How to Stay Motivated to Exercise

If you're trying to lose weight or get in shape, you may find yourself losing interest a few weeks into your program. If you're struggling to stick with your weight loss or exercise program, read on to learn where the love has gone and how to get it back.

Re-Visit Your Past

Woman sitting on the beach
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Think back to previous attempts at losing weight or exercising. What made you quit before and are you on the same path now? If so, you may be stuck in a pattern you haven't noticed before. Break it by figuring out what went wrong before. Some possibilities:

  • A diet that's too strict or difficult to follow
  • Feeling deprived of your favorite foods
  • Feeling tired and sore from too many workouts
  • Confusion about how to exercise the right way
  • Being so busy, you can't figure out how to fit it all in

Make your own list and then figure out how to get around these issues. If the diet is too strict, make smaller changes you can live with every day. If you're busy, try shorter workouts. Change what you're doing until it works.

Get Real

Most people fail at their fitness goals because they're waiting for something spectacular to happen. Losing weight isn't always a spectacular fact, it isn't even a linear process sometimes. What you may find is that you lose a little, gain a little and repeat the process again and again.

There are no shortcuts to weight loss so, even if you're frustrated that your body hasn't changed, don't give up. If you're burning more calories than you eat, your body is changing, even if it's slower than you'd like. Make sure your goals are realistic and, most importantly, that you give your body the time it needs to respond to what you're doing. It can be weeks, often months before changes start to show.

Get Pumped

We all get a spurt of motivation when deciding to lose weight and that energy carries us through the first few weeks of a workout and diet plan. However, it's normal to lose some of that energy after a month or two and wonder if you should just give up. Before you do, try these tips:

  • Revisit your goals - The reason that you started to exercise in the first can still be an important motivating factor. Does it still mean something to you? Post it somewhere you see it often—maybe make it the background of your phone, post-it on your mirror, or pin it to your refrigerator.
  • Think about how far you've come - Don't just look at how much weight you've lost, but other ways your life has improved. Are you stronger or faster? Do you feel better about yourself? Could you use those feelings to keep going now?
  • Change things up - Variety can infuse more energy into your workouts. Try changing your workout schedule or trying something new to stay interested in exercise.

Reward Yourself

It's surprisingly easy to get excited about exercise when you have a reward planned for yourself at the end of the week. Massage is a great reward. There's nothing that feels better than finishing up a week's worth of workouts followed by a relaxing massage. Schedule one once a month, if you can or, if massages aren't your thing, try some other ideas:

  • Buying new workout gear
  • A weekend getaway
  • A night chilling out with your favorite TV show
  • A new book or song you've been wanting
  • A new playlist or pair of headphones
  • A new computer game you can only play after exercise

Exhaust Every Avenue

Before you quit, try everything you can to stay on track. Instead of drifting away from exercise without acknowledging it, give yourself a minimum amount of exercise to get in each week. When you dip below that (or stop altogether), promise yourself you'll try other things before you quit altogether:

  • Hire a personal trainer or work with one online
  • Find a workout buddy
  • Join a fitness group or gym
  • Try a new way of exercising — a video, a class, a sport, etc.

Sometimes you just need something new and fun to keep you going.

Stop Waiting for a Miracle

Some people think if they exercise long enough, they'll wake up one day and suddenly love exercising and eating healthy. While it does get easier, you'll always have to find ways to motivate yourself for your workouts. If you're waiting for a shining moment of excitement, you might be waiting for a long time.

Lose the Excuses

Every day is different. What motivated you yesterday may not work today, so sift through what inspires you to find that one thing that will get you out the door. It may be pants you want to fit into or competing with your friend (he's working out—you don't want to fall behind, do you?). Before you skip your workout, try these ideas to get moving:

  • Remind yourself that you'll feel good about yourself if you finish your workout
  • Tell yourself that you'll just warm up and if you want to stop, you can
  • Remind yourself that this workout will give you more energy for the rest of your day
  • Tell yourself that if you finish this workout, you can spend some time reading, watching TV, or playing around on the computer

Open Your Mind

Being bored is the perfect time to try something new. You'll be more willing to try things you may have dismissed because they didn't fit within your definition of exercise. It could be belly dancing, a Latin dance class or that spinning class at the gym. Or try something more mind/body like Pilates or yoga.

If what you're doing isn't working, it's time to find something that will. Sometimes even just a new piece of equipment or a workout is enough to get you moving again. Try an outdoor circuit to switch things up, do a workout with your foam roller, or take your yoga practice to your exercise ball.

Track Your Progress

One simple way to stay motivated is to look back on how far you've come. Keeping a simple calendar of the workouts you've done gives you something tangible you can happily flip through, adding up all the days you exercised. Plus, knowing you have to write your accomplishments down may give you that extra push you need to get moving.

Regularly weighing yourself, taking measurements, getting your body fat tested or even doing your own fitness and endurance tests can help you stay on track. It' s also helpful to be aware of other ways that you are progressing in your program. Maybe your clothes fit looser, or perhaps you don't get quite as winded during an exercise session or while walking up the stairs. A progress chart or journal is a great way to track how you're doing.

Have Consequences

If your child doesn't do his homework, there are consequences. The same should be true of sticking with exercise. If you don't do your workouts, there should be a consequence. Have someone hold you accountable or take away something you enjoy until you get back on track. Another idea is to think of the long-term consequences of not exercising:

  • Gaining weight
  • Feeling bad about yourself
  • Possible health problems like diabetes or heart disease
  • Lower quality of life
  • Not being a good role model for your family
  • Not being able to do all the things you enjoy

By Paige Waehner, CPT
Paige Waehner is a certified personal trainer, author of the "Guide to Become a Personal Trainer," and co-author of "The Buzz on Exercise & Fitness."