Why You Don’t Go to the Gym as Much as You Should

by Coach Stevo
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Why You Don’t Go to the Gym as Much as You Should

In a survey I conducted for a newsletter, I asked potential and current personal training clients why they wished to hire a personal trainer. Far and away the top response was “lack of motivation.” In fact, that and “no time” are the top answers in most government surveys on physical activity as well.

But in 2011, three researchers in motivation science decided to dig deeper into what motivational factors led people to work out. It turns out that motivation level was not a predicting factor. The biggest predictor? How convenient people perceived where they worked out to be in relation to their daily routines.

Convenience is king. It trumps motivation. It trumps perceived value. It trumps guilt and shame (everything trumps guilt and shame over time). When it comes to long-term adherence, convenience trumps everything.

So if you are not feeling motivated to get to the gym, it’s time to look at ways to make things easier on yourself. Because signing up for a big, pretty, expensive gym clear across town is like starting a marathon dragging a sled.

If you are just starting out, start at home. Set an alarm so you wake up five minutes earlier, and just do five minutes of anything: squat, plank, hip bridge and carry something heavy (like a bag full of books) around your bedroom for five minutes. If you think that’s not enough, it was enough for some of my clients to lose significant amounts of weight before they moved on to other routines.

What matters is just getting started, which means setting that alarm (and actually getting out of bed).

If you have stalled out, ask yourself what was the most fun you ever had working out. Was it cardio? Was it camaraderie? Was it people watching? Now see if you can recreate that closer to home. Go to a park by your house and go for a brisk walk. Invite a friend or 10.

Put exercise equipment in your trunk. Face it, we spend a lot of time getting in and out of our cars. For a few months in graduate school, I kept 2 kettlebells in my car. Every time I got to campus, I got them out and just carried them as far as I could, then carried them back. It was more than enough to maintain my level of fitness, and when I got more time, I would do a little routine with all my favorite movements in them.

Invite people over to your house. Believe it or not, I don’t like working out all the time, either. I go through phases of motivation, too. And the best way I know to keep me going when I just don’t care is to invite anyone who wants to join me over to my house to work out at 9 a.m. every morning (except Sunday). I have the equipment, they bring the motivation! The most convenient workout club in the world is the one that knocks on your front door.

Ditch the hour; start thinking in minutes. Most people think they have to work out for at least an hour to be effective, but that’s just not true. Most of my clients have seen their biggest results from workouts that lasted less than an hour. Per week. That’s right, it’s not only possible, but in many cases it’s also more likely that you’ll see results working out in shorter bursts of dedicated training because you’re more likely to do it!

Here’s a whole routine that you can do in less than 10 minutes in whatever clothes you’re currently wearing, courtesy of Coach Stevo (via Dan John):

  1. Stand up.
  2. Lie on your stomach.
  3. Get back up.
  4. Lie on your back.
  5. Get back up.
  6. Lie on your left side.
  7. Get back up.
  8. Lie on your right side.
  9. Get back up.
  10. Rest.
  11. Repeat five more times.

The point is not whether this workout is “perfect” (hint: there’s no such thing), it just matters that you do it. So set that alarm and give it a shot!

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. 



50 responses to “Why You Don’t Go to the Gym as Much as You Should”

  1. Avatar marti says:

    In the beginning when I first started working out it was hard to get me motivated; but after awhile and seeing results that’s what motivates me. Seeing inches drop, seeing the scales move, and the big one is dropping down to a smaller size that’s what motivates me.

  2. Avatar Fmup says:

    I started exercising when the weight stopped coming off & I for one have NEVER EVER ENJOYED EXERCISE! Never!!!! I’m still waiting for that “runners high” I’ve heard so much about.

    The bottom line is exercise is like being good… Sometimes it stinks, but you have to do it anyway. I’ve been sedentary for a few months as I’ve gained 15 pounds back , do I’m starting again yo do what I hate— exercise— because the way I look at it is it is work & I quit trying to make it any kind of fun!

