Exercise: Finding Motivation When You Have None

Back in December 2014, I posed a question to my friends online about what they did to motivate themselves to go to the gym and exercise when they really didn’t want to. I got way more answers than I anticipated and all of them are fantastic! Rather than keep this great advice to myself, I thought I’d share it to celebrate hitting my one-year anniversary of starting rock climbing! (Thanks to Lin’s advice below.)

“I’ll say what helped me the most:

  1. Find a few things I genuinely enjoy doing.
  2. Mixing up different routines to keep me interested
  3. Having specific goals (run a 9min/mile 5k, climb a 10b, lift XX lbs) and making a plan to work towards those goals.

I think finding something active that I really enjoyed (rock climbing) rather than thinking of exercise as just a means to get fit really keeps me motivated.”

– Lin

Start off slow and be patient. If you just jump right into it and expect immediate results it’ll never work.

The motivation will come as you see results. I started out only working out 2 days a week doing Crossfit. Then, doing 3 days still with Crossfit and 1 day at the gym. Then, I started working out MWF at the gym and TTh at Crossfit. Now, I’m working out 5 days a week at the gym if I can because of work. I had to force myself at the start but, as I kept going, I saw lots of results and because of that the motivation came with it. Plus Crossfit really helped because they really push you as a group and not an individual.”

– Freddie

“I write/track things to keep myself accountable and remind myself of what I’ve accomplished. The ‘start low and go slow’ advice is hella important. That 2.5 month stint of crutches/ walking boot was because I was getting super excited about my progress and ending up pushing myself too fast out of excitement.

I use an app called Fitocracy. It’s kinda meh (but free!), but I like it cause I can log my workouts and it gives me pre-made exercise sequences too.

The thing that keeps me active is remembering how much better I feel once I go exercise. But today I was pretty pooped out to do a full workout. I put in a short 20 minute pilates workout (gotta love Youtube!) and decided not to feel guilty for not doing more. Tomorrow, I’m forcing myself to bike to campus instead of driving because I know I’ll feel more energized if I do.

I tried working out to look better, or exercising out of guilt. Those things don’t work for me, so I’m slowly trying to change my mindset to be more positive 🙂 Also roller derby in the spring, hopefully!

P.S I also will force myself to go work out because it’s a productive form of procrastination. I think that’s actually my #1 motivator right now.”

– Erika

“Uh, maybe you should mapyourfitness. #shamelessplug

Besides my shameless plug – which I do find helpful, having a record of your stats and improvements is helpful – I very often make exercising a social thing. Find yourself a running or gym buddy and motivate each other. Makes it more like a planned social event than a chore.

Other suggestion: get rid of your car and only bike and walk everywhere.”

– Pedro, MapMyFitness employee

“I have never been able to stick to a gym routine. (And I used to work in a gym full time!) Invest in home equipment. Park it in the living room in front of the TV. Between feng shui and staying in shape, I picked staying in shape and haven’t regretted it once.”

– Meredith

Lift weights instead of sticking exclusively to cardio. You’ll see results much faster and will get a meaningful metric by which to judge your progress. Plus it’s cool to be able to move your own furniture.

– Daniel


Emily Blunt from Edge of Tomorrow.”

– Jackie (Say no more, Jackie, I fully understand.)

You have to make it part of your daily routine, not something you feel like you’re forcing yourself to do. Not ‘Oh yeah, I should go to the gym today,’ but ‘It’s Monday, etc, that means gym day.’ I think when you make it optional, you’re going to more than not opt to not go. When it’s embedded in your daily/weekly schedule, then it becomes normal. I also take classes, so I’m never thinking ‘what do I want to focus on today’ — I have someone else do that for me.”

– Callie

“My mother really stresses exercise and nutrition. Its ingrained in me. The key is to think of it like anything else you have to do- brushing teeth, eating, sleeping. I have been doing it for years, but it’s still hard to drag myself to the gym – try to think of it as relaxation time. Some people need others to push them, others like to relax alone. Just any time of movement is best, and the more you do, the easier it gets. Take the stairs, bend with you knees, hula hoop during commercials or do squats. It goes a long way. Try group classes, studying on the bike, watching shows on the treadmill, yoga, but always vary it. And don’t just do cardio, because it’s true that weight-lifting can do a lot very quickly.

Oh yeah, and endorphins are good too. Work out for your peace of mind and yourself. And if you get then chance to exercise outside of the gym or play, it’s a lot easier to do if it feels fun!”

– Patricia

“Having a really clear gym routine changed things for me. For instance, when it’s leg day I know I have to do 3 sets of squats, deadlifts, lunges, leg curls, and calf raises. Knowing exactly what I was there to do made it feel like just checking off a to-do list.”

– Lisa

Having a gym partner really helps, but I have found Erika’s advice the most helpful in my quest – if you have some relatively easy way to keep yourself accountable, like a log of your week to show you a realistic idea of your exercise and caloric intake, then you have something concrete to look back on to see where you are doing good by your body or where you can improve.

Also, Daniel is totally right about strength training vs. cardio. My workouts became more interesting, fun, and did more for me in the long run than a lot of cardio and minimal focus on weights.”

– Michelle

“Instead of going to the gym straight off the bat, pick a hobby that is simultaneously a workout (examples: yoga, zumba, biking, martial arts, salsa classes, etc.). It provides another motivation to go because you enjoy the activity, you create friends who start subconsciously holding you accountable by asking all the time when you’ll come next, and the process will feel natural instead of punishing yourself on a treadmill. Once you start becoming more physically active and fit, and would like to start training solo at the gym, it won’t feel so daunting or like pulling teeth because you’ll already feel you’ll have a head start physically.”

– Angelika

“Gym has never worked me. I agree with the advice on picking a hobby. Yoga has been successful for me because there is a lot to think about and learn that goes beyond the physical and I’m not just doing one thing over and over for an hour like running or weight lifting. The class setting also really helps me because having a relationship with instructors and fellow yogis motivates me to go since I don’t want to disappoint them.”

– Jordan, former roommate and now yoga instructor!

General consensus is to take it slow, find an exercise that feels less like work and more like fun, get a workout buddy, and build a routine.

Oh, also, Emily Blunt.

What do you do to stay motivated? What are some of your favorite workouts or exercises?



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