Let me share a little known fact with you: exercise professionals sometimes don’t want to exercise.
We love it, true, which is why we got into the industry in the first place—to help others discover the same empowering and transformative effects that we’ve experienced. But hey, motivation ebbs and flows, sometimes we get disenchanted with our same routines just like everyone else, and every once in a while, we want to give in to #couchtime. And personally, I HAVE BEEN LIFTING HEAVY SINCE I WAS 16. Sometimes I need a jolt of excitement.
I think the difference between someone who truly loves to train having low-energy days versus someone who’s more a recreational exerciser is the number of experiences you’ve had where exercise has made you feel better after.
I know for me that is one of the major drivers for me to train: the knowledge that I will feel accomplished, strong (mentally and physically) and the realization that the iron always loves me back.
So what does one do when the motivation is waning and Netflix is calling? Bottom line, you want to train, it’s just hard to get inspired, so below my top tips.
First, realize that the ultimate goal is to just get in there. So instead of forcing yourself and trying to mentally tough-it-out—that only lasts so long—make some deals with yourself. And of course, the option to not train is warranted sometimes, too (more on that at the bottom of this blog):
1) You aren’t going to like this one, but … you tell yourself you don’t have to get super sweaty (read: do shorter workouts).
I know, I know! My 21-year-old self is rolling her eyes at me right now! But I guess that’s the nature of getting older—you realize go-hard-or-go-home is not always possible, and you are more willing to show yourself some compassion.
I used to feel like not getting sweaty to the point of needing a shower immediately after a workout meant I was half-assing it and that it wasn’t good enough. I was of the hardcore mind that if you aren’t going to kill it, you might as well not even bother. But that was back in the old days of 60-minute stepmill marathons, 90-minute lifting sessions and 3 fitness classes in a row. Basically when my entire life was lived at the gym.
That kind of approach does us a disservice in the long run because the #1 way predictor of results is consistency. And if we feel the compulsion to be all-or-nothing, chances are we’ll just stop.
And besides, the days of needing marathon workouts to see physique change are over. Just look at the bodies of sprinters, and the success of women doing programs like Metabolic Effect (20 mins), Lift Weights Faster (all 30 mins or less) and Crossfit (most metcons are 30 minutes or less).
But here’s why I want you to tell yourself you don’t have to get super sweaty: if we’re honest, usually it’s not even the workout itself that we dread, it’s everything around it—like the putting on of the gym clothes, the driving to the gym, the getting sweaty and then having to figure out the showering/hair drying situation after, etc. It takes a looooong ass time (or at least the perception is that is does, which is the thing that influences motivation the most) and it feels like a huge hassle.
Maybe I’m just soft, but I don’t care because I know that I am more consistent if I make some deals with myself at times. Not all the time, but on low-motivation days, yes absolutely.
How do you not sweat that much? Well, for one, you do shorter workouts.
Usually 15-20 is the cutoff time for the sweating to really ramp up to the point of needing a shower and hair re-do. So do 15-20 minutes of intense exercise, like incline sprints on the treadmill, a quickie metabolic circuit or track sprints. Use some wet ones and some dry shampoo and you save yourself from having to do the full-on shower routine twice a day. NEXT!
2) Let every little bit actually count.
This is also a toughie, but if your goal is make exercising a lifestyle, you have to adopt this mentality. The all-or-nothing approach always ends up being nothing. And though it’s cliché as hell, it’s true: ELBC (every-little-bit-counts). Here’s an example:
Recently, I spent 8 weeks in Europe. With only a couple days left on the trip, I found some steps on the island of Capri and I sprinted up and down the 90 steps ten times. It had been my first workout in 6 days and only workout #7 for the entire 7 weeks I’d been in Europe (besides a ton of walking). That’s not an awesome training report.
But here’s the deal: it was also not nothing.
Knowing I’d be back in the states in a few days, it would have been super easy to ride things out, eat everything I wanted and say, “I might as well! Gonna be home soon! Besides, what’s one lousy workout gonna do?” But that’s lazy thinking, it’s all-or-nothing thinking. And it’s precisely that kind of thinking that keeps us struggling.
So remember, something isn’t nothing. And every little bit truly does make a difference. Sure, I picked it up when I get home, but the idea that I needed a “clean slate” before I could do anything worthwhile is ridiculous.
Other example of an ELBC workout from the trip was a 7-minute workout I did a few times in my hotel room: 100 pushups, 100 situps, 100 air squats. Ideal? Not really. But it was something, and that will always beat nothing. Another ELBC workout I’ll do sometimes is 5-10 sprints on my street. It takes me literally 10 minutes and oftentimes I’ll just do them in my sweats and t-shirt (bra optional) because I just got out of bed and I don’t feel like “getting ready” to work out. Bye!