  3. Avatar AK Mama says:

    Ah, the runner’s high. I know it well. Now that I have lots of excess “baggage”, I cannot really grasp it. I believe I may have to lose a portion of the excess to begin feeling that high again. I am about to quit my crazily-overpriced-and-obnoxious-sales-tactics gym so I can workout on my own for a while. Who wants to exercise with mirrors, grunting muscle heads, and abundant stench of others? (Points two thumbs in at self) not this girl!

  4. Avatar jenjack1971 says:

    I love working out at home. I just started walking the perimeter of my back yard while the kids play on the play set. I used the “track my walk” app to figure up my speed. Now I just set a stop watch to get my time. Easily get in a 1/2 hour 2 or 3 times a week.
    Utilizing YouTube is great too there are a ton of free workouts available. When I can scroll through I pick a few and put them on my “watch later” list for easy access. We have a smart TV so between the TV, laptop and my phone all of my workouts are readily available to fit in when I can.
    A resistance band and some hand weights are good to have also.
    I think unless you’re getting ready to compete to be a body builder these 2 items are “must haves” and can give you the toning must average people want.

  5. Great point. The best exercise for someone is one they’ll enjoy and continue doing. Convenience plays a huge role and can be created with intentional habits.

  6. Avatar train_insane says:

    I lost 70 lbs with at home workouts. The Internet is a blessing for figuring out how to do it yourself, and when you are able to, the gym is just an occasional luxury with extra toys but no longer a necessity to remain healthy. Living room workouts are the best!

    • Avatar Mrs. Kelly says:

      I agree! We dropped the expensive gym membership and do videos in our living room. It’s a fun activity to do with my hubby!

  7. Avatar jtwizz says:

    i was going to a pilates class three doors down from my house (can it get more convenient than that?) but then the time of the class started conflicting with my work schedule, then money was tight, my friend dropped out because of *her* work schedule, and i couldn’t get up the motivation to go back. now i watch pilates videos on my tv, and aerobics videos on my computer. don’t even have to leave my house, and my kids (3 and 5) like to do them with me. you don’t know adorable until you see a 3 year old doing pilates. that’s what i call motivation. 🙂

  8. Avatar Hayley Slaton says:

    Love this! visit my blog at https://thehealthandfitnessblog

  9. Avatar AM says:

    Going to classes with others at my gym has been a big motivator for me to be consistent. At first I was totally intimidated, but finally got over myself and walked in the fitness class doors and just went for it. Been going consistently for about 3 months now and lost both the holiday weight and more. It’s nice to see the regular faces and those crazy people who have tons of energy around me, always motive me to do more. 🙂 When working out on my own, I would just do the bare minimum and then go home.

  10. Avatar Bianca lynn says:

    It was hard to get started towards a healthier lifestyle, I wasn’t wanting to part with the way I was eating. But 8 weeks ago I started my journey towards a better life. I starting working out 7 days a week and eating healthy (which I think required more work than exercising). I started cooking my meals for the week on Sunday nights that way I wouldn’t have to be pressured into buying fast food. So far I have lost 25 lbs and 23inches off my body!!! I’m so excited about the future, I just want to keep moving forward!

    • Avatar Esther says:

      Oh wow congratulations I’m working out regularly but honestly the diet is the hardest thing to change. I’m making small changes everyday. Any suggestions you can give me.

      • Avatar Bianca lynn says:

        I usually have around 5 to 6 meals a day preferably every 2 to 3 hours.

        Meal 1: I have 2 eggs with spinach, mushrooms, onion and a little pepper and easy sea salt,sometimes I add turkey or ham.

        I don’t always have this sometimes I change it up to a banana and egg in the middle of a whole wheat 12 grain slice of bread. I don’t use oil, just a little bit of cooking spray.

        Meal 2: I have two cups of fruit. Anything from mango and strawberries, to kiwi and pineapple. (I usually have this cut the night before so that way I’m not running behind in the morning.)

