“I met a woman named Helen four years ago in Puerto Rico when I saw her running and dribbling a tennis ball,” Sidibe wrote in a recent Instagram post. “After seeing him out a few times, I finally got around to asking him about it, and he said he often runs with it because it keeps his mind occupied.” Sidibe explained that the technique helped him train for a 100-mile race where he had to keep a slow pace to maintain his energy late in the game. And That it entertains him during long, relentless training days.
According to Sara Haapanen, a PhD candidate in sport and exercise psychology at the University of Jyvaskyla in Finland, Sidib’s tennis ball technique is perfectly valid. “It gives us some play and distraction,” she says. “It brings a competitive element and makes it a little harder. As humans, we like to compete and the harder it is, the better we feel about it.”
Of course, you don’t want to try it on, say, a treadmill where you might fall behind the tracks. But if you’re just going for a walk outside or running on the road or sidewalk (as long as it’s not a high traffic area) it’s a nice way to feel like you’re keeping your neurons firing. (Bonus, it’ll challenge your coordination while you’re logging some cardio.)
If you’re looking for some other way to occupy your mind while walking or pounding the pavement, Hapanen has some ideas. “I always recommend changing the tempo, maybe going a little faster for a block then a little slower. Steady-state cardio is pretty boring, so anything that can make it more fun. Side steps or skips are also a good way to change it up. Heart pumps. Speed up and speed up to do,” she says.
The lesson here is that workouts don’t always have to be so serious. If you’re not enjoying your run or walk, it’s time to spice it up again.