Use these simple tricks to make fitness more fun—and, even better, increase your performance

By Markham Heid
Updated: January 30, 2015

Go play! Structuring your workouts to resemble games can make them more fun, intense, and easier to stick with, suggests new research from Denmark. Just thinking about something-work, exercise, chores-as a game is often enough to "flip a switch" in your head that pumps up your enthusiasm and enjoyment, says study coauthor Andreas Lieberoth, Ph.D., of Aarhus University.

We tapped Lieberoth and his colleague, Torben Tambo, to come up with four ways to game-ify your workout routines (and if you're looking for some structure, these 15 Innovative Fitness Classes are sure to keep you motivated, laughing, and burning tons of calories!).

Watch Out for Zombies

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Day after day, mile after mile, cardio can get pretty boring. Not so tedious: running because you're being pursued by flesh-eating zombies, or swimming to escape a great white shark. "Imagine that you are fighting for your life," Lieberoth says. It sounds childish. But "framing" your workouts as fun or frightening scenarios creates a playful sense of purpose that helps you forget about muscle cramps and other distractions, he adds. This is a perfect tip to add to these 5 Tips to Running Negative Splits For Positive Results.

Keep Score

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Don't think of them as exercise "goals" or "targets." Instead, imagine a scoreboard. Whether you're counting your daily steps or quarter-miles you've logged on a road bike, Tambo says attaching a score to your workouts-and trying to beat your best or the previous day's score-is one of the simplest ways to turn a boring routine into a fun challenge. He says heart rate monitors or activity trackers are a big help in this regard (and may explain why they've become so popular). Make sure you're Using Your Fitness Tracker The Right Way, so you can make every step count!

Mix Things Up

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Repetition breeds boredom. But changing up the speed or intensity of whatever you're doing, from cycling to lifting weights, can keep things fresh and fun, Tambo says. Instead of swimming 20 laps at your usual pace, challenge yourself to swim every third lap as fast as you possibly can. The same rules apply to the types of exercise you perform. For example, if you find yourself doing the same moves on leg days, try adding some of these Lower Body HIIT Moves to your next gym sesh. Or if you're bored with running, take up power yoga for a month or give CrossFit a try. The more you switch up your routines, the more interesting exercise will be, Tambo says.

Change the Objective

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Try to constantly come up with new challenges as you exercise, Lieberoth advises. For example, tell yourself you'll run extra hard until you spot a silver SUV, or three different dog walkers. This kind of creativity with your exercise goals engages your brain and refocuses your attention away from boring, mundane motivations like trying to lose weight, Lieberoth explains. Also fun: formulating absurd hypotheticals. Tell yourself if you make it to 12 reps, your high school nemesis will wake up tomorrow with a huge pimple. Attaching some crazy significance to an exercise is a great way to make it amusing, Tambo says. This Mental Trick to Push Your Workout to the Limit can also help you reach the objectives you've set.

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