        Meal 3: Baked chicken and veggies. Because I don’t want to get home during the week and have to cook and prepare my food for the next day I try to have them done on Sunday. I’m not too big into cooking, but this is convenient and it’s pretty simple. I usually use:

        1 broccoli crown
        1 yellow squash
        1 zucchini
        5-8 baby carrots cut in halves
        baby spinach
        sometimes I add red potatoes but not usually.

        I chop everything up and mix it all in a big bowl

        I then take my boneless skinless chicken (they are usually big) and cut them in half. I put it on a square of aluminum foil and add pepper and a little sea salt. (sometimes I squeeze lemon on top) then I add a handful of veggies on top. I put it in the oven for about 35 min. I make anywhere from 6-8 of these for my week.

        Meal 4 Cucumber with lime and chili powder. I prefer Tajin
        (usually have this cut the night before as well)

        Meal 5 Baked chicken and veggies.

        Meal 6 if I’m still hungry I’ll have another cucumber.

        I am the mother of two and I work a 9-6 job.
        The key is to be prepared for the next day so you don’t set yourself up for failure.

        Its hard at the first few days but you can do it.

      • Avatar Joyce says:

        Although the diet part was the heardest change for me too, after a couple of months your stomach really does require less food to feel full! Keep going! You’ll do it! It will just become your new way of living!

        • Avatar Bianca lynn says:

          It really has! It’s been a long, tough but amazing journey! I’ve loved every second of it!

      • Avatar Kristen Hawthorne says:

        Just remember it’s end result!! Once you drop all the weight you want.. Your diet will be easy!! I have lost 100 lb and kept it off for 5 years.. And I can eat whatever I want and maintain! Now do I have restrictions?? Of course.. Now I’m at the point where I’m ready to be strict and drop this last 20 pounds!! Just remember it takes time to change your body and by time I mean years!! Your well worth it and just don’t beat yourself up!! Each day is a new day and make it the best possible!!!

        • Avatar Bianca lynn says:

          That’s awesome! From my biggest I’ve lost 107 and 70 from last March! I’m so happy with my accomplishments! I’ve never been this fit and healthy! Everybody’s encouraging words really help me keep going. 😀

      • Avatar Sue says:

        Start small and work your way up that what I’m doing also if you shop eat some friut or water

  11. Avatar gaulrappkj17 says:

    This is an awesome article. I also agree that convenience is what stands between us and working out. I am so guilty of hitting my snooze and missing my workout in the morning. I have done this too many times to say, and I agree that if you workout just 5 minutes, you definitely do feel better. It is about making the workout work for you.

  12. Avatar Beth Browne says:

    12 years ago I weighed 94 kilo. I began going to a gym on my way home from night shift and 12 months later weighed 65 kilo. I kept this up for a number of years until I met my husband and changed shifts. I would drive to the gym on my way home from a day shift only to drive back out without even getting out of the car. I previously loved to go to the gym and would attend 5 days a week with a 2 hour workout each time so I simply cannot fathom why I avoid it so much now. It is not that I have far to go, the gym in my neighbourhood is a 10 minute walk down the street. I did get membership but when the personal trainer sessions ran out, so did I! I do feel guilty if I don’t take my dog but when I do she barks and causes a bit of a ruckus, I know the solution would be leave her home but that would be too easy………………………..

  13. Avatar Sophie Spencer says:

    I joined an indoor bootcamp class, the first session was great but I spent the next three days recovering. The following sessions however were still tough but recovery is a lot easier. The best thing about joining a class (any class) is that there are other people there doing the same thing so you draw support from them and the motivation comes from that. Classes are for everyone don’t worry about being new everyone was once a newbie and you will find other members will actively encourage you. In most places there are classes at different times of the day be it early morning, mid day, and evening all through the week so it’s a bit hard to have any excuses about time. Yes the first week is tough you will feel sore but this is only because your body is getting used to being worked just take it easy the first few classes and then ramp it up over time trust me you will feel great, gain a huge sense of achievement and meet new people.

