How to Motivate Yourself to Work Out (Even When You *Really* Don’t Feel Like It)
These eight tried-and-true techniques can help get your workout momentum back on track.
By Jihan Myers•
We’ve all been there: It’s Sunday night and you’re gearing up for the week ahead with big plans to exercise. Maybe you tell yourself you’ll do a sunrise indoor cycling session or a post-work yoga class the next day. But then the time comes and… you’re just not feeling it. Maybe you hit snooze, work a little later, or simply blow it off for some much-deserved couch time. But many times, our reasons for not exercising—like feeling too tired or too busy—are all flavors of the same thing: not knowing how to motivate yourself to work out.
“Everyone waxes and wanes in motivation—even the best athletes in the world don't wake up raring to go to training every day,” says Lennie Waite, PhD, a certified mental performance consultant and former Olympic athlete. “There's always an element of having to woo your body into making it happen.”
But what can you do when your will to work out has gone out the window? Read on for expert tips on how to get—and stay—motivated to meet your fitness goals.
How to Motivate Yourself to Work Out
Each of us finds momentum to get moving in different ways. While some of us respond well to, say, scheduling workouts on our calendars, others might feel more motivated by pairing exercise with a post-sweat reward. “Part of the process is understanding how to motivate yourself when you don't want to do it,” Waite says.
Not sure where to get started? Here are eight different ways to motivate yourself to work out:
1. Have an End Goal in Mind
Staying active is a lifelong pursuit, but it can help to set mini goals that can keep you excited in the short term. For instance, think about what fitness goals you want to accomplish in the next three to six months, suggests Jack Lesyk, PhD, a clinical and sports psychologist and the director of the Ohio Center for Sport Psychology. “Once you have the goal, make a plan for how you’re going to get there,” he says.
That may sound obvious, but too often, we don’t put a plan in place that goes beyond the first few days when motivation is high. Concrete training plans can be effective for people who like a regimen they can set and forget, whether your goal is to run a race, meet a strength training target, or just move your body more.
Consider your end goal, and then work backward to create a consistent training plan that’ll help you get there. If you want to run a 5K, for instance, you can create or find a training plan that will gradually ramp up your workouts to get you ready for your race.
Not sure how to get started? The Peloton App lets you schedule workouts and set activity goals, in addition to offering tons of programs with recommended schedules, all of which can help you map out a concrete plan for meeting your goals.
2. Be Less Ambitious
We’re often told to set big, lofty goals that challenge and push us. But sometimes, doing the opposite can be just as effective, especially when you’re low on motivation.
For instance, rather than making a brand-new goal to walk 30 minutes a day, seven days a week, try committing to walking two times a week for 20 minutes, Lesyk suggests. When you start “small,” you can rack up early wins that build confidence in your ability to do more.
3. Embrace Variety
If a workout rut has you feeling less than excited to work out, don’t hesitate to switch things up and try something new. Not only is it good for your body to work different muscle groups, it could be good for your motivation, too.
Take it from Peloton Member David Dunkin, a massage therapist in San Jose, California, who has an impressive streak of using Peloton 1,184 times in the last 1,185 days (yes, he’s only missed one day in more than three years!). Dunkin says switching up the classes he takes has been key to his consistency. From cycling to yoga to stretching to meditation, Dunkin says he taps into what his body needs on that particular day.
That means if you’re just not up for your go-to Tabata cycling class one day, rather than ditching your workout altogether, consider trying something new— a walking workout, mobility session, a Pilates class—instead. Exercising in a way that brings you joy makes it much more likely you’ll stick with regular workout habits, so if you’re feeling stuck, don’t be afraid to zhuzh up your routine.
4. Remember Your “Why”
If you notice that you’re consistently just not feeling up for a workout, it might be tied to something bigger. “If you’re waking up every day not wanting to work out or train, you’ve lost the original intended meaning of what that time and space of physical activity was supposed to give to your life,” Waite says.
