So You Want to Stop… Blowing Off the Gym

by Coach Stevo
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So You Want to Stop… Blowing Off the Gym

Every month, I go to gyms and offices and give workshops on habit-formation and goal setting. At one of these sessions, a woman raised her hand and said, “I should work out, but I just can’t seem to do it. What should I do?” The tips I offered in my response helped her make a habit out of going to the gym—and I know they can help you, too.

1. Find a closer gym Jennifer Gay, Ph.D., and her colleagues conducted an experiment and found no matter how motivated people were, the biggest factor in determining whether or not people who just started exercising would still be exercising in 6 months was how convenient it was to get to their gym. Why fight an uphill battle? Pick the one that’s closest to your home or office.

2. Go in the morning People who start an exercise habit in the morning are far more likely to stick to it. There are lots of reasons for this, but the most compelling is known as “decision fatigue.” Researchers have found that decisions “cost something” to make and we are more likely to depend on impulse and habit by the end of the day. So after commuting, working, and commuting again, you’re less likely to go the gym later in the day than in the morning.

3. Get beyond “should” There are lots of things we “should” do. We should floss twice a day. And call our mothers. But feeling like we should do something—what psychologists call “introjected motivation”—is a very poor quality motivator when compared to feeling like we “must” to do something, or “need” to do something. So tell your friends that if you don’t workout twelve times this month, they can shave your head. Too extreme? Consider using an app that ups the ante, like Gym-Pact, which charges you money if you don’t go to the gym!

4. Find a reason (for today) Write down every reason you can think of for going to the gym. Every answer to the question, “Why?” Keep that list by your bed. When your alarm goes off at 6AM, grab the list and pick the reason that sounds most motivating to you for that day.

5. Simply set the alarm After getting to the root of her issue, setting an alarm clock seemed to be the best solution for the woman at my workshop. She wasn’t confident that she could go to the gym (even once), but she was 100% confident that she could set an alarm for 6:00am. So I asked her to set it right there, on her phone, in front of me. She could do anything she wanted after the alarm went off—I just wanted her to set the alarm. The next day she walked into my gym at 6:30am. “I was up,” she said. “Thought I’d come here.” 80% of life is showing up—and most of us can’t do that without an alarm.

The biggest reason people don’t reach their goals is not a lack of desire, discipline, or even falling off the horse. Not getting back on the horse is the biggest reason people fail.

I can promise each and every one of you, on your journey to your health and fitness goals, you will slip. You will miss a few days at the gym. You might even miss a month, or a year. But even a year won’t matter if you’re able to start again tomorrow.

Raise your hand if you’re guilty of blowing off the gym. Think one of these tips will get you there tomorrow? Let us know in the comments!

About the Author

Coach Stevo

Coach-Stevo-Logo.pngCoach Stevo is the nutrition and behavior change consultant at San Francisco CrossFit. He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, holds a BA in Philosophy from the University of Chicago and an MA in Sport Psychology from John F. Kennedy University. He teaches habit-based coaching to wellness professionals all over the world and he contributed to Intervention by Dan John in 2012. 



31 responses to “So You Want to Stop… Blowing Off the Gym”

  1. Avatar tonygcastaneda says:

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  2. Avatar Tina says:

    Man .. Hit the nail on the head why dont ya!!!!!!!

  3. Avatar PoweredbyPluto says:

    I have a better suggestion. Why not go do something you really want to do instead of forcing yourself to “go to the gym”…

  4. Avatar DrRosenRosen says:

    Going to the gym sucks. Stinky, leering guys, bro-ing out everywhere isn’t my thing. I’ll stick to my forest hikes, bird watching, and animal spotting, thanks. In other words, yeah, find something you enjoy and do that instead.