    • Avatar Gerry Ferguson says:

      The diet is the hardest part for me. But have hit a wall our plateau on my weight how do you stay positive until it starts again..? ?

  14. Avatar Tanya says:

    I totally agree! I read a very brief article about working out at gyms and success. It said as a general rule if a gym is more then 15 minutes from your house you won’t go regularly. Convenience is so key!

  15. Avatar Joyce says:

    I’m 71 yrs old and joined 24 hr Fitness in January of this year! I swim and have a personal trainer and this was the best thing I’ve done for myself besides accepting Jesus into my heart!

  16. Avatar Claire says:

    I’m a big advocate of the NHS couch to 5k running app. I always hated exercise, in particular school cross-country, but by taking baby steps using this app, went from running for a few seconds, huffing and puffing, to joining a local women’s running club and pretty much living to run and completing my first fell race within a few months.

    The beauty of running is that it’s easy to do anywhere and the only equipment which is a must is a pair of trainers. As a woman the hardest part was getting out there and not worrying about what other people thought – do I look too fat? do I look too slow? exhausted? plain ridiculous? But these thoughts stopped pretty much as soon as I started running and realised that most people are too busy getting on with their own lives. I now don’t care what other people might think and wonder why I waited until I was nearly 40 to get fit.

  17. Avatar kim says:

    that’s why finding a gym that allows me to bring my toddler has changed everything for me.

    • Avatar 3LittleBirds says:

      I agree! Our local YMCA has a Child Watch room and my 3 kids know that they get to go play there three times a week while Mommy works out. It really does make things SO much easier!

  18. Avatar Cari Z says:

    I AGREE!! After hearing that “not having enough time” was not an excuse (I work 10hr shifts with an hour+ commute – I DO NOT have time!) I simply can’t get to a gym, workout, shower and either go to bed or go to work. I often feel like doing some exercise AT work, and thanks to a new attitude about health at work, we are getting an exercise bike and a treadmill to use at our desk! I have also committed to doing 10-20 min on exercise bike at home – at a higher intensity. I’m glad to see a trainer advocating a “do what you can when you can where you can” mentality. That’s far more motivating in my book than telling me I DO have time… we aren’t all the same and don’t all have the same schedules.

    • Avatar Aydan says:

      I wish I had a job that was health conscious . I wake up at 5:50am, go to work at 6am, start work at 7am, switch to my second job mid-day, get out of work around 11pm, get home around 11:30pm, shower, laundry if needed, and go to sleep between 12:30am and 1:30am. (1:30 if the laundry is involved.) I haven’t got time for sleep, let alone exercise. Plus my first job is a deli slicer, and the second is scooping ice cream. Ice cream for dinner, yay! Lol

      • Avatar 3LittleBirds says:

        You just really need to focus on what you are eating then, and worry about the exercise later when you hopefully have more time! Maybe ice cream for dinner just once a week? 🙂

  19. Avatar Zue says:

    So true! I finally found something that works for me as I would rarely if ever get up in the morning to work out or do it after I got home from work. So, I started walking 10 minutes twice a day AT WORK! I slip on my Sketchers and walk down the stairs to the lowest level that has a really long hall and walk up and back for 10 minutes and then climb the stairs back to my desk…once in the AM and once in the PM. It’s made all the difference in my attitude, energy, and accomplishment. Simple is the best way to go!

  20. Avatar WILSONWARREN 1973@GMAIL.COM says:


    • Avatar La Bandita says:

      Why are you yelling?

      Because you ate more. You still have to watch your food intake after you work out.

  21. Avatar Carol says:

    I can’t seem to stay motivated at all..running around with my 10 year everywhere gets me exhausted

  22. It’s always hard to switch into a healthy habit. But when once you start seeing it’s positive results you get motivated to it. And once it became habit you like enjoying it.

