Whether starting a new program or suffering a slump thanks to a weight loss or muscle-building plateau or plain old boredom, finding your workout mojo can be harder than scoring with that hot chick on the treadmill next to you. (Though that would be an incentive to go to the gym, wouldn’t it?)
To find actual reasons to exercise, the first thing you have to do is remember: “Don’t make your workout decisions based on your current mood and level of inspiration, but in terms of your long-term goals and values,” says Christopher Friesen, Ph.D., sports psychologist, director of Friesen Sport & Performance, and author of ACHIEVE: Find Out Who You Are, What You Really Want, And How To Make It Happen.
Still, day-to-day challenges abound. Try these strategies to kickstart your fitness plans and keep ‘em kicking.
Change Your Program
One of the most no-brainer fixes for a workout slump: Do a different workout. Too often, people fall into a rut of doing the same thing every day (hello, International Chest Day), or even every workout. Not only can it become a snoozefest, your body will stop adapting and those gains you were making will stagnate.
S.M.A.R.T, that is. Good goals are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound. In other words, if so far your only intention in hitting the gym X times a week is so you don’t die young or get fat, well, perhaps you need something a little more targeted. Maybe you want to focus on your aerobic health and see if you can train so your resting heart rate drops a few beats per minute, or you want to get more serious about your fat loss endeavors to go down a notch on your belt. Now pick a (realistic) deadline, build a plan, and get to it.
Become an Early Bird
You’ve heard before that people who work out first thing in the morning tend to be more successful at following a fitness program. Ever wonder why? Well, yes, it’s true that there’s something to be said for getting it done and getting on with your day. But it actually comes down to willpower, explains Friesen. “It’s like a gas tank and it generally depletes over the course of the day,” he says. So, if you're having trouble sticking to planned post-work workouts, consider scheduling them in the morning and see what happens.
Try the 5-Minute Rule
Another favorite tactic of Friesen is what he calls the 5-minute rule. Set a timer and start your workout. If after five minutes you still don’t want to be doing it, you have full permission to stop.
“Your alarm goes off early and you’re like, I don’t want to get up and work out!” he says. “You make excuses—It’s going to be painful, I’m too tired—but these are almost always biased and incorrect.” So get up and do your warmup. In most cases, once you get started, it won’t seem so bad after all—and might even be kinda awesome.
Create a New Pre-Workout Ritual
This could mean putting out your clothes and sneakers so you’ll trip over them in the morning if you don’t put them on, or starting with some awesome psyche-up music, or sipping some coffee or a pre-workout drink to boost your energy. Set yourself up for success.
Make it Double Rewarding
Sure, the workout has benefits in itself—weight loss or maintenance, muscle strengthening or building, plus all those feel-good endorphins. But why not make your workout time something to look forward to by using it (and only it) to listen to your favorite podcast, or pick up a book on tape, or check out a new Spotify station?
Stop Going to the Gym
If all of your workouts occur within the four walls of your long-term health club, maybe take it outside for a run or bike ride, or try out that bodyweight-training course they built at the local park. Another option: cheat on your current membership and use a free trial pass to that shiny new gym that opened down the street. Or stay home and do calisthenics in your living room. No matter your new venue, the change of scenery may be all you need to hit it with renewed vigor.
One of the most tried-and-true tactics, the Buddy System is a great way to stay accountable. Even better: Choose an activity, like tennis or boxing, where if one person doesn’t show, the other person is SOL. But what if you don’t have friends (who want to work out, that is)? Make some! Join a running club, find a sports league, take a fitness class, strike up a conversation with the dude who just asked you to spot him, join a Facebook group of like-minded people… Bottom line: find your people and motivate each other.
Sometimes you just need a prize to put your eyes on. That can mean signing up for a race or other fitness event (think: strongman or powerlifting competitions), or even just recording your numbers—time, load lifted, etc.—and trying to beat yourself at the same workout week after week. A good place to start? A self-administered fitness test.
Put Money On It
A big motivator for some people is to get their money’s worth. So sign up for that swanky gym you’ve been eyeing and make it a priority to make your visits cost less than $20 each. Other pricey-but-worth-it fitness investments: Hire a trainer, create a home gym, or get a class card to that martial arts studio you’ve been considering. And don’t let your hard-earned cash spent go to waste! Another tact: Put a dollar in a jar for every workout you complete. Then spend that cash on that thing you’ve been wanting but couldn’t quite justify.
Buy a New Toy
Related: A fancy new gadget can also provide inspiration. Whether that means that souped-up triathlon watch, some cool new free weights, that fitness tracker everyone has been talking about, or even a slick pair of kicks—anything fitness-related that you’ve been wanting to try out will get you excited to work out again.
Forgive us while we get a little pop-psych-y on you. Some people respond well to positive thinking. The motivational self-talk that works for them is to dwell on all the great things that’ll happen if you get in a workout. “Things like, ‘People will notice me at the beach! Women will find me more attractive! I’ll feel great!’ are the motivation you need to get your butt up and do it,” Friesen says. Try it yourself.
On the other hand, some people are just glass-half-empty types. (You know who you are.) So while it’s nice to think that pep talks might get you going, the reality is, you’re motivated by the fear of the bad stuff that could happen if you don’t. “People who are high on negative emotions tend to make goals to prevent bad things from happening,” sys Friesen. “It actually helps to actively look at the negative if you don’t do it, such as you might get flabby if you skip your session.” If you’re this personality type, you now have permission to get down on yourself for being lazy. Well, sort of. There's a fine line between motivational pessimism and just plain bumming yourself out. Be careful with this one.
It sounds a little hokey, but regardless of how you see the proverbial glass, spotting a photo of yourself (either at your best or at your worst) can be enough to get you moving. Or maybe a photo of someone else—your hot girlfriend, your sweet giggling kiddos—will do the trick. Either way, be old-school by tacking your image of choice up to your bathroom mirror, the fridge, or on your computer monitor, or go 21st century by making the photo of someone else your smartphone background photo.
Take a Break
Yup, that’s right. Your sudden blahness could actually be a sign of overtraining. A little time off—for both your body and your mind—might be exactly what you need to come back better than ever. That break shouldn’t be an excuse to sit on your butt, though—you should still keep moving, just maybe not at the same intensity as before or at the same exact activities. No matter what, don’t make it open-ended. Whether a couple of days or a week or two, pick an end date for your hiatus and then get back to it.