3) Choose enjoyment over effectiveness.
I often hear the advice, “make your workouts more enjoyable!” given as advice for those who are unmotivated. And I love that advice. In fact, we’ve written on it here and here.
If you like to dance, go to Zumba and tell anyone who says it’s not good enough to screw off. If you like to jog, then jog! Don’t stress about internet experts telling you it’s making you fatter (it’s not, at least not directly). Want to leisure walk? Do it. Just don’t pretend like you are going to gain muscle doing it.
Because here’s the thing: the key is owning your choices. If you want to Zumba, just realize that it’s not the #1 best thing for sustained fat loss. It’s absolutely healthy and if it will make you more consistent and act as a “gateway” exercise to lifting weights later, then do it.
Realize that the way you choose to exercise has outcomes—lifting helps you change the look of your body. Excessive cardio might increase hunger and cravings. Going on a marathon jogging program might facilitate muscle loss. Don’t expect all type of exercise to do ALL THE THINGS for you. So long as you know that, then it’s fine. Just own your choices.
Okay, that was somewhat of a side note, but the key is this: yes, make your workouts more fun. But don’t judge yourself for the ways you make them funner (yes, that can be a word today). Sometimes you might be “that person” in order to do it. Here’s an example of something that happened to me last week.
REAL TALK. I have a newfound empathy for people who dilly-dally during their workouts. Ninety percent of the time I’m neutral or even excited about my workouts, but last Monday I was definitely dragging. Didn’t want to go. I had sprints on the docket and by the time I procrastinated all morning, it was already a thousand percent humidity outside in NC. Blah, blah, blah.
So I made a deal with myself that I’d go to the track and just see what happened. If I was miserable, I could bail.
Well, I finished my 10 x 100m sprints but it didn’t feel especially awesome until I was done. But I did something I’ve never done before: I was WALKING AND LOOKING AT MY PHONE between sprints while resting. Like legit retweeting stuff and answering emails. And here’s what was interesting … it made the whole process, yes, take longer and feel more disjointed, but on a day when I was not all that motivated, it actually made the workout more enjoyable!
See, most of the time I want to be and strive to be fully mentally in my workout and hardly ever waste time. I’m also from the old school hardcore “training time is sacred” mentality. So when I found myself surfing Instagram between sprints, at first I was like, WHAT AM I DOING? I AM THAT PERSON. That person who wastes time during their workout! I started to judge myself for it. Lord knows I’ve certainly judged others for walking around and socializing more than actually exercising!
But then I thought: honestly, this is helping me get through this workout!
Maybe that’s sad or says something about me as a professional, but the bottom line was that I finished my workout, killed my sprints, felt amazing after and was proud of myself for completing the workout even when I didn’t feel like it. I didn’t let perfect be the enemy of good. I won’t always bring my phone to my workouts. But last week, it was fine. I was fine.
And I guess it could have been worse: I could have stayed home and not exercised at all, and I can guarantee you that if I did that, I’d definitely be starring at my phone ;)
Two final things:
Sometimes you won’t train. And that’s fine too. Whether it’s because of some kind of metabolic damage/overtraining or an injury or simply because hey, you don’t feel like it. The best thing you can do in these situations is not let it mess with your head. Just because you didn’t exercise for a week or even a month doesn’t mean you “don’t exercise.” You do exercise, you are an exerciser, you just didn’t this week. I think what can sometimes happen is that we allow transient actions to mean we are that person, instead of we are just doing that right now.
And as you know, self-belief is everything.
If you begin calling yourself lazy and saying that you aren’t motivated to train, well then chances are that those things will continue to unfold for you. Instead, own your power. Say out loud that you are an exerciser. That you are a lifter. That you love exercise and are finding workarounds for some transient motivation ebbs. Everyone has down times, but the key is not letting a single downtime become a downer. Consistency is key, and allowing yourself some leeway with your workouts makes that a whole lot easier to achieve. Screw my old 21 year old self ;)
And finally, you will have days when you feel super inspired to train and on those days, go in and kill it. Use them to your advantage. I don’t think the key is always needing to be on a new plan or looking for a routine, because some level of inspiration needs to be innate (which you already have if you are even here and reading this) but most of us have seasonal ebbs and flows. So honor them.
Don’t overthink it. Do your best. Show yourself some kindness. And realize that every single day is an opportunity to do something. An object in motion stays in motion, and an object at rest stays at rest. Which is why doing something, anything, as teeny tiny as it might be … matters.
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