The post-workout high is a real, tangible feeling you know is worth sweating for—but lagging pre-workout motivation is powerful, too. Succumb to it and bailing on the gym can become a bad habit.
So how do you get your butt out the door even on those freezing-cold, dark-at-4-p.m., no-time-for-fitness days?
We consulted exercise physiologists for their go-to suggestions to keep exercise in the cards—no matter the excuse of the day (or hour).
1. Make decisions when you’re warm
You have to set up an environment that lends itself to getting you out the door, says Scott Weiss, C.S.C.S, a New York-based exercise physiologist and trainer. Interestingly enough, in the wintertime, this might mean making the decision to hit the pavement when you’re warm—not cold, he says. “We make bad decisions when our body is cold and we’re thinking about being even colder outside working out.” You’re more likely to go out and do what you need to do when you’re comfortable.
2. Set standing gym plans
It’s easy to let yourself down—it’s harder to call the guy you reserved a squash court with at 7 p.m. and cancel. “Find a friend or two at your gym and make standing appointments—like every Tuesday and Thursday before work—to work out together,” suggests Tom Holland, C.S.C.S., an exercise physiologist. “The accountability will make a big difference, and you'll motivate each other on the days one or the other doesn’t feel like going.” Even better: Grab someone who’s just slightly better than you at whatever you’re doing—research shows this will help you work harder.
Workout buddies not your thing? “Investing in a package of personal training sessions and having a set appointment can really help motivation,” says Holland.
3. Sign up for an event
…And make sure it falls under these two categories, says Holland: It’s challenging and it also scares you a little. (Depending upon your fitness levels, think: 5K, a half-marathon, or a Spartan Race.) “Signing up for an event that involves fitness outside your normal comfort zone will require a plan of exercise, give you a reason to get to the gym, and add much-needed purpose to your workouts,” says Holland. To increase your chances of keeping up with training dates even more, sign up with friends and do it for a charity, he suggests.
4. Write down a clear, specific goal
Telling yourself you should go to the gym is one thing. Telling yourself you want your abs to look their fittest on the beach trip you just booked in six months? That’s another (better) thing. “One of the best motivating factors is a real-life goal,” says Weiss. “It can be the driving factor when you’re debating whether or not you should go to the gym.” Jot your goal down, too—some science suggests this’ll help you hit it.
5. Tell yourself: Just do something
Ever thought you didn’t have time for a full workout and skipped sweating altogether because of it? Ditch that mindset: “You don’t have to beat yourself up about not getting cardio, flexibility work, and strength training in,” Weiss says. “Some people think if they can’t do everything, the workout is useless. It’s not.” In fact, going to gym and just focusing on one of those areas or just doing something is what matters, Weiss says. After all, while you should always try to up your intensity or duration, study after study shows any exercise is better than no exercise.
6. Rent the locker
Never having to pack a gym bag eliminates one dreadful step in the get-to-the-gym process. That’s why Holland suggests opting for the monthly locker rental: “Keeping a few changes of clothes, sneakers, and deodorant [at the gym] can make getting there exponentially easier.” No lockers? Just get into your workout gear. Make sure to change before you leave work or make it the first step in you’re morning routine. “Gearing up makes you want to move,” says Weiss.