  23. Avatar Timothy Fish says:

    My biggest demotivator is changing clothes to workout. I’ve found that I’m more likely to ride a bicycle if my route starts at my driveway. If I have to load the bike into the truck to go somewhere, I might not do it. But if I leave from my driveway, I’m likely to ride much farther than I would have had I loaded up the bike to find another starting spot.

  24. Avatar Fitguy says:

    This doesn’t seem very helpful to anyone trying to achieve any “fitness” goal.

    If you’re trying to lose weight, that’s done in the kitchen. If you’re trying to build muscle and get toned, that required lifting increasingly heavy weights. Want to better your cardiovascular system? Then cardio is your thing.

    You’re not going to achieve any fitness goal by spending less than an hour each week doing any of these things.

    You’re right that motivation is not enough to achieve your goals, but the real answer is discipline. If you want to be skinnier/stronger /look better naked, you have to stick to tracking your calories, going to the gym, running around your neighborhood. Whether you feel like it or not. Consistency is king when it comes to achieving any fitness goal.

    • Avatar D S says:

      Well said, discipline and perseverance are key.

    • Avatar robinbishop34 says:

      “If you’re trying to lose weight, that’s done in the kitchen. If you’re
      trying to build muscle and get toned, that required lifting increasingly
      heavy weights. Want to better your cardiovascular system? Then cardio
      is your thing.”


  25. Avatar Patrick M says:

    I couldn’t agree more. Starting the habit is key. I starting working out at a gym and was hit or miss but did 3-4 times a week. I hated paying the membership fee so I saved up and built a gym in my garage (noting fancy but extremely functional) now I workout every morning. I added walking at lunch which I still do but three days a week have turned into running. I’m at my goal weight and easily maintaining and it all started with a little habit change over time. Now it take basically no motivation to get out of bed and stumble down to my gym and workout because it is super convenient. My morning workouts are 30-45 minutes and about 30 minute walk at lunch (my runs go longer) so what started out as 60 minutes 3x a week of torture has become 60 minutes everyday of something I really enjoy.

  26. Avatar Ania says:

    No money fo trainer.

  27. Avatar Alice Galeotti says:

    It doesn’t matter where your gym is. I have a gym in my basement I have trouble motivating myself to do workouts there. I do nightly routines with an exercise band and small stool in my bathroom to make sure I do SOMETHING exercising that day–it does make a world of difference in my fitness, surprisingly. Joined a smaller 24hr pocket gym down the road from our house and haven’t seen the inside of it for months. I think the social aspect with its inherent accountability and encouragement is the true key to regular habits in exercise, diet, or any other activity that is difficult to jumpstart and maintain solo.

  28. Avatar La Bandita says:

    Motivational problems only in the Winter or when it rains. Purchased Lance Armstrong’s treadmill and it was perfect to get up in the cold and run in my living room for 35 minutes before work.

    BUT it broke 3 times. Was I the only one actually using these treadmills? The company replaced 3 times then gave me a full refund.

    SO I need a treadmill for this Winter -that really works, because I will really use it and can also fold up against the walk in my living room. Im 137pounds 5 7in. I ran track from 12 to 22yrs. Not running in the Winter crushes my soul.

    Any suggestions?

    • Avatar rodgerM says:

      I had a ProForm treadmill for over 10 years, using it to maintain fitness between Army Natl. Guard fitness tests and I had zero problems with it. (Finally sold it on Craigslist since my knees won’t tolerate high impact anymore.)

      Look for one with a wide belt, flex deck (to cushion the impact), and electric incline to increase intensity as your fitness level improves. Expect to pay $500-600.

      Hope this helps.

  29. Avatar 3LittleBirds says:

    Les Mills Body Pump is my very favorite workout and they have videos on Youtube. I bought an inexpensive aerobic weight bar at Walmart and do the videos right in my own living room. It doesn’t hurt that most of the trainers are Australian- love those accents!

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