  5. Avatar challe says:

    Even if I set the alarm or make “bookings” in my calender, i’ve still problems to get to the gym… it always ends up with the same feeling of failure… it doesn’t matter if the gym is 5min away or if i find all the good reasons why i should go there… i still end up in the sofa, feeling bad about myself as a person… 🙁

    • Avatar Coach Stevo says:

      If not going to the gym makes you feel like a failure, challe, fuck the gym. In my experience, no one sticks to any habit when missing a day makes them feel like a failure. But the goal is to move more, not go to a building that has a certain sign on the door! Luckily there are 100s of alternatives (some of them right here in this thread). I would suggest starting with something social. My mom has walked every morning with the same two women for 3 decades. When they miss it, no one feels bad; they just catch up on the town gossip the next day. 🙂 If being social is too much, I suggest getting a “secret snail,” a buddy on a forum here that doesn’t know you personally, but can share your journey and hold you accountable for new goals like walking every day. We often think our problems are too petty to bore other people with, but you’d be surprised how many people are in the same boat as you and looking for a buddy to help them get over the hump. Reach out on the forums and see if anyone wants to be your pen pal!

  6. Avatar Nobam2012 says:

    Why not workout at home? You need next to nothing to do this. No fees, no dealing with other people. That alone is motivation enough for me.

  7. Avatar AshleyAshley says:

    I go on my lunch break during work. I dont have cable at home and always enjoy getting on the elliptical and watching different shows…I know I know not why you should go to the gym, but it’s a nice benefit. lol When I come back to work I feel relaxed and ready to start fresh any projects that were lingering.

  8. Avatar Tabbitha says:

    I don’t go to a gym but I walk. I wear my workout clothes to bed and get up between 4:30 and 4:45 to walk. I have a nine hour workday and long commutes. If I don’t exercise in the morning it won’t get done. Last week I only walked one day and the desire to not continue was définitly there but as mentioned above action is the remedy to permanent change. I made it out this morning and already have my gear ready to put in tonight for tomorrow. Thanks for an excellent read.

  9. Avatar AusAshMommy says:

    Night exerciser here, find my motivation to go in the evenings…once there though its on! Sometimes that motivation is lacking, hubby gives me a small reminder and I am off! He’ll even sometimes go get the gym clothes, bring them to me, and wait patiently for me to change – he knows I always feel worlds better post workout!

  10. Avatar Dennis Smith says:

    I go to the gym after work. During the school year I finish work, pick up my children from school and then it’s “MY TIME”. The gym helps me decompress from the day. Harder on the weekends though where I have to make the commitment.

  11. Avatar musicjunkie1982 says:

    I use GymPact and I love it! You get real money if you go, and you lose real money if you don’t!

    We had our water turned off a few months ago, so not going to the gym in the morning was not an option. After a week, I realized I loved it and had much more energy during the day, plus slept better. I do my low intensity in the morning while watching shows on Netflix. 30mins flies by.

  12. Avatar Cally says:

    When the only “answer” really seems to evolve around going to the gym in the morning, it seems supremely unrealistic that works for everyone. What about those who have to be at work at 7 or 8am and barely get four hours of sleep with being so busy after work every day? You expect them to just set an earlier alarm and squeeze in a rushed workout before work? Yeah no. This was disappointing.

    • Avatar cjdove says:

      Cally, I had the exact same problem. When you’re already maxed out in your daily life, there just isn’t any time (or energy). All that leaves is small changes. I did 3 things. 1.) Since you have to brush your teeth, and you’re just standing there – do 50 squats. 2.) I stopped taking the elevator at work. Initially, I just got off a few floors early and worked my way up. 3.) Always park in the farthest spot from the door.
      And when life eases up a bit, you’ll be ready. I’m rooting for you.

  13. Avatar Allison says:

    I loved the article – but what I loved even more are the comments below from real people who face realistic struggles in their day-to-day life.

    When I first began exercising it was outdoors and I didn’t need a gym. When I went I felt great and when/if I didn’t go I didn’t feel like a massive failure. I started going to the gym because this guy I liked kept raving about how the gym would help and how it was amazing blah, blah, blah.

    Needless to say it did help dramatically with weightloss but it also messed with my head.

    So, now roughly 3 years after I started my fitness journey (and more importantly 4 months after breaking up with that guy after a 2+ years long relationship) I have such a feeling of repulsion for the gym because of the association of it to him. So I’m trying to break that but it’s a struggle because it seems I had begun to associate general exercising with him too. So instead of being 86 lbs down like I was in May of last year, I’ve managed to gain back 62 of those pounds because of losing weight for all the wrong reasons when I started dating him and that being combined with being an emotional eater – it’s all just very ridiculous.

