It’s 6:00 AM. Your alarm is blaring and you’re supposed to go to the gym before work. You’re tired, your bed is warm, and working out sounds awful. You’ll go to the gym tomorrow. You turn over and fall back asleep.
It’s 6:00 PM. You promised yourself you’d work out after work. You’re starving, your feet hurt, and work was ridiculously stressful. You’ll work out tomorrow. You go home and relax on the couch.
We’ve all been there.
And I mean ALL of us. I’m a certified personal trainer, but sometimes my motivation is so lacking that I’ll choose sleep or watching Netflix on the couch instead.
Did you see what I said there? It has to do with motivation over anything else.
It’s not that I’m too tired or hungry or stressed or busy. It’s that I chose to make something else a priority over my workouts that day because my motivation was low.
We could still be tired and get our butts to the gym. We could still be busy and find time to squeeze in a 15 minute workout. And we could still be hungry and do our workout first (although in this case, snack planning is arguably what’s needed).
It all comes down to motivation. Do you think toned and muscular Hollywood stars get their physiques any other way? Sure, many are technically getting paid to work out, but a lot of them are super busy, training while filming other things, raising families, and juggling various life commitments too. They’re not superhuman, they’re super motivated. And you could do it too if you had the right mindset.
So when those doubts and excuses start piling up, how can you maintain your motivation? Is there a good way to get over the whole “I’ll do it tomorrow” thing?
Yes there is! And actually, there’s not just one way. There are lots of ways to stay motivated to work out. I’ve tried all of these things I’m sharing below and they work for me. Of course, what works for one person may not for another, so look through the list and try out a few different techniques. Or heck! Try them all!
When I started this blog, I hoped to inspire people to hit their goals. I hope these ideas inspire you too!
My Top Techniques: How to Stay Motivated to Work Out
1. Have a Specific Goal
You’ve probably heard it a million times before, but if you don’t have a specific goal you’re working towards, your motivation will start to slide at the earliest obstacle. Even if your goal is just to get healthy or get stronger, challenge yourself beyond that. I’m telling you, with a goal in mind you can’t help but stay motivated to work out.
Here are some good general goals:
- Run a 5k, half marathon, or marathon (or ultramarathon if you’re feeling really rambunctious)
- Run _____ distance in _____ time
- Sign up for a tough mudder (I’d LOVE to do one of these)
- Complete _____ exercise with _____ amount of weight
- Complete _____ reps in _____ amount of time
- Lose _____ pounds by _____
At the end of a recent post, I talked about SMART goals. To sum it up, SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. It’s “smart” to make SMART goals because you have something concrete to work towards, and you’ll know for certain whether or not you’ve achieved them.
Aiming for something specific is an excellent way to maintain your motivation to workout.
2. Make a Plan
Want to stay motivated to work out? Make a plan! Doing so takes the decisions out of everyday exercise.
For example, rather than debating with yourself whether or not to go on a run after work, you KNOW you have a 4 mile run scheduled that you need to complete.
Decision fatigue is a very real thing. And you’re also way more likely to actually complete a workout if you have it scheduled in your planner like an appointment. Here are a list of my favorite fitness planners to hold yourself accountable.
3. Literally Surround Yourself with Inspiration
This is one of the most simple but effective ways to stay motivated to work out. Our environment matters. It influences our mood and our productivity. So why not make your space work for you?
Train Harder Water Bottle – Amazon
4. Make a Motivational Vision Board or Pinterest Board
In case you don’t know, vision boards are physical boards you create that have pictures, quotes, goals, and really anything else that reminds you of what you’re striving for. It can be specific or just create a feeling.
It’s kind of like a physical Instagram feed or Pinterest board.
If you create a vision board for fitness motivation, you should include:
- Pictures of strong people/characters you admire (like Brie Larson in Captain Marvel or Alicia Vikander in Tomb Raider)
- Healthy foods (which is why I have a Fruit and Veggie Inspiration Pinterest board)
- Motivational sayings or quotes
- Something that reminds you of your goal (print out of the 5k sign-up, a picture of the tough mudder location, or a pair of dumbbells)
Etsy literally has so many boards you could use to make your vision board. Here are a few of my favorites:
Like I said, Pinterest is a great option too. I have a secret “Fitspiration” board on my personal Pinterest that I’ve gone to when I’m lacking the motivation to work out. It’s reminded me of how I want to feel strong and pushed me towards the gym on those difficult days.