When this happens, give yourself time to recalibrate so that you can realign with what’s important to you. Maybe you started practicing yoga because of how centered and grounded it makes you feel. Perhaps you love morning jogs thanks to the big mood boost they bring to your day. Or maybe you love functional strength training because it powers your daily movements. Think about the why behind your workouts and make sure your fitness routine honors it.
Javier Zayas Photography / Moment via Getty Images
5. Make an Appointment with Yourself
Odds are you don’t wait for motivation to strike to show up for a work meeting or a dentist appointment. Those things get scheduled and planned, and then you show up accordingly. Exercise doesn’t need to be any different.
When you make showing up for yourself as much of a priority as you make showing up for others, you’ll be surprised at how consistent you can be, Lesyk says. Every week, take time to put your workouts on your calendar. (Don’t forget to include time to get ready and time to shower or change after as well.) Treat those workout calendar blocks as you would with a regular meeting or appointment and follow through.
If you still have trouble showing up for yourself, include a friend in the calendar invite. An accountability buddy can help you stay on track until you find your rhythm.
6. Keep a Log
“When I first started exercising, I was really out of shape,” Lesyk says. “I started jogging slowly and four minutes later I was out of breath. But I wrote it down. I did the same thing the next day. It was very rewarding at the end of the month to be able to add up all those individual workouts and see that, in fact, I had gotten up to 25 miles. It only seemed like five or 10 minutes at the time, but it did add up to something.” Dunkin echoes this as a strong motivator to keep his exercise routine consistent: “I've always documented my workouts so I can look back and see what I was doing this time last year,” he says.
When you track your workouts, you become your biggest competitor—which is what makes this technique so powerful, Waite says. Instead of comparing yourself to someone on social media, you can see how much you’ve improved and challenge yourself to beat your own progress from last week, last month, or last year.
7. Sweeten the Deal
When you just can’t find exercise momentum, try motivating yourself with a mid- or post-workout reward. Maybe there’s a coffee shop or smoothie place near your gym that you can plan to stop into afterward. Or perhaps you can map out a run that ends at your friend’s house so you can see them for a fun catch-up once you’re done. “I work with a lot of runners, and one thing we work on is how they can turn the run into a fun destination,” Waite says. “Maybe they still don't feel motivated, but at least there’s something exciting waiting for them at the end.”
Dunkin says he prioritizes live Peloton classes because of the extra motivational hit he gets from it. “I do a lot of live classes, live meditations, and live rides because they make me feel part of the community,” he says. “People are high-fiving you, and I’ve gotten a couple shout-outs for hitting milestones.” The next time you’re feeling “meh” about getting moving, see what quick hit of joy you can add during or directly after the workout to boost your enjoyment.
8. Give Yourself a Break
It’s perfectly OK to skip a workout when you’re not feeling it. Listening to your body and taking rest days are crucial parts of proper recovery. And some situations—like being sleep-deprived or painfully sore, feeling mentally overwhelmed, or suffering from an injury—definitely call for a rest day. That said, if you’re finding yourself consistently skipping workouts, it might be time to investigate whether or not it’d serve you to push through and prioritize movement that day.
Start off with a little reflection, Waite advises. Before you give into the temptation to skip your workout, ask yourself: How many times in the last two weeks have I said this? “Use your answer as your baseline,” she says. “Then, decide if you can get that number a little lower over the next two weeks.” Starting with a light workout, such as a quick walk, could be all it takes to help you get on track. Once you get that momentum started, it’s easier to keep it going, Waite says. “The more you do it, the more that you want to do it,” she says. “You just have to get yourself on that loop.”
Motivation is a deeply personal thing. What appeals to you might not appeal to the next person. Some people like scheduling their workouts into their calendars, while others prefer to pair exercise with a fun reward. Some love tracking every sweat session, while others don’t see the value. And that’s OK. When you’re not sure how to motivate yourself to work out, the goal is to find the techniques that work for you and that provide positive encouragement to meet your fitness goals.
This content is for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute individualized advice. It is not intended to replace professional medical evaluation, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of your physician for questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. If you are having a medical emergency, call your physician or 911 immediately.