    Either way, I’m trying to make a fresh start and change my habits in small steps and for the right reasons: to be healthy and be able to live a truly happy life. Before I was just trying to lose weight so I could eat more junk food and not put the weight back on. That’s how badly he brain washed me.

    So I’m switching gyms at the end of the month, I’ve got a new gym buddy and we’re going to be going in the evenings. Although I do see the benefit of the morning she can’t make it then.

    So thanks for all the tips in the comment section and even from the article – I’m going to make a list of why I MUST/NEED to exercise. Not necessarily in order to go to the gym.

  14. Avatar Ben Bonarigo says:

    By far the most myocardial infarctions (heart attacks) occur in the morning hours at gyms.

  15. Avatar BK Jackson says:

    I love weight training at the gym. But I’m by far a morning person–for exercise too. But my employer has made that impossible. So now I’m relegated to going in the evenings. I’m not loathe to go to the gym. I’m loathe to go to the gym at night when 4 billion other people are there.

  16. Avatar Sharon Degregorio says:

    I am a professional gym try and re-try. A few of my shares might help decide if it’s right for you. 1. Location – number one. If it’s not close to home or on your daily path to/from work/home you’re less likely to stick with it. 2. Time of life/Time it takes – Figure at least one hour at the gym. Look at all the options out there before signing up and watch out for contracts. 3. Variety IS the spice of life – find a gym that offers many different activities and try as many as possible. This will reduce the risk of getting bored. 4. Affordability – know your budget. I won’t pay more than $30 month and I get quite a bit for that. I am 50+ and my children are now independent from needing me for transportation. I always have my bag ready to go in my car. I have made the commitment to just point my car in that direction 4 days a week after work (15 min. from my office and on my way home). I figure I will just show up to do something. There are more choices than ever before in history and you can find what works for you. Just do something! Take care of you because no else can! Here’s to a healthier you!

  17. Avatar Gary says:

    I find it easier to stick with exercising by working out at home. I start before getting out of bed by doing stretching exercises, pulling my knees to my chest. Crossing each leg to the other side, ab crunches, leg lifts (and hold for 3 minutes). Then more stretching after getting out of bed for legs and arms, twists of the waist, stretching tendons in legs by toe touches and placing foot on dresser and touching toes. Sit ups. Use 24 lb. dumbbell to work out arms in 5 different weight lifts ( two sets). Deep knee bends while holding the weight, tip toe raises, chair push-ups, hand squeeze. The work-out takes about 30-40 minutes. No drive time to the gym. No time to think of excuses not to work out since I start while still in bed. I do the stretching every day of the week, do the strength training 3 times a week and ride my bike 3 times a week.

  18. Avatar Jacki says:

    I don’t mind the gym or working out anywhere. It’s the time trainers are available so that I know I’m doing things correctly and for the best results for what I want. After awhile of not seeing results I tend to slack.

  19. Avatar Kim says:

    I finally stopped making excuses and built a pre-work workout into my routine. I don’t LOVE getting up at 5:10, but once I get to the gym, I find I am into it. I am now 2+ months into the routine, going 5-6 times a week and have yet to blow off a workout. I think I am more proud of that than the results I am seeing.

  20. Avatar Pam says:

    One thing that has helped me is to determine the minimum I can do, no matter what. For me it is 15 minutes on an elliptical or walking. It’s a small commitment, and most times I will end up doing more once I get there. Really works for days I don’t feel like going.

  21. Avatar letrain says:

    Great post! I’ve been trying to form the habit of working out in the morning, and this post has definitely motivated me to try it again.

  22. Avatar Larry says:

    Shaun – T ab sculp = 23 minutes of your day 4 days a week and then the following week I do curls, planks, a sit-up style, push-ups. I keep it simple and quick…works for me!

  23. Avatar Marie Villegas says:

    Yes I’m guilty. The rest felt good and was needed but I’ve extended it too long now. I’m hoping these tips will work for tomorrow! My alarm is set! 🙂

    • Avatar Marie Villegas says:

      I went this morning and was up before my alarm! 🙂 I ran 5.25 miles in 56 minutes. The new running shoes I bought on Saturday probably helped. Heehee, the test is tomorrow morning. 😉

  24. Avatar tiffany gonzales says:

    I loved # 3.

  25. Avatar Marie Villegas says:

    Made it Monday and Tuesday this week, rested today. Now tomorrow!?

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