How to stay motivated to exercise

It can be easy to decide that you are going to start exercising and become a happier, healthier version of your current self. What can be harder is carrying on exercising when you stop seeing such obvious results and are tired and would rather just stay inside and watch TV. It is completely normal to feel unmotivated to exercise sometimes but here are some tips to help you find your motivation again.

Set goals

My number one tip for staying motivated to exercise is to set goals. This works because when you are struggling to summon up the motivation to exercise you can think of what your goals are and how you need to exercise in order to achieve them. It can be helpful to think of one long term goal (such as a race or match in 6 – 12 months time) and then some smaller goals of things you want to achieve regularly to reach this.

For example, if your long term goal is a triathlon in 8 months time you may decide what you need to do regularly to achieve this is:

  • One swim, one bike and one run session per week, gradually increasing the distance you are covering until you meet the required distance for the race
  • One strength training session per week
  • Stretching/ foam rolling for 20 minutes three times a week
  • One training session per month where you cover at least two of the disciplines in a triathlon

By having a plan like this you have committed yourself in advance to a certain level of exercise with a clear structure which should help you to stay motivated. It also avoids the problem of having a long term goal that seems very overwhelming and unachievable which could lower you motivation to train for it as you have a clear plan of how you will reach it. Writing these tasks to complete regularly down somewhere where you will see them often will also help keep you committed to them.

You could also set yourself the goal of completing a certain amount of exercise every month. For example you might decide you want to run 50 miles a month , or swim 5,000 metres a month. Obviously if you become injured this will be put on hold but otherwise this is a good method to use if you struggle to stay motivated to exercise regularly.

I’ve written more about goal setting here.

Remember why you started exercising

When you first started exercising you presumably had a reason for doing this. Often this is something like to loose weight, improve your mental health, be a positive role model to your children or find a new hobby you enjoy.

If you struggle with finding the motivation to exercise, think back to when you started exercising and what your reasons for doing this were. Then write these reasons down somewhere you will see them often. This could be on a noticeboard, on your fridge, or your phone lock screen, for example. By doing this you will be regularly reminded of these things which should help to keep you motivated to exercise.

If you have taken part in races or competitions you have enjoyed you could also put pictures of these with your list. By doing this you will be regularly reminded of the positive experiences you have had as a result of exercising, which should also help your motivation.

Have extrinsic motivations

While it is good to have intrinsic motivations to exercise, such as to improve your mental health, having extrinsic motivations can also be helpful. These are rewards for certain behaviours.

For example, what I do is buy myself a nice chocolate bar and save it to eat once I have run 100 miles. This way, I know that the only way I’ll get to eat the chocolate bar is by going running as until I have run another 100 miles I won’t get to eat it. As it will be a yummy chocolate bar I want to eat this serves as good motivation to go running! (I keep track of how far I have run each year in a spreadsheet so I know when I have reached another 100 miles).

You could use a similar idea or, for example, pick an item of sports clothing you want and tell yourself you’ll buy it if you exercise 3 times a week for 3 months or buy a book you’ve been wanting to read if you exercise 4 times a week for month. Whatever you decide to do, the key is to be strict with yourself. There is no point in me getting a chocolate bar to eat after 100 miles and then giving in and eating it after 10 for example. If you don’t think you could be strict enough with yourself to do this you could always give your reward to someone else to look after until you have earned it!

Keep yourself accountable

Having someone to basically nag you to exercise is also a good way to stay motivated if you struggle to summon up the motivation to exercise by yourself.

There are a couple of different ways that you could do this. You could either have an exercise partner who you go to the gym with, go cycling with or play tennis with, for example. By having someone who you exercise with you are less likely to skip exercising as you won’t want to let them down.

If you tend to exercise alone and prefer this (which is completely fine, not everyone wants/ is able to exercise with other people), you could find someone such as a close friend or family member to keep you accountable to exercising regularly. This would mean you telling them when/ how much you want to exercise and them checking in with you to make sure you are actually doing this. If you are using this method make sure the person you pick to keep you accountable will be fairy strict with you. Obviously if you are injured/ ill they shouldn’t force you to exercise but they also shouldn’t let you have a day off because you “just can’t be bothered” or there isn’t a lot of point in using this system.

I hope you will find these ideas helpful for staying motivated to exercise. Remember, the more you exercise, the more results you will see which should also help increase your motivation. Leave a comment below to let me know which of these techniques you will be using or what else you do to stay motivated.

Happy exercising 🙂

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