Imagine this: According to your calendar, it’s time to work out. But as you start to think about moving your body, you realize you don’t feel like working out. If you’re due for a rest or recovery day, consider yourself lucky and listen to your body. But if it’s a regular workout day and you find you’re talking yourself out of a workout for no good reason, that’s another matter.
Here’s something you may not know: Even the most seasoned, habitual exercisers struggle with that “I don’t feel like working out,” feeling. Trainers and professional athletes deal with it, too. Here, they explain how to get yourself to work out, even if it’s the last thing you feel like doing.
EMBRACE THE 10-MINUTE RULE
When it comes to physical movement, something is better than nothing. So, you might tell yourself all you have to do is the first 10 minutes of your workout (or if that feels like too much, 5 minutes). Then, if you’re still not feeling it, you can stop. Chances are, by the time you’re 10 minutes in, you’ll feel good about finishing.
Another way to use shorter time chunks is to break your workout up into 5- or 10-minute increments. “Take a 10-minute jog three times throughout the day, or do 5 minutes of bodyweight exercises a few times throughout the day,” suggests Meghan Kennihan, a NASM-certified personal trainer and USA Track & Field coach. “By the end of the day, you did your 30 minutes.”
LOOK AT A PHOTO OF YOURSELF
“A picture’s worth a thousand words, and looking at a photo of yourself can definitely motivate you to go exercise,” notes Ramsey Bergeron, a certified personal trainer. The picture that’ll work best depends on what you find most motivational, he adds. For some people, it might be a photo of themselves at their fittest, the moment they finished a race, or with a loved one who they want to be healthy for. “Place the photo somewhere you know you’ll see it when you’re lacking motivation — for example, by your computer monitor or even on your fridge.”
USE DIFFERENT WORKOUT “LEVELS”
Giving yourself options can make a workout feel more appealing. “Instead of one binary goal, create three, for example: gold, silver and bronze,” recommends Michael OBrien, a resilience and mindset expert. This means having a few different versions of your workout in mind. The “gold medal” version is the full workout. The silver medal might be a little less intense, but a good option you can fall back on. If you’re really struggling, you can go for the bronze medal workout. “For example, gold could be a 5-mile run, silver could be a 3-mile walk, and bronze could be working your core,” OBrien says. “Yes, bronze isn’t a gold, but it helps you stay in the game and maintain your momentum.”
WORK OUT IN A DIFFERENT ROOM
Your environment can make a big difference in how you feel about working out. Sometimes, having a dedicated workout space — or even just moving to a different room from where you’re currently hanging out — can provide the motivation boost you need. “Personally, I set up my kitchen as a training space with everything I’ll need before I begin my warmup,” says Alex Parry, a strength and conditioning coach. “It’s all about creating a distinct space for performance, a place where you can mentally switch on.”
THINK ABOUT THAT POST-WORKOUT GLOW
“Imagine how you’ll feel after you exercise,” suggests Rebecca Leslie, PsyD. We know visualization can be powerful, so put it to work by picturing exactly what will happen after your workout. “Maybe your mood is lifted and you feel proud,” Leslie says. Sometimes, that can be enough to help you get on with it.
REMEMBER WHY YOU *REALLY* WORK OUT
“One of the hardest challenges I see with clients is their struggles with negative self-image and self-care,” says David Pfaff, PhD, LPC, a psychotherapist. While affirmations and telling ourselves we’re good enough can be helpful, we also need to show ourselves some love, Pfaff explains. “Physical exercise is one of the best ways to do that, mentally and physically.” Reframing your workout not just as a chore or obligation but as a way to practice showing yourself care and that you’re doing right by yourself can be rewarding. “So often, we want these things from others, and this is a chance to give them to ourselves for once.”
REWARD YOURSELF POST-WORKOUT
“Our bodies and minds thrive off of rewards,” says Justine Swenson, a certified personal trainer. “Maybe it’s that you can watch your favorite TV show if you finish your workout or you can make that tasty shake you really enjoy if you finish all your reps.”
You could also try temptation bundling, Kennihan says. That means finding something you want to do, like listening to the newest episode of your favorite podcast, and only allowing yourself to do it while you work out.
STEP AWAY FROM THE NEWS
It’s important to keep up with current events, but doom scrolling can leave us feeling unmotivated and dejected. “Most days, the news at 6 a.m. is the same news at 6 p.m.,” Bergeron points out. “There’s no need to keep it on all day or check it every 10 minutes. When I have my clients commit to only watching the news for an hour a day (preferably closer to the end of the day), they always feel more positive, productive and focused during their workouts.”
TURN SOMETHING YOU’RE ALREADY DOING INTO A WORKOUT
If you aren’t into doing a full workout, you might be able to turn errands into mini workouts. “For instance, if you’re cleaning your apartment, turn on your favorite dance track and make the cleaning duties into routines,” Swenson suggests. “Add in some jumping jacks or a few dance moves. The more you incorporate exercise into your daily routines, the easier you’ll find it to motivate yourself to do more.”
REMEMBER, EVEN PRO ATHLETES STRUGGLE
“Most pro athletes don’t like to work out either, but they like to perform better, for longer and enjoy winning,” says Reid Priddy, four-time Olympic volleyball player. It might help to ask yourself: What does winning look like for you? His reasoning: The reason you’re committing to regular movement is more important than what you end up doing for the workout. Reminding yourself of your “why” can make working out feel more appealing.
CONSIDER YOUR FINANCIAL INVESTMENT
If you’ve recently bought new sneakers, home workout equipment or a workout program, remind yourself of that financial commitment when you don’t feel like working out, recommends Becky Selvey, a personal trainer and founder of Team Run Strong. It might just be the thing that helps you tweak your mindset.
REMIND YOURSELF MOTIVATION ISN’T REQUIRED
It’s common to think we need to feel motivated to reach our workout goals. But the truth is, you can stay committed to a workout routine without it. “I don’t rely on motivation, ever,” says Sarah Pelc Graca, a certified personal trainer and founder of Strong with Sarah. Neither do her clients who have successfully achieved their goals, she says. “What I instead rely on is discipline. Once you’ve conditioned yourself to become disciplined about your fitness regime and nutrition goals, you’ll be unstoppable!” Of course, that’s a process. The first step? Acknowledging you don’t necessarily need motivation to get through today’s workout.
Check out “Workout Routines” in the MyFitnessPal app to discover and log workouts or build your own with exercises that fit your goals.