6 tips to motivate yourself to workout


This is not for the gym bunnies.  We know you love going to the gym… you don’t need my tips for motivation, you already have that internal desire.   This also isn’t for the athletic types, because since you were young you loved exercising.  You maybe played softball or basketball while the rest of us wondered why on earth you wanted to do something that made you all sweaty and out of breath.  This is for the ladies whose idea of physical activity is shopping. Or the ladies who prefer to sit quietly and knit or read, or those that prefer mental stimulation to physical stimulation.  This is for those of you who need to know how to motivate yourself to workout.

I think the problem is that the people leading the fitness industry – the fitness instructors, the personal trainers, the “experts,” are those who don’t need motivation tips.  They already love exercising.  And the message seems to be that we are bad or lazy for not loving it too. No, we are not bad or lazy.  We are very capable of working hard but we are just…. different. We know we should be more physically active, but for us, going to the gym is right up there with getting a pap smear or a mammogram.   You know you need it, but it’s uncomfortable, you’re vulnerable, and you don’t see any instant tangible benefits to keep you coming back for more.

I will admit right now that I don’t like the average gym.  I don’t like the loud men moaning and groaning… I don’t like feeling out of place because I’m the only one not wearing the workout outfit equivalent of a bikini.  Most gyms smell and it is awkward to be next to someone sweating and huffing and puffing next to you….  The whole thing seems particularly ridiculous for someone who would love to be reading, knitting, drawing, painting, anything other than being there at that moment.

Of course we all want to look better but some of us are not greatly motivated by vanity. But still, we know there are valid reasons why we should workout… to age better, have a strong immune system, heart health… we simply just gotta do it.    So I have had to find ways to trick myself into getting exercise and to find ways not to hate it so much… For those of you that don’t love exercise or the gym, here are some tips to help motivate yourself to workout anyway:

  1.  Invest in free weights or try free videos: You don’t have to own a huge treadmill or an elliptical machine to get in a solid workout.  And if you are a gym hater, you don’t need to go to a gym. In fact, you can do it right in your living room, even in front of the tv.  If you haven’t been working out you will find that lifting weights will get your heart rate going, especially if you train in a circuit with some cardio moves mixed in.  You’ll also be building muscle which will slowly amp up your metabolism which is good news if you are looking to burn fat.  In fact, some studies have shown that you experience a less intense but longer “afterburn” with lifting weights than with cardio.  Alternatively, there are several free videos online for just about every type of workout that you might want to try.  The point is that the gym or expensive equipment is NOT required to get exercise.  If you crave the comfort of your own home you are in luck.
  2. Use the free (and usually empty) gym at work if you have one:  When I first got back into a regular exercise routine I used the gym at my work.  Though I am not a fan of most gyms this was a well-equipped gym that did not get much use in the evening.  (Most of the time it was crowded during lunch.)  I made a rule that I would not leave work without going into that gym, even if it was just for a few minutes. And the gym was literally between me and the car so I couldn’t ignore it.  I looked at this time as an extension of my workday, instead of getting off at 5pm, I got off at 6pm – the time spent at the gym was just part of my job duties.  I came to love that little empty gym as a second home and when I became a home-based freelancer I could find no gym like it (hence tip #1).
  3. Experiment until you find what type of exercise you actually like:  Working out doesn’t have to be all work and no play.  If the thought of working out just makes you want to hide under a rock pick different things to try.  For instance, you may try a tennis lesson one day, a hike the next, working on some weight machines another day, and a dance class the other day.  I found that I love some things and hate others.   Being on a treadmill bores me to tears but weight machines break time spent working out into manageable portions.  I also found that I could kayak all day long without ever thinking of it as exercise and time spent hiking goes by much quicker and is more fun than doing other types of exercise. When I was much younger I took ballet lessons and kickboxing (REAL kickboxing) and it was a lot of fun!  There are options out there that you may love, you just have to explore, explore, explore.  Some ideas to get you started: Yoga, tennis, team sports such as soccer or volleyball, hiking, walking, swimming, biking, dancing, martial arts, pilates, racquetball, weight lifting, kayaking.
  4. Take it slow…..very, very, slow: Don’t skip this tip.  We want instant results, I know.  We are conditioned to “start” an exercise program or a diet that we intend on doing for a set period of time, but habits don’t form overnight and if you want to keep results you have to do it for life.  If you rush into it head first and fast you may end up not sticking with your program (and getting injured in the process).  If you have a history of starting, and stopping, and starting again… try making it less uncomfortable for you by easing in slowly while you take the time to start a new habit.  Would it be difficult and uncomfortable to stick with a program that simply involved doing 10 squats at night?  No.  You can start there and add to it as you become comfortable.  After a couple of weeks add 10 bicep curls.  The next week add 10 jumping jacks, and so on/so forth.  You are in this for life and you will see more results doing small things everyday than doing full, strenuous workouts for a week, stopping for two months, then starting again for another week, then stopping again.
  5. Decide to exercise for just five minutes:  This has been one of my favorite ways to trick myself into working out.  There were days I wanted to pass by the gym so badly and just go home after work.  But my rule was I had to go to the gym before home – I just had to.  So I would tell myself that I was only going to do squats, or I was going to do only one set, or just 10 minutes on the elliptical machine.  99% of the time I ended up doing a full workout. There were times I was really tired and wanted to go home after 5 minutes and I did.  But even if I had only done just 5 minutes every single time, I still would have been better off than if I had just headed home with no workout at all.  Now that I workout primarily at home, when I don’t want to get off the couch I will tell myself – just one set.  It works!
  6. Train for a 5k or similar event: When I was younger I let someone talk me into signing up for the MS150  (a two day 150 mile bike trek).  I didn’t even own a bike at the time.  But after telling everyone I was doing this I had offers from people to lend me a bike (even from my wonderful doctor).  I trained for it but I was hardly prepared for it when it came, even though I have never been in better shape.  The people who were supposed to do it with me dropped out and I had people telling me at the time that I wouldn’t be able to do it.  But I did end up doing it (by myself) and met new and interesting people those two days on my borrowed bike who inspired me along the way.  It ended up being one of the BEST experiences of my life!  If you have the guts to do it and are someone that will commit to that sort of thing I promise you that you will never regret it.  If you are a beginner at working out I would start with a small event like a 5k, or if you have a great deal of time to train you may consider doing a larger event.

A scale I am totally crushing on and want for Christmas – to tell me how much of my weight loss is fat!

Above all else, remember this: Perfect is the enemy of progress.  We start every diet and every exercise program with the intention of being perfect, and when we can’t be perfect, we quit and then we don’t see progress.  So strive to be imperfect.  Strive for short workouts.  Go ahead and strive for just enough.  It will be better than doing nothing and soon you will find that you will be progressing to doing more!

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