Remember when you committed to that new workout and healthy eating plan and your enthusiasm and motivation were through the roof? Sunday meal prep? Check. 5 a.m. workout? Check. But then several weeks or months in, you start to notice that you’ve skipped more workouts than you’ve done, and the takeout orders are creeping in. Shaun T of Shaun T Fitness calls this motivation plateau an “implementation dip.” In short: You’ve lost the motivation to work out and that’s keeping you from reaching your goals, whether they’re to get stronger, eat cleaner, or build the stamina to run that marathon.
It’s frustrating, but it’s also common. The best part: It’s easy enough to get exercise motivation back — even if you’ve lost it. These tips will help you regain your motivation to work out.
1. Revisit your goal.
Unmotivated? Losing sight of why you started working out in the first place? Tune in to the “why” behind your goal (what inspired you or what success looks like to you). Don’t be afraid to spend some time journaling and really thinking about what you’d like to gain by committing to a regular fitness routine, like building muscle and reducing fat, and improving your overall health. Get excited about it!
2. Keep short-term goals in sight, too.
Sometimes, having a goal that seems far away can be daunting and overwhelming. Instead, break a goal into smaller, short-term goals. For example, if your goal is to lose 10 pounds, instead, focus on losing one pound in a week or two weeks, and keep going with that until you’re at your long-term goal. “Plateaus are part of the process,” says Kim H. Miller, Ph.D., an associate professor of health promotion at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. In the meantime, stay motivated to work out by giving yourself credit for how much better you feel in your clothes and for improving your overall health.
3. Make dates with the scale.
True, the scale isn’t everything—but it could help keep you on track. In a study of 10,000 smart scale users, participants who weighed themselves more frequently (2 to 3 times per week) either lost more weight or maintained their weight better than those who did not weigh themselves on a regular basis.
4. Track all positive changes.
Making lifestyle changes impacts your mental and emotional health as well. Take note of how much more confident you’re feeling or if you’ve noticed any changes in your anxiety level after working out. Have you used a fitness tracker to note changes in your sleep and energy? (FYI, tuning into all victories isn’t just a way to achieve your goals, but also key to making your health or fitness transformation last long after.)
5. Think positive.
Just psyching yourself up while you’re strength training can increase your muscle power by 8 percent, according to a study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research by the School of Sport and Exercise Science at the Waikato Institute of Technology in New Zealand. You’ll reap about 12 percent more power imagining those perfect lifts versus when you’re distracted. Depending on how pooped your arms are, “mental imagery could help to activate additional motor units,” says Brad Hatfield, Ph.D., chair of kinesiology at the University of Maryland School of Public Health. It could stimulate muscle fibers enough to help eke out more curls.
6. Focus on form.
Not being able to muster more reps at the same weight can be frustrating, discouraging, and totally destroy your workout motivation. Decreasing the amount that you’re lifting in 10 percent increments until you can finish the set with good form can help in the long run, says Juan Carlos Santana, director of the Institute of Human Performance gym in Boca Raton, Florida. “The bigger the effort, the bigger your body’s response will be,” he says. That means netting some 46 percent greater strength gains by doing two or three sets compared with only one, says a study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. And don’t beat yourself up: Pushing your limits just a little further gets you firming results you’ll feel, says Santana. (You can always switch over to drop sets too.)
7. Enjoy your surroundings.
Running motivation is especially fleeting. When you’re trying to slog through that first or extra mile, shift your attention to the things around you, says Alan St. Clair Gibson, M.D., Ph.D., faculty of Health Sciences, University of Hull and professor in Hull York Medical School in the U.K.: “You might slow down, but it will help you keep going.” Also add a can-do mental mantra, like ‘I’m a running machine!’ to put more mettle in your pedals.
8. Divide and conquer.
Split your run into walking and running parts at first, says Joe Puleo, head track and field coach at the Camden Campus at Rutgers University and coauthor of Running Anatomy. Jog a quarter of a mile, walk for half a mile, and finish by jogging another quarter. As you improve, stretch out the jogging and shrink the walking segment before jogging that final quarter mile. Do this three or four times a week and “you’ll be able to run the whole distance in about six weeks,” Puleo says.
9. Be creative — especially if you get injured.
There’s more than one way to reach your exercise goal, says Trent Petrie, Ph.D., professor and director of the Center for Sport Psychology at the University of North Texas. Sweating it out on the elliptical (416 calories an hour), cycling (512 calories), or jogging in water (512 calories) can all have positive effects, says Robert S. Gotlin, D.O., board certified physician in physical medicine and rehabilitation in New York City and editor of Sports Injuries Guidebook.
10. Go at your own pace.
Is intimidation wrecking your motivation to work out? When trying a new class or working with a new trainer, go at your own pace, says instructor Kimberly Fowler, founder of YAS Fitness Centers in California. “If the instructor tells you to turn up the resistance, go to where you feel you can keep up; then if you get tired, lower it.” After all: You’re in control of your body.
11. Sweat at home.
Beam a trainer to your living room for free or for a fraction of the in-gym cost. Online workouts take the stress out of fitness classes, and you can try several different classes to see what works best for you. Need more motivation to work out? Check out our selection of workout videos.
12. Start with the hard stuff.
Not only will you be more motivated to work harder at the beginning of a workout than at the end of one, but in a study on the The Effects of Treadmill Sprint Training and Resistance Training on Maximal Running Velocity and Power at the Department of Health and Exercise Science at the College of New Jersey, treadmillers who did higher-intensity work followed by lower-intensity exercise got more results and felt that their workouts were less stressful than when the order was reversed. Can’t complain there!
13. Commit to just a short workout.
Gassed after a long day at work? A study in Physiology and Behavior found that even just one 30-minute session of aerobic exercise improved feelings of well-being and enhanced cognitive flexibility. Beyond that, telling yourself that you’re not going to do more than 10 minutes of exercise often leads to extending the time once you get into it, Miller notes. In a study at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, doing 10 minutes of moderate exercise, such as light pedaling on a stationary bike, was enough to improve mood and fatigue levels, too.
14. Touch base with an expert.
A dietitian or a nutritionist, or a trainer can be a great resource — even if you think you know what you’re doing. They can help you make tweaks to optimize the good habits you already have in place and introduce some new tips and tricks to get you moving in the direction you want. An expert can also provide a much-needed reality check after you’ve been down the social media compare-a-thon rabbit hole. If you find that working on your body is kicking up uncomfortable emotions, a therapist can offer the support you need to move forward mindfully.
15. Get an accountability buddy.
You don’t have to go it alone. Some people find that having an accountability buddy to check in with periodically can be a great motivation to work out. You can cheer each other on, share your struggles, and trade tips. Just be careful: If you catch yourself slipping into a competitive mindset or getting down on yourself when your partner does “better” than you, you might be better off without them. (Learn more about how building a fitness support system could help you meet your goals.)
16. Change gears when necessary.
Still not feeling motivated to work out? If you get to a place where thinking about your original goal makes you feel icky, it’s time to change gears and get out of your rut. Do some soul-searching and think about what you really want to accomplish (as opposed to what you think you should want) and get excited and SMART about it. Make that goal specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timely, (and fun). Remember, working out and getting stronger is about feeling healthy and happy.
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