for gym boredom. A trick I use is doing treadmill intervals while lifting weights. I do three sets with jumping jacks between sets, then do a few minutes on the treadmill then on to the next weight exercise. I only do this if the gym is pretty empty though so I don’t monopolize a treadmill.

  • Army Amy* December 8, 2011, 9:16 am

    I like your “towel over the screen” trick. I think watching the clock is what makes treadmill workouts so painful! (Time seems to seriously slow down!) I also like it when treadmills have tv’s on them. It provides a great distraction.*

  • HilaryJo December 8, 2011, 9:34 am

    I HATE treadmills. I hated them BEFORE my treadmill wipeout last year and now I hate them even more.

    That said, I DO like being able to see my speed, and what I do to keep it interesting is as I get toward the end of my workout, I up the speed 1 button push each quarter or eighth of a mile…I finish at a sprint,and the last bit is very exciting 🙂 I look forward to/dread that part the entire workout

    • CaitlinHTP December 8, 2011, 3:09 pm

      @HilaryJo: Oh no treadmill wipe out?! What happened?

  • Annette @ EnjoyYourHealthyLife December 8, 2011, 9:34 am

    I def do the towel over the screen thing! I also read! Crazy, but I can read while doing all those activities (unless it’s super intense–then I watch a movie). Sticking a treadmill in front of a TV and popping in a DVD is seriously awesome. The time FLIES by epic fast.

  • Katelyn @ Chef Katelyn December 8, 2011, 9:46 am

    Agreed. I always carry weights when I do abs/etc, and covering the machine with a towel helps BIG time. The numbers can seriously make you crazy.

  • Sara December 8, 2011, 10:06 am

    Following up from my comment to your previous post (about recently joining a gym and being anti-gym before) I thought it was really fun to watch all the TVs overhead, a lot of the equipment has personal TVs, there is music and lots of people to watch, there are classes and I enjoyed chatting (occasionally) with my husband. I think exercising with someone is fun. All your tricks sound handy too!

  • Gina @ Running to the Kitchen December 8, 2011, 10:08 am

    I carried weights for the first time on the treadmill 2 weeks ago and it was great! It made the time fly and was a good way to fit in some strength with limited time. I’ve never seen anyone walk backwards on a treadmill. I’m pretty sure I’d kill myself if I tried.

  • Kristin December 8, 2011, 10:30 am

    In addition to doing 1-4, I take mini dance breaks- I just break down in a really spastic dance for about 15 seconds. The running man and the sprinkler are some of my favorites. I go to the gym super early in the morning (hence why I’m not running outside, hello danger!) so there’s less people to be embarrassed around, and it’s so ridiculous at such an early hour that it makes me laugh too (I’m usually with a friend who finds it humorous so it’s not totally sad that I’m laughing all by myself- that’d be weird). Why not enjoy your gym experience right!?

    • CaitlinHTP December 8, 2011, 2:58 pm

      @Kristin: hahah you are awesome, i want to be your friend in real life.

    • Jodie December 8, 2011, 7:51 pm

      @Kristin: HAHA I just might try that 🙂

  • Beth December 8, 2011, 10:33 am

    I beat the boredom by doing TurboKick. It’s an absolute blast, and I totally forget I’m sweating my butt off for a full hour! I was SOOO SO SO SO intimidated at first and I had a real hard time getting over my fears and trying it- but I’m glad I took the plunge cuz it’s WAY more easier than I thought! My only regret is that I didn’t try it sooner, it’s that easy. 🙂

  • Carrie @ Carrie Runs Goofy December 8, 2011, 10:34 am

    Many years ago I mastered the art of reading while running and US Weekly has been my savior during the exruciating 8-10 mile treadmill runs I’ve been doing as of late. I do love podcasts but weirdly enough can only listen to them when I’m running outside (in daylight). Love TAL (I have a huge crush on Ira Glass)!

  • Katy @ Shot of Life December 8, 2011, 10:49 am

    Great timing on this post, Caitlin! With the cold, miserable weather we’ve been having lately, I’ve been forced inside to the gym. I also find that switching up speeds, inclines, etc. helps to make the time pass a little quicker! And podcasts! I just discovered Jillian Michaels and I literally zone out and the time has passed before I know it!

  • Jodie December 8, 2011, 11:18 am

    TV! Yes, not the healthiest distraction. Your ideas are way better. My gym has televisions on every cardio machine. They are the world’s greatest distractions though. I once accidentally(yes, accidentally) spent an hour on an elliptical just because I lost track of time 🙂

  • Ché @ Knight at the Restaurant December 8, 2011, 11:21 am

    I have the Netflix app on my iPhone, and I watch TV shows (instant streaming) while running. If you have an iPad, even better!

  • Lisa December 8, 2011, 11:28 am

    Carry weights on an elliptical is a good idea. I hadn’t thought of that one.

  • Cat @Breakfast to Bed December 8, 2011, 11:35 am

    Books on!!! the time FLIES. If it’s a really good book, it’s hard to get off the machine!!

  • Moni'sMeals December 8, 2011, 11:49 am

    Love these tips. So true! I agree. 🙂

  • Casey @ Pocket Full of Sunshine December 8, 2011, 12:24 pm

    Tried intervals this morning! 🙂 It does help. For me, a big part of it is having brand-new music too!

  • kwithme December 8, 2011, 12:24 pm

    I have done some of these suggestions as well. The gym I go to has limited TVs and I am there around 9am so there is not much on. I just tried reading yesterday but found it hard, though the text was really small. I jokingly told my husband that I’ll get some large print books to read while running.

    Other than that, I do intervals varying speed. Yesterday, was also my first time doing intervals 5 mins run, 1 strength training exercise, for a total of 30 mins running. That was tough but made it go faster. My fave is having someone to talk to but I rarely get that either as 9 am is the retired man time at my gym.

