Don’t Like to Exercise? Here Are 6 Ways to Motivate

by Kirby Bumpus, MPH
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Don’t Like to Exercise? Here Are 6 Ways to Motivate

First, I was blown away by your reader comments on the last Better Than Ever post. Thank you for taking the time to read, share your stories and provide tips to help other MFPers! Second, because of your comments, I decided to take this month to provide thought starters for those of you who expressed losing a bit of steam when it comes to starting a workout program or staying on top of your current plan.

Fact: I used to despise working out.

There were points when I literally dreaded exercise; times when I had not only fallen off the wagon, but it backed up and rolled over me.

Regardless of the cause: a new relationship, new job, injury, life — the list goes on. It can be hard to get in the groove.

Initiating a workout regime is pretty daunting. If you’ve never gotten into a routine to begin with, or have fallen off, you know exercise can be awkward, annoying and seemingly unapproachable. It can also be a little embarrassing: How did I let myself get so out of shape … again? Are people judging me?

We’ve all been there. You walk into the gym, and it can be intimidating because everyone looks like they know what the heck they are doing. But, remind yourself: At one point that jacked guy on the rowing machine also didn’t even know where the water fountain was. He had to figure it out and you can, too.

For context, I now exercise religiously — 5–6 times a week — and I actually enjoy it.

Whaaaaat?!

True, I still don’t wake up most days daydreaming about the elliptical machine, but I do dream about that feeling after the workout.

My advice to you is: Instead of putting energy into dreaming up excuses, think about what you love about exercising, and use that for confidence and motivation when your will is running low.


READ MORE > ARE YOU AN ATHLETE?


Here are six go-to motivators (aka why I workout):

1. ENJOYING FELLOWSHIP

Rally a friend (or two) to be your accountabilibuddy and get started. There have been times when I’ve only made it to a workout because I didn’t want to let my friend down. I have two separate groups of Under Armour teammates (that’s UA speak for “coworkers”) who I work out with for support and fun. There’s nothing like taking on a physical challenge to bring you closer together.

I also have some of my funniest life moments because of shared workout experiences, like the time my friend Georgette walked out halfway through a megaformer class, and we found her at a subterranean bar next door drinking tequila (still in gym clothes)!

2. HAVING A SENSE OF ACCOMPLISHMENT

There’s nothing more motivating than seeing progress and accomplishing your goals. It’s gratifying to improve and be able to do more over time. Whether it’s sliding the pin in the weight machine to the heavier weight, bumping up the incline on the treadmill or adding an extra lap around the block after dinner. It’s exciting to see (and feel) your body taking on more. Start by writing down your exercise goals and create realistic milestones to accomplish them.

3. FITTING INTO CLOTHES

If you’ve ever gained or lost weight, you know that getting dressed in the morning can be a struggle (I’ve had sizes 6–16 in my closet at the same time before … sigh). The other day a coworker stopped by my desk and asked me what I was training for because he saw me going pretty hard in the gym. I responded with “I just want to continue to fit into my clothes.” We both laughed out loud, but it’s true! I love food, I love cooking, I love eating — and with all of that comes calories, which is OK as long as I’m strategic. Personally, if I don’t stay on track with my meal logging on MyFitnessPal or I start skipping workouts, I notice the difference pretty fast — my body just rebels against my wardrobe. Quickly.


READ MORE > OK. YOU GAINED WEIGHT. THESE 5 TIPS WILL GET YOU BACK ON TRACK


4. FINDING THE HAPPY PLACE

Studies show that the post-workout high is a real thing. You feel better. You’ll be proud you took the time to invest in yourself. A single workout can help clear your head so you can face whatever is causing stress with a better outlook. I often walk away from a sweat session with my focus reset and a forward-looking perspective.

If I miss a workout, my drive dips, and I’m in a general funk. There have been countless occasions when I’ve laid in bed at night and regretted not finding time for a workout. On the other hand, I have never regretted working out.

In need of some moves? These stress busting stretches are great for a beginner, can increase your flexibility, ease soreness and get you ready to get back in the game (with no equipment required).

5. TREATING YOURSELF

Recognize what motivates you and incorporate it into your reward for hitting an exercise goal. You could treat yourself by trying a new recipe on MFP (I usually make extra and save it for lunch later in the week.) Or reward yourself with a splurge: there have been occasions when  thinking about that post-workout burger has fueled me through the workout. A rest day can also be a necessary reward to incorporate into your routine. You’ve got to create time for self-care.

6. BECAUSE YOU CAN

If you’ve overcome an illness, injury or anything that prevented you from working out, you know what it feels like to be unable to push yourself physically — it’s frustrating and can be depressing. But that experience can also give you a greater appreciation for your health and strength. Considering there were years when I spent more days on crutches than my feet (due to knee injuries), I often think about how grateful I am to even have the option to exercise and that’s enough to get me moving.

