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How To Motivate Yourself To Workout When You'd Rather Do Anything Else

These are the techniques professional trainers use to keep themselves — and their clients — consistent.

Originally Published: 
A man in a gym working out with ropes.
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Exercises and Workouts for Men To Get in Good-Enough Shape

Even the most dedicated gym-goer has to admit that finding motivation to work out during the dark, cold days of winter is rough. If you’re doing it for vanity muscles, summer’s beach weather is a lifetime away. If you’re a runner or cyclist, your exercise enthusiasm disappeared at the end of your fall race season. And if you’re doing it as part of a New Year’s resolution — well, we all know that struggle.

So what’s the secret to staying motivated to work out, especially on those days when you can think of a million reasons you’d rather lounge on the couch? For answers, we asked several personal trainers about the motivational techniques they use to keep their clients and themselves on track. From tagging in workout buddies to using systems that help you ladder up small successes, here’s how they stay on the ball.

1. Give Yourself No Excuses

Xavier Beckford, master trainer and owner of Extreme Fitness Training in New York City, has no illusions when it comes to sticking with the program. “I don’t rely on motivation,” he says. “I use discipline to keep me dedicated to my fitness routine no matter what.” The reason? Motivation comes and goes, says Beckford, but “discipline never fails me.”

Discipline is like a muscle, he says — the more you flex it, the stronger it gets. Keep working it and you’ll find it overrides laziness when it’s time to hit the gym. But to get to that point, you need to commit, hardcore.

“Even on days when I don’t feel like it, I shut my mind off and work out anyway,” Beckford says. “I absolutely do not take the day off if I feel like skipping a workout. It sets a bad precedent. Once you skip one workout, you will skip another.”

What that means for you: Have your kit laid out before bed, set your coffee maker the night before to start brewing the minute the buzzer goes off, and rip the covers back like you’re tearing off a Band-Aid when the alarm goes off. Or pack your gym bag so you go right after work, and take yourself there even before you’ve mentally committed to working out. Don’t think. Just do it.

2. Use Positive Peer Pressure

Personal trainer Anaya Grover, founder of Move With Anaya in West Sussex, England makes it a point to schedule workouts or join sports leagues with friends. When she loses motivation, she focuses on the commitment she’s made to them.

“For instance, I play tennis all year round,” she says. “Often, I don’t want to play when it’s dark and cold because it’s so against our animal nature, but because I’ve committed to playing with others, I have to show up.” Knowing other people are counting on you provides extra incentive to stay committed.

3. Get SMART About Your Goals

A common mistake when setting goals is to create ones that are too broad or lofty. In doing this, wet set ourselves up for failure, as there’s a lack of specific, quantifiable successes to strive for. To counter this, Grover relies on the popular SMART technique to ensure desired results are clear and reachable.

SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely, and serves as a roadmap for defining objectives. In order for a goal to be set, it must check each of the five criteria. Grover employs the technique every time she sets a new fitness goal for herself or her clients.

Here’s an example. Instead of “I want to run more” (too vague, hard to quantify) the goal, using the SMART technique, becomes “I want to increase my strength and stamina by running three miles twice a week” (more achievable and realistic).

Then, there would be set elements to help track the goal. For instance, one would pick a date on the calendar when they’re going to test themself to see the results of their efforts (that’s the ‘timely’ part of SMART). This, Grover says, is especially helpful for finding motivation on days when you’d rather skip your workout.

Oh, and when you size up the goal you’re setting, aim for the sweet spot: “You want to pick one that you have a 50% chance of achieving,” says Grover. “That way, you stay hungry and it remains a challenge that will motivate you.”

4. Make Novelty Your Friend

Routines are usually great if you’re trying to make something like exercise a habit. But sometimes, more of the same starts to lose its appeal. Trying a new class or kind of workout can help keep you motivated.

“It can be exciting to check out a new class for the first time and break out of your usual routine,” says Jenny Liebl, an elite personal trainer in Scottsdale, Arizona, and senior content developer for the International Sports Science Association. “I love trying new classes. Most recently, I’ve tried aerial yoga and CrossFit — tough, but fun.”

Liebl’s suggestion: If you try a new activity and enjoy it, buy yourself a five- or 10-class pack. You’ll be more invested in coming back once you’ve plunked down some cash.

If you do decide to shake up your routine with a new activity, don’t wing it. Post your workout schedule where you — and everyone else in your house — can see it to keep yourself accountable. “I have my workout schedule taped to my refrigerator and my husband holds me to it,” Liebl says.

5. Turn It Into a Game

If you’ve got kids, you’re no stranger to turning chores into fun challenges to get things done. Who can get their clothes on fastest? First person to finish cleaning their room wins a prize!

Now, it’s time for the adult version. Squat challenges (how many can you do?), cardio challenges (how long can you run at 10 miles per hour on the treadmill for?), and weight challenges (how much can you bench press?) are all entertaining ways to turn your mundane sweat session into a game.

If you have a regular crew you work out with, turn it into a group challenge. If not, use a fitness tracker app or social media to document your progress, and invite others to join. “My friends and I often share screenshots of our fitness trackers after workouts in a group chat to see who worked the hardest that day,” says Liebl.

6. Just Try It For 10 Minutes

For those who love running or biking, winter is a major motivation-zapper. Heading out in the dark in sub-freezing temps for a six-miler is no one’s idea of fun. So, lie to yourself.

“When it’s cold and dark, tell yourself you are going to try for 10 minutes to see how you feel,” suggests Laura Norris, a running coach and owner of Laura Norris Running in Boulder, Colorado. “If you don’t feel great after the first 10 minutes, turn around and go home. You’ll still have gotten in a 20-minute run, which is enough to maintain your fitness.” Sometimes though, she points out, you feel much better after the first 10 minutes and keep going.

To that end, make your route an out and back when motivation is low. If your energy starts sagging after 20 or 25 minutes, tough luck — wherever you are, you’ve still got half a workout left to get home.

7. Remember Your Why

When you’re in a groove with your workouts, you likely hit the weights or cardio machines as part of your daily routine without even really thinking about it. But when motivation starts to lag, taking a step back and reviewing the big picture can help.

“I always like to remind my clients of their ‘why,’” says Liebl. “What made them start their fitness journey? What are they working toward? Why is it important to them to reach their goals? Sometimes we just need a little reminder.”

It sounds simple, and it is. But it’s also powerful.

So, what’s your why? Is it to be more energetic during play time? To lower your blood pressure? To maintain your strength as you cruise into middle age? To be able to walk your daughter down the aisle in 20 years? Whatever it is, let it be your guiding force. And remember that the work today will lead to the change tomorrow.

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