  • Allison December 8, 2011, 12:25 pm

    The towel trick and alternating between machines def speed up the time! I also like to read a magazine if I’m on the elliptical or bike [too hard when running]…

  • Chelsea @ One Healthy Munchkin December 8, 2011, 12:31 pm

    I love having workouts to follow! Lately I’ve been printing out spin workouts and they always make the time fly by!

  • Katie @ Peace Love and Oats December 8, 2011, 12:52 pm

    For the treadmill, I do intervals to keep it interesting, but for other machines I use your trick of switching every 10-15 min, so in my head I tell myself it’s just 10 min!

  • Candice @ Sailing on Paper December 8, 2011, 1:04 pm

    These are all great ideas! I’ve found that taking email or Facebook breaks on my phone (short ones!) help the monotony of being on the treadmill. I like your towel idea…the speed/distance/time thing is pretty distracting.

  • Anna December 8, 2011, 1:08 pm

    Sometime I do intervals by the time (so like speed up for a minute, or add resistance for two) and other times I change my speed/resistance by the music I am listening too. If I am running, sometimes I’ll change up the speed by the distance I’ve gone. It can get boring but being creative, the possibilities are endless (almost ;))!

  • Ashley @ My Food 'N' Fitness Diaries December 8, 2011, 1:11 pm

    These are all great tips! I get bored easily on cardio machines as well. I use many of these tricks that you’ve mentioned as well as browsing through a magazine if I’m doing lower intensity cardio on the elliptical or walking on the treadmill. I’m a huge fan of interval treadmill workouts and switching up the cardio machines often, both of which you mentioned!

  • Cara @ EAT. PRAY. RUN. December 8, 2011, 1:20 pm

    I like the elliptical because I can stay balanced enough to read blogs on my iphone google reader….and since I don’t have much time during the day to do so while i’m working, it’s the perfect opportunity to catch up!

  • Hilliary @Happily Ever Healthy December 8, 2011, 1:21 pm

    I love interval workouts, last night was a night I didn’t feel like working out. However I knew I would feel better after a great workout. I busted out some intervals and my workout flew by! I am also a huge believer in the towel over the scree!

  • Shannon December 8, 2011, 1:31 pm

    I’ve done several of those techniques…especially the towel technique. I also sometimes try and make the “countdown” fun.

    When counting down laps around the indoor track I will sometimes think of myself at each age…lap 22, age 22 etc. By the time I think of a memory from that year it’s time for the next lap.

  • Tamara December 8, 2011, 2:03 pm

    Love your Jedi mind tricks! Just like you I despise working out indoors, these are great reminders of ways to stay motivated!

  • Amber K December 8, 2011, 2:16 pm

    I’m the queen of the magazine. Or even a book. I’m constantly reading while working out. Getting lost in a story or gossip mag makes the minutes fly by.

  • Kayla December 8, 2011, 2:17 pm

    I bring my laptop and watch episodes of the Biggest Loser… very inspiring!

  • Zulkey December 8, 2011, 2:38 pm

    I save my dumbest magazines for the gym, so if I’m really dragging ass I’ll tell myself, ” Come on, you can knock out 30 minutes on the elliptical while reading InStyle!”

  • MarathonBeauty December 8, 2011, 4:05 pm

    I make a game of people watching and make up stories in my head about everyone around me!

  • Lindsay Loves Veggies December 8, 2011, 4:20 pm

    I got really into running during my last semester of college, but I pretty much only did treadmill workouts. I usually stuck with my ipod, the towel trick, and doing speed or hill intervals, to prevent boredom! Those definitely helped me get through up to 6-milers in the gym! 🙂

  • Julie December 8, 2011, 4:50 pm

    My dad loves walking backwards on the treadmill(lots of knee issues and this will help strengthen different muscles around the joints, according to him) and has passed the tip on to my mom. My brother’s friend (who goes to same gym as my parents) told my brother he saw my mom ‘moonwalking’ at the gym. We all found this overly hysterical.

  • Abby @ Abz 'n' Oats December 8, 2011, 7:13 pm

    Thanks for the tip about not holding on to the side rails while walking backwards! I had no idea! 🙂

  • Maren December 8, 2011, 8:18 pm

    These are all great tips!! It’s nice to read these as I am going to be getting back in the gym for cardio time soon! After being in a walking boot for 2 months, I cannot WAIT to sweat again like you in that picture above!

  • Amy December 8, 2011, 11:02 pm

    switching it up every 10 minutes is a great idea…covering with a towel is necessary too!! i always stare at the screen usually in disbelief that its only been like, 3 minutes haha

  • December 9, 2011, 4:08 pm

    I use the towel over the machine trick all the time…and switching machines. I would love to start downloading books to my ipod too…I can’t do music at the gym, there’s just too much other stuff going on and it distracts me (not in a good way) but I think a book would do the trick!

  • The Budgeting Babe January 16, 2012, 6:05 pm

    I love the idea to download podcasts. You’re right, music just doesn’t have the same effect indoors. Thanks for a great article!

  • Jess February 16, 2012, 1:32 am

    I get my boyfriend to put some of my favourite DVD’s on my ipod, and I watch that while on the stationary bike etc. Keeps me distracted enough.

  • Sarah April 7, 2012, 9:32 pm

    This is such a great post! When I used to use the Stairmaster at the gym in my parents’ neighborhood, I would bring a magazine and cover the screen with it, even if I didn’t read. It helped so much! I’ll be trying these other tricks in a few weeks when I have time to do more than just walk/jog outdoors. 🙂

  • Miriam April 27, 2012, 3:15 pm

    Great tips!! 🙂

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