Caveat (this is important!): it’s really easy to start comparing yourself on social media. So when you start making a fitness vision board or Pinterest board, make sure you are only selecting pictures/people who inspire you – NOT people you want to look like. That is NOT the goal here. We want to make you the strongest, most confident, and happy version of YOURSELF. That’s why I select strong (physically and mentally) women for my boards – like Brie Larson and Alicia Vikander – who worked their butts off to get strong and whose work ethic I find absolutely inspirational.
Because this is meant to make you feel motivated and inspired, not bad about yourself!
5. Watch Movies/Shows that Inspire You
Along the same lines, I find it super motivational to watch things where the characters have to push themselves physically. The show Quantico is a great example. Nikita is another of my favorites. And just try watching the Divergent movie without wanting to become a Parkour pro. I’m a sucker for action for this reason; it always makes me want to hit the gym afterwards.
6. YouTube Videos
If you want to get fit, YouTube is the place to go. Not only will you find motivation there, you’ll also find workouts that you can follow along with. On days I’m not feeling my normal leg routine, I’ll head to YouTube; following along with someone else doing the same exercises is great motivation for me to complete – and really push! – those moves.
I think that’s why my post on Top YouTube Channels for Health and Wellness is one of my most popular. Maybe I’ll have write another post on my favorite action stars’ training regimens…
But without a doubt, watching fitness YouTube videos can turn even my lowest motivation days around. Whether it’s fitness advice, someone showing their current fitness routine, or fitness challenges, I legit always leave feeling pumped and ready to work out.
Seriously, try it!
I’m currently loving Steve Cook’s channel and Buzzfeed Multiplayer’s Health and Fitness Playlist.
7. Get Clothes that Make You Feel Confident
I feel so much more motivated to go to the gym when I have cute clothes I love to wear. It may sound kind of silly, but it’s true.
I make sure to have both tight-fitting and loose-fitting workout clothes available. Personally, I love wearing tight-fitting clothes most. But if I have a day I feel bloated, wearing tight-fitting clothes will make me feel uncomfortable and unmotivated. So I like to give myself options. I probably have equal amounts of tighter tank tops and loose, baggy shirts. Same goes for shorts vs. leggings.
So far, I don’t have one particular brand I’m entirely devoted to. It’s no secret I love my lululemon shorts (see right). The size I got them in allows me to wear them on my most bloated days, but they’re not at all baggy and still flattering.
8. Make Your Workout Fun
Keep exercise exciting! Try a gym machine you’ve never done before, sign up for ClassPass and take new classes, or just go explore a park or trail you’ve never been to. Some of my most memorable runs or hikes have been from going somewhere completely new.
I also stay motivated to work out by frequently making new playlists to listen to. If I’m not feeling music, I’ll watch YouTube videos or listen to a podcast or audio book while at the gym. Before the gym, I’ll tell myself that’s probably what I’d be doing anyway if I stayed at home on the couch; getting to do those same things makes my workout a lot more enjoyable.
How to Stay Motivated to Work Out: Beat the “Unmotivators”
Another big part of staying motivated is to continually overcome the “unmotivators.” This is wayyy easier said than done, but I have a few tips for you here as well.
1. Lack of Physique Change
Whether it’s losing weight or gaining muscle, these goals take time. Regardless of what people say on the internet, it takes longer than a week to lose 10 lbs or get a six-pack. You have to push through the need for instant-gratification.
But let’s say you’ve been at it consistently for awhile – maybe a month – and you haven’t noticed ANY changes. Super frustrating.
Instead of giving up, keep in mind that there’s a reason WHY. Your body should be making changes if you’re consistent. So why isn’t it? Be honest with yourself and answer these questions:
a. Are you challenging yourself?
