Whether you’re a pro athlete or just starting to exercise regularly, there are days when we all need a little bit of extra motivation to suit up. Here are a few tips for when you’re tired, it’s cold and rainy, or you had the most frustrating day at work.
You know you should exercise. But how do you keep up your dedication to the gym or a training routine when your schedule is overloaded with a million other things from work to household responsibilities to travel and other social engagements? Or how do you push yourself to start working out if it’s been years (or basically forever) since you last had a good self-imposed sweat?Understanding the big picture of why physical activity is critical for your physical and mental well-being, not just for weight loss, is a good place to start.
Ever experience that classic “runner’s high”? It’s not just in your head. Exercising releases hormones called endorphins that promote feelings of euphoria and help you focus.Working out also improves cardiovascular health and sleep quality, both of which improve your energy levels throughout the day and reduce the risk of a variety of other diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and some cancers, according to research published in April 2015 in the Journal of Sleep Research.
Moving your body more is also associated with a reduced risk of depression, according to a recent review of decades of research published in the January 1, 2016, issue of the journal Cognitive Behavior Therapy.
Pretty impressive. But the truth is, you may have all this knowledge and still find yourself wanting to hit the snooze button when it comes to those early morning workouts — or your couch if you’re an afternoon exerciser.
That’s why intentional, strategic habit changes, based on your personality, schedule, likes, and dislikes can make all the difference in whether or not you stick to your workout plans or get thrown off track.
We asked sports psychologists to share their top tips for finding a workout you’ll actually enjoy and sticking with it for the long haul. Here’s what they say.
1.Find a Workout You Enjoy and Look Forward To
Just because all your friends love spinning or CrossFit doesn’t mean you do, too. Finding a workout you genuinely like will make you that much more likely to stick with it over time, says Kristen Dieffenbach, PhD, an executive board member of the Association for Applied Sport Psychology and an associate professor at West Virginia University’s College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences in Morgantown.
“Begin by really thinking about the things you enjoy — nature, group settings, playing sports, quiet time, or being challenged. Then look for activities that meet one or more of your criteria,” she says.
Consider your personality, too, suggests Dr. Dieffenbach. Do you like competition? Then working out with a friend who challenges you or taking a group fitness class may be helpful. Do you like immediately seeing the results of your efforts? Then workouts associated with an app that tracks your progress, like Strava for running and cycling, may be very motivating.
2.Pick Workouts That You’re Good At
“We know from motivation research that humans have a desire to be ‘good’ at something,” says Brandonn S. Harris, PhD, an associate professor and the program director of Sport and Exercise Psychology at Georgia Southern University School of Health and Kinesiology in Savannah and Statesboro. “So I’d encourage people to not only seek out things they find pleasurable and enjoyable, but also things that they’re confident doing or would like to become more proficient in.”
That doesn’t mean the activity will necessarily be easy for you. Unless it’s an activity recovery day, every workout should push you in terms of endurance or muscle building. But, there’s no need to struggle through a Zumba class because you hate memorizing the combinations.
On the other hand, if you excelled in sports as a kid, joining an adult basketball or soccer league may be a huge confidence booster (as well as deliver all the health and fitness benefits of a workout). Or if there’s a physical skill you’ve always wanted to be able to do, such as self-defense, you may love suiting up for kickboxing or jiu-jitsu.
3.Put It on Your Calendar as You Would Any Other Appointment
Once you have a workout (or even a few) that you want to try, give yourself a slow and steady break-in period. “Don’t start off by trying to make radical changes,” says Dieffenbach. “Schedule a few days a week and put it on your calendar like any other important appointment.”
Giving yourself a workout range for the week can also be helpful. “If you set a goal of working out five days and only go four times, that’s often perceived as a failure,” says Dr. Harris. “Instead, give yourself a more realistic range like three to five days a week.”