I know I’m not in the best shape of my life (shoutout to my 17 year-old self), but I’m putting in the effort to improve. And you know what? I feel better than ever about the progress I’ve made and what my body can accomplish. It’s a phenomenal feeling.

So while you might not enjoy working out right now, hopefully these six motivators will help get you on track.

Are you struggling to find a workout routine you can enjoy? Do you genuinely enjoy working out (which is awesome!)? How do you motivate yourself to exercise? What’s your “happy” workout place? Share your tips below! I (along with the rest of the MFP community) look forward to hearing from you!


Better Than Ever

We all strive for wellness and to live better! Every month, this column will bring you advice on how to feel and perform Better Than Ever. Check out tips to improve various aspects of your health: Everything from fitness, nutrition, sleep and recovery. Have a topic you want to hear about? Feel free to reach out here (I’ll be checking the comments!) or on Twitter or Instagram. I look forward to hearing from you!


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  • Leigh, 62 years old

    I always remember advice I received from a realtor mentor: eat your worms first. Meaning, get the unpleasant job out of the way EARLY in the day. I admit I don’t enjoy my workouts, but I definitely enjoy logging in my completed exercises. Plus, results don’t lie!

    • Kirby

      Hey Leigh-
      Great point! I do prefer to workout in the mornings because I find I have more energy and I just feel so accomplished right at the onset of the day. PLUS, I find that I eat a little healthier when I workout because I feel so great about taking care of myself. and YES to the instant gratification of logging a workout! Thanks for taking the time to share your tips!

  • Alison

    Hi, 53yr old Mum of 4. Started dieting + exercising about 12 months ago to 1) lose weight, 2) get into shape & 3) get into a routine before quitting smoking (4 months later). Did rowing mostly then once I quit smoking switched to cycling with a bit of rowing and weight training. Have lost the weight and not regained other than 1-2kg I can’t exercise for a few days for whatever reason. It’s daunting though because my BMR is circa Kcal1200/day which means that any exercise is not really making me lose weight (I still have about 1kg to go) but rarher providing a bit a credit for that piece of chocolat or drink – however that & not wanting to go back to smoking is what keeps me motivated, especially the sense of accomplishment after my ride/workout! Keep it up everyone

    • Kirby

      Hey Alison-
      Thanks a ton for reading and sharing your story with other MFPers! Congrats on creating a whole new healthy lifestyle for yourself! Eating healthier, starting an exercise routine AND quitting smoking- WOW. Just fantastic (because what you are doing is not easy)! Yes exercise providing you with a little “credit” to splurge- I love when I see those “exercise” calories at the top of the screen in the app because you can see how they help give your green “remaining” calories a little buffer. Thanks for reading and keep up the great work!

  • Kathy

    “Because you can”. Thanks Kirby. I can’t exercise at the moment due to ME/CFS relapse and a host of other ailments, but by God I sure am going to as soon as I can. Thanks for the reality check and motivation x

    • It’s a good point I think Kathy, and hits my ‘be prepared to act imperfectly button’ (a big issue for me) – I dare to suggest that when you feel so unwell any moving counts as exercise, I’m sure you know that but thought I’d say out loud anyways!

      • Cookiemonster

        It sure does Su thanks. Love your comments about be prepared to act imperfectly – a big fear for me in the gym, when I do go – and get up and do it before you talk yourself out of it! I used to do it at 5am

        • I’ve been with you those 5am’s! How we do or don’t workout is a great reflection of how we live our lives – ‘cos it’s mostly in our heads!. YOU CAN … you don’t do Nothing (that’s called, well, no longer in this life) so you can do Something & we should just respect ourselves for that. Don’t like the gym? Do something else ’til you feel more confident (or pass it forever). Just don’t fall for ‘all or nothing’, over-train and give up. I speak from perpetual experience – grateful Cookiemonster xx

          • Kirby

            Hey Su-
            Great advice! Do something else if you don’t like the gym- just do something! I’ve done 5am/5:30am workouts, but I have to make sure I get to bed SUPER early to make those work for me. Thanks for motivating Cookiemonster and the rest of us MFPers!

        • Kirby

          Hey Cookiemonster-
          Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. I’m sorry to hear about your ME/CFS and while I can’t imagine what experience must be like, I totally understand where you are coming from with being unable to exercise. I think Su is right about just finding something that you can count as exercise. There were some days (post knee surgery) where I would only do upper body stretches and that was IT for the whole day. But I had to focus on what I could do, instead of what I couldn’t. AND since I understand your fear of not being perfect in the gym, maybe start getting back into your groove outside of the gym. Whether it’s checking out some stretches you can do at home on the MFP blog or going for a walk (if you are able) or finding a physical therapist that you can work with to incorporate movement into your daily life in a safe and gradual way. Just stick with it and don’t give up. Thanks for checking out the MFP blog and I hope you find some of the resources here helpful as you continue on your health journey! Really appreciate hearing from you, I think it’s a great reminder for all of us to be grateful for the ability to exercise and that we don’t have to strive for perfection!