Walking on the treadmill for 30 minutes is great, but are you breathing heavily? By the end are you wishing you could stop or are you walking/running comfortably?
Without going too “personal trainer” on you, there’s this thing called the overload principle. It basically says our bodies will change and adapt to loads greater than we are used to.
So tell me this: if you aren’t performing challenging workouts, how are you supposed to expect any change?
For more on this, read Not Losing Weight? Here’s Why.
b. Are you switching it up?
If you’re consistently working out, you have to make sure that you switch up what you’re doing. Our bodies adapt, so it’s possible you’ve plateaued. Switch up your workout and see what happens!
c. Are you actually consistent?
I had a cardiac rehab patient who was extremely frustrated about not losing weight. She told me she’d tried everything and nothing was working. Reduced to tears, she told me she was going to start weight loss pills.
But as I reviewed her individual treatment plan with her, I pointed out that every day she came in, she reported no exercise at home. It’s great that she exercised 2-3 times a week with us, but if you want to make serious changes to your body, you have to do a lot more than that.
If you want to stay motivated by your progress, make sure you start by putting in the work on a consistent basis, 5-6 days per week.
d. Is your food sabotaging you?
While you may be getting in the proper amount of gym time, no amount of exercise will make up for a poor diet. If you’re eating processed foods or too much food overall, you won’t see the changes you want.
Remember your goals, make the necessary dietary changes, and push through!
2. Feeling Tired
Do you find yourself making the tired excuse on the reg?
Trust me, I understand. I didn’t go through a year of nursing night shifts without learning what utter exhaustion feels like.
But you know what I also did? I planned around that. I learned when I had the most energy and scheduled my workouts then.
Remember, it’s also okay to alter your workouts if you really need to. Listening to your body is still a very solid piece of advice. And I still believe that completing a shorter workout is better than no workout at all. So no excuses. Get your butt to the gym!
3. Short on Time
Once again, it’s okay to alter your workouts if you really need to. Meetings run over, kids get sick, dinner burns, life happens! Schedule your workouts, try your best to stick to them, and if time runs short, remember that you can do lunges, squats, push-ups, and burpees practically anywhere!
Put your mind to it and you can accomplish anything. Follow me on Instagram for more fitness tips!
Great in-depth post Cedar! I think the biggest change that has helped me stay motivated to workout was I joined a dodgeball team. I never really liked working out before but playing dodgeball with my friends is so fun that I don’t even feel like it’s a workout. And because I want to be a better player, I feel more motivated to stay in good physical condition. I agree that if you’re not feeling motivated to workout, try a fun activity that incorporates a lot of physical exercise and if you find it engaging you’re more likely to want to get better at it through regular practice.
That’s great! Finding an exercise you enjoy is the best! I love when doing an activity like that accomplishes multiple things at once.
You make so many great points here! Motivation is, of course, a big one because we can always feel too tired or find anything else to do rather than to work out.
And diet is another huge factor! If you don’t eat better than you won’t see the results you’re hoping for. And lastly, is the instant gratification aspect.
So many of us want things to happen immediately, like after 1 work out, lol! But just as you said, it takes commitment and dedication to build those rock hard bodies.
Thank you so much DeShena! You’re so right. We need to stick it out for the long-haul. And a lot of that is changing our mindset. Fitness is a journey, not a destination. It’s about making lifestyle changes and exercising because you enjoy it and it makes you feel better. After all, once we accomplish a goal, shouldn’t we continue the journey by making another?
The best thing in your article is that you talk about literary everything one needs to get motivated! I’ll follow every one of your tips! (Have already started with the movie part….) You could read my post on waking up having a good mood!
I’m so glad you found it helpful! Yes, will do!
It is SO true that motivation is the thing that stands in the way between keeping up with a work-out routine. I love how you broke everything down into actual, tangible steps!
Let’s be the people who reach our goals because we’re too motivated to give up! Keep going!!
this is so great to read right before the work week! #motivation
Yes you’ve got this! Hope you have a great week!
Love your idea about a Vision board! I have to make myself one 🙂
Thank you! They’re such a nice way to remind you of your goals!