4.Break Up Your Workout Into Shorter Spurts
Think you don’t have time to pencil in a workout? Or maybe you’re skipping your workout altogether because you don’t have time for the full routine? Break up your physical activity into a few shorter 10-minute spurts throughout the day. “Taking shorter walks throughout the day, as opposed to one longer walk that takes 30 minutes to an hour, has been shown to have very similar benefits,” says Harris.
5.Having a Long-Term Goal Is Important, but So Is Setting Mini-Goals
Many people set huge outcome-oriented goals such as losing 20 pounds, getting six-pack abs, or running a marathon. While these can be motivating, they don’t tell you what you need to do right now, and in the days and weeks to come, to accomplish them. To stay motivated, ensure you don’t get bored, and keep progressing at a steady rate, you need to set smaller “process goals.”
“If an outcome goal is the top step of a staircase, process goals are like the individual steps you’d take to get there,” says Harris.
Examples of process goals might be increasing the length of your run by a half mile every week or increasing the duration of your plank by 15 seconds every three days. If you’re unsure how to safely increase the intensity of your exercise and set realistic process goals, consider enlisting the help of a certified personal trainer.
The feeling that you’ve accomplished something each week (in addition to over a longer period of time) can help motivate you to make each and every workout along the way count.
6.Work Out in the Morning and Get It out of the Way
Some people find it easier to stick to their workout plans if they do it in the morning, getting it out of the way before an excuse comes up to skip it, says Harris. By the end of the day, you’re often really tired, random things have come up, and there’s always something else to do instead of exercise.
More benefits of a.m. exercise: Morning workouts have been shown to lower nighttime blood pressure and improve sleep quality, in a study published in December 2014 in the journal Vascular Health and Risk Management. (5) Plus, people often feel more energized throughout the day after exercising, Harris says. And that means an early-in-the-day workout could help you tackle your responsibilities (like work or chores) with greater ease, he adds.
Of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to exercise. So if morning workouts feel like torture, try a few different times of day and see what works best for your body. The most important thing is to find a routine or schedule and a workout you can stick with.
7.Always Carry Workout Clothes
Even the smallest obstacles, like having to go home after work to change into workout clothes before heading to the gym, can mean the difference between working out and skipping it. The simple, but incredibly helpful solution: Bring your workout clothes to work for evening workouts, suggests Harris. Or if you work out in the morning, consider sleeping in your workout clothes (only if they’re comfortable, of course).
8.Have a ‘Plan B’ Workout
So it’s pouring outside and you can’t go on your usual morning run around the neighborhood. What now? You could skip your workout, but that might make you lose all that great exercise momentum and motivation you had going. Make a contingency plan or two, says Harris.
If you usually exercise outdoors, find a backup workout or class you can do at the gym or at home (indoors) in case of inclement weather; and for moments when you’re just feeling tired and don’t want to leave the house, or if you’re traveling with no access to a gym, put together a “bare minimum” workout with a few simple moves such as squats and planks that you can do anywhere.
9.Play Some Music to Keep Your Energy Up
Pumping some tunes could be just what you need to literally go the extra mile. Research has found that playing music while exercising increases the duration of workouts for both men and women without a perceived increase in effort, according to study published in 2017 in the International Journal of Physiology, Pathophysiology and Pharmacology.This effect could be, in part, because music boosts mood and encourages rhythmic movement, the researchers note in the study. While any type of music is beneficial, some research suggests faster music is more effective than slow music.
If you’re a runner, consider this: Some research has found that runners tend to match their cadence to the tempo of the music they’re listening to, according to data published in December 2015 in the journal Sports Medicine: Open.That means listening to tunes with a quicker beat could help you amp up your pace.
Or if you’re the type of exerciser who finds monotonous cardio (like running or walking) uninspiring, try listening to an episode of your favorite podcast, or even an audiobook, which can be a great way to make your exercise feel like more of a self-care ritual. You may find yourself looking forward to that time you get to lose yourself in your book or series.