  • Often it’s our heads that ‘just say no’ even if body is willing … anyone else stopped at arms-outstretched while the workout does a burpee???? (It’s not just me, surely!) Get up and work out before the head has a chance to argue is one trick. Results don’t lie is surely a truism, and the simplest result is ‘yay I did it anyway’. Be prepared to act imperfectly is another that I love. If all else fails I get a new workout top or trousers!

    • Kirby

      HAHAHA Su!-
      “stopped at arms outstretched” while others are doing a burpee…I’ve been there. But you are so right about focusing on the results and accomplishments to stay motivated and in the game. Yes to new workout clothes! I love the feeling of putting on a new piece of gear, it’s almost like when I show up to the gym in new gear I need to prove to others that I look the part AND work hard. Maybe that’s just me though. Thanks again for contributing and going out of your way to support cookiemonster- I love it!

      • Aww, affirmation, Thank You! Heads are pesky things & this thread is great for seeing how others get past the mental blocks they put in our way – love what people are contributing!

  • Gaby

    Right. I’m putting on trainers at lunchtime. Got to kick start this sometime. I am loving your blog. I can be better than ever!

    • Kirby

      Hey Gaby-
      I love to hear this! I’m obviously a little late here, but I hope you had a great lunchtime workout! Thanks so much for the kind words- I love writing for MFPers! If you have ANY ideas for future articles feel free to put them in the comments here (I legit read all of them) or send me a note on IG.

  • Richard Maurice Parker

    Great article. Working out would be easier if I had friends to workout with consistently. I travel a lot for work so it’s hard to get into a consistent groove with a partner, however I may just have someone keep me accountable to ensuring I work out while I’m away… just a daily text to remind me to say no to the Swiss rolls and do some cardio at least!!

    • Kirby

      Hey Richard!
      Thanks! I have a group text chain where we talk about a bunch of different things, but one thing we do is constantly motivate each other to stay in the game, get active or stick with our workout routine. When you are surrounded by people who celebrate their healthy habits, it helps you think about your health and hopefully take actions to improve yourself. so yes, find that support system! Whether its your family, a friend or a group of friends- connect with someone who you can check in with. PLUS check out some of our videos and articles about how to stay active when traveling. We’ve got some great tips. Thanks for reading and commenting! You’ve got this!

  • William Bumpus

    Another great blog.
    The man who used to change your diapers is very proud….,
    You raise several points that resonate for me, but in the interests of of time and space, I will only focus on one.
    Working out with a friend:
    I always enjoy my workouts more, if I involve a friend. The time goes by quicker and frequently the workout is more intense, if my friend is an equal or slightly superior athlete. I recall a few great workouts with you in your mother’s workout room that were glorious. And I always enjoyed long 30-50+ mile bike rides with you. Do you recall the first time you participated in The Bike NYC BIKE ride? You were very young and clearly exhausted with about 10 miles to the end of a 55+ mile bike ride. You asked if you could stop/exit the ride. I responded that you could stop, but that I preferred that you just push yourself for another 5 miles (I lied, it was at least 10 miles). I remember you looked into my eyes and said okay, Dad, as if you did not want to disapoint me and completed the ride. I was extremely proud of you, as you completed the ride. That single decision told me volumes about the determined and awesome woman that was inside you.
    I also give a shout out to 17 year old Kirby, I remember her well, captain of the volleyball and softball team, you were a very good athlete in peak shape, about to take your “Game” to the next level, when you suffered the first of many devastating, knee injuries.
    You have bounced back admirably.

    As always, I am very proud of my first born.
    Happy Birthday, Beautiful…
    Enjoy every day, it is a gift…

    Love, Dad…

  • Beenie R

    This is just an awesome read. I feel motivated already! I’m going to save this to my home screen as a reminder. Thank you for sharing.

  • Mary Forgey

    Thanks, Kirby. A great article. One of the points you made, “Because You Can.” Great point. After several surgeries (8 to be exact) I am ecstatic to be able to go and exercise. Thank you for reminding us that not everyone is fortunate enough to be able to “Just Do It”.

  • Jacqueline Williams

    I just started reading your blog and it makes perfect sense regardless of age. I’m 67. Have a good 19-15 lbs more than I should on my 5’5″ frame. I loved #3 -because I love food too. Trying to eat all organic. Thank God for GROWN the USDA certified restaurant in Middletown, CT. It helps. Now I just have to try more of your motivating tips.