How to Get Motivated to Work Out, According to Top Fitness Trainers
These pro workout motivation tips will get you off the couch.
You’ve vowed that this year will be different. This will be your year: You’ll run a 5K, you’ll lose 25 pounds, you'll wear your favorite jeans again. Whatever your goal is, you’ve decided this is your time.
But if nothing changes, nothing changes. So if you’re really ready to make a shift this year, you’re going to have to change your strategy. Don’t worry—you’re not alone. We consulted top trainers and a sports psychologist on the best methods that will get you from goal to reality.
Reframe your fitness goals
First of all, says Eddie O’Connor, a Michigan-based sports psychologist, “if you’re asking 'how I can stay motivated,' you’re already lost. Motivation doesn’t last—as soon as you [take a licking] that first time, the motivation goes away.”
Instead, O'Connor says it’s more important to have a clear picture of what you want your identity to be. It’s not enough to say “I want to get in shape,” he insists. “I want to be a healthy person is a more powerful sentiment.”
Then, what does a healthy person do? How do they act? O'Connor uses his own life as an example. He says that he’d tried running, triathlons and other forms of fitness. But it wasn’t until he found CrossFit that he found his identity. “I am a CrossFitter, so I go to CrossFit. I eat Paleo, ” he says. He loves the community aspect of the workout, so it’s who he is.
But when the roadblocks show up, as they inevitably will, “you have to be willing to feel the pain in service of those goals,” says O’Connor. It’s foolish to believe it won’t be painful or hard—so he suggests embracing the challenges and knowing you can and will get through it.
Focus on how working out will make you feel
When it comes to rewards, O’Connor says, “How I feel after working out is reward enough.” He adds that if you do feel that you’re the type of person who needs a reward to get through, make sure that reward isn't related to food, like gifting yourself a new workout outfit instead of a trip to your favorite restaurant. “Depriving yourself of something in order to later reward yourself with it will never be successful,” he explains.
Leanne Shear, trainer and owner of the New York City-based female fitness studio Uplift Studios, agrees. “I really actually envision the outcome of my workout and how good I will feel, even doing nothing intense but just moving and getting the blood flowing.”
“When motivation fades, let discipline carry you through,” says Anja Garcia, a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor. “I always think about how I'll feel after my workout. I always feel better after a workout, more energized, relaxed, accomplished. Sometimes you have to think forward to get you through the present.”
And if you’re just getting back into working out after some time off—however long it may have been—hold on to that feeling, says Alex Silver-Fagan, a Nike master trainer and author of Get Strong for Women: Lift Heavy, Train Hard, See Results. “I always remind myself of that moment where I felt good—I liked how I looked in an outfit, or I had a really good workout. When I don’t feel as good, I remind myself of those good feelings—I never want to feel not good.”
Keep your workouts short
Shear says that when she’s not feeling like doing a long, hard workout, she knows that even 15 to 20 minutes is better than nothing—and that she can still get an intense workout in a shorter timeframe. Sometimes knowing the finish line is so closely in sight is helpful. “So if I am feeling less than motivated, I know it will be over quickly, I will have gotten a solid workout in, and will be feeling great!,” she says.
Set small fitness goals
In a similar vein, try creating small goals for yourself. Silver-Fagan suggests just doing 10 box jumps or five push-ups a day. This way, you’ll feel accomplished every time you set foot in a gym or class. “It’s baby steps,” she says, “and you have to stay with it when it gets hard.”
But most importantly, remember this tip from Silver-Fagan: “Progress isn’t instant—one workout doesn’t make you in shape. One burger, one piece of pie isn’t going to put you over the edge.” Doesn’t that put things into perspective nicely?
Find a workout buddy
They say time flies by when you're having fun, and this is especially true if you're working out with a buddy. It also helps to have a swole mate who will cheer you on throughout your workout. Just when you think you can't possibly do another burpee, you your pal is there to say you can—and you do.
"A workout buddy can help because it encourages people to make connections with others who share common values and are pursuing similar goals," says Philip M. Wilson, PhD, associate professor and co-director of the Behavioral Health Sciences Research Lab in the department of kinesiology at Brock University in Ontario, Canada.
Imagine your most embarrassing photos
Everyone has those photos they wish never existed, but sometimes they can serve as a good reminder of how far you've come and what you've accomplished. Whenever you feel like skipping a workout, looking at those photos will jog you down memory lane and inspire you to keep at it.
"Some clients have had close friends keep embarrassing 'before' pictures of them with instructions to release the picture on social media if they don't stick with their workout plans…evil!" says David Jack, a performance specialist and founder of the activLAB at the Arizona Grand Resort in Phoenix. "But it's worked."
Put together a killer workout playlist
Load your smartphone with your favorite songs and turn them up when you're feeling too tired to change into your workout clothes. More often than not, you'll perk up and feel ready to work out, says Michael Everts, owner and founder of FIT personal training in Washington, D.C.'s Dupont Circle. "It gets you to the gym—the hardest part of motivation—and once you're there, you'll probably stick around."