Working out is a lot easier when it doesn’t feel like, well, work. Luckily, how hard you’re exercising and how hard you think you’re exercising are two different things. And the latter—called the rate of perceived exertion (RTE)—might be more in your head than in your muscles. So, in theory, you can burn 1,000 calories without even realizing it.
After all, there’s a reason the treadmill’s nicknamed the “dreadmill,” and that people forgo their workouts when their playlists run dry. In fact, a 2012 review published in the International Revue of Sport and Exercise Psychology concluded that listening to upbeat music not only reduces ratings of perceived exertion, but improves the body’s energy efficiency and spurs better performances.
That’s the true beauty of playing with your RPE. Employ a few tricks to lower it, and you can actually work out harder, longer, and without breaking a sweat (or at least feeling like you are.) Plus, chances are, you’ll have a lot more fun while you’re at it, explains exercise physiologist Mike T. Nelson, Ph.D., C.S.C.S. And that’s key to sticking with any workout over the long haul.
So what cuts your RPE, apart from the obvious blaring of tunes and absence of ball chafing? Here’s an idea: On your next run, try simply looking ahead rather than all around. In a 2014 New York University study, when racers kept their fixed eyes on a target straight in front of them, they perceived the finish line to be closer and the trek to be easier. They also finished the course 23 percent faster than those who took in the sites.
Meanwhile, a hilarious study out of Northumbria University in the U.K. found that when guys work out in the presence of a female onlooker, their RPE drops. However, when the spectator is a fellow male, the exercisers’ RPE goes up. So yeah, you might want to sub in your girlfriend as your new workout buddy.
Still, one of the easiest ways to slash your RPE and up your fitness results is just to get with activities you actually enjoy. Here are 20 ways to torch 1,000 calories* before you even realize it.
* Based on the average man weighing 195.5 pounds
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