10 Things to Stop Doing If You Want to Exercise

How many times have you been told how to lose weight? I've written about it a million or so times in the many articles I've written on the topic and it basically boils down to this: Exercise more, eat less. Expand on that and you have the specifics - You should do cardio and strength training with a dash of high-intensity interval training, a sprinkling of circuit training and a pinch of stretching or yoga. You've heard it so many times, there doesn't seem to be any reason for us to not exercise. Yet, we regularly spend time not exercising.

There are a lot of things we're supposed to do to lose weight, but there are also things you can stop doing that may help you get past your obstacles to exercise


Stop Waiting to Feel Like Exercising

Young man lying on sofa texting

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After 20 years of exercise, it's a rare morning that I really feel like getting out of bed at 5:30 for a workout. The truth is, it isn't the desire to exercise that gets me out of bed, but a combination of habit, discipline, and persistence. And the knowledge that doing a workout actually sucks less than skipping a workout.

Too often, we wait for the motivation to exercise, but waiting for that is like waiting for the motivation to scrub the toilet. Do you really want to clean the toilet? No. It's just something you have to do, but when you do it, you're really glad you did.

What to Do Instead

Create your own motivation.

  • Give yourself a reward for finishing your workout - A new book to read, a night out or, one of my naughty favorites, an extra glass of wine.
  • Write your goal on a piece of paper and put it on your alarm clock or your steering wheel. That reminder may be enough to get you started, which is always the hardest part.
  • Don't you skip your workout - Before you give up, ask yourself some questions like, will you regret your decision? How will you make up that missed workout? Don't let yourself off the hook until you've made a reasoned, rational decision.
  • Make sure you're doing the right workouts for you - Assess your workout routine and make sure you like what you're doing - or at least sort of like it. No way you'll do it if you hate your workouts.

Stop Overdoing It

Icing sore shoulder

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What's the first thing you do when you realize how long it's been since you've exercised? If you said, "I acknowledge my failure and gently ease into an exercise program to avoid injury," then I know you're lying. I mean, who does that? Well, normal, rational, logical human beings, of course, but most of us aren't operating on the logical side of the brain.

When we fail at exercise, we usually respond from the most emotional part of our brains, the part that says we have to fix this and we have to fix it fast. And how do we fix it? By cramming all the workouts we missed a week of punishment and torture. 

When we go all weekend warrior, we set ourselves up for even more failure, trying to sustain an impossible level of exercise and becoming vulnerable to burnout, injury, and, of course, more failure.

What to Do

  • Ease into it - Maybe it makes you feel better to kill yourself with exercise, but that will only last until the next morning when you can't get out of bed. Yes, it's slower, but you'll make real, lasting progress if you take your time and gradually build intensity.
  • Keep it simple - Don't let guilt drive your workouts.  Instead, set up a program that matches your current fitness level, not how fit you used to be. If it's only been a week or two, you can probably go back to a pared down version of your previous workouts. If it's been weeks, months or years, keep it simple. Try a basic walking program a few times a week and an easy total body strength routine.
  • Hire a trainer - If you have a history of starting and stopping exercise, this may be a good time to call in the experts. You may simply need some tweaking to your program or some new ideas for how to exercise and stick with it.

Stop Setting Unrealistic Goals


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Yes, it seems like working out and eating tree bark and lemon wedges for a week or two should lead to a big pay off - Your pants should be falling off your body after all that pain and suffering.

The reality is a little less than thrilling. Sometimes, nothing much happens (at least externally) except sore muscles and frustration.  Sometimes it's even worse...you may actually gain weight. This is usually temporary, but it's still no fun to experience.

So what do you do when you're doing all the right things and your body just isn't responding yet? 

What to Do

  • Set measurable goals - You can't always predict how much weight you'll lose each week, even if you're perfect (which you won't be...at least, not all the time). Try forgetting about weight loss and set more concrete goals - Completing a certain number of workouts a week, for example, or working out at a certain intensity. Keep an exercise calendar and check off your workouts, then celebrate each week you're successful.
  • Exercise isn't a magic bullet, no matter how great I make it sound, and despite what you may see in magazines or infomercials, there's no shortcut to weight loss. The truth is, it takes more exercise than you think to lose weight and it takes more time than you think. In fact, it could take up to a year to see real, permanent changes, simply because it often takes that amount of time to learn how to get around all the obstacles in your life.
  • Accept that you can't control every aspect of weight loss - You can control your eating and exercise, stress management and sleep patterns, but there are other factors we can't control - Age, gender, and genes, just to name a few.  I've heard this annoying quote from Tony Horton a million times (while my husband did P90X), but maybe it's annoying because it's true: "Do your best and forget the rest."

Stop the Excuses

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We can all come up with tons of reasons to skip exercise and they all seem terribly critical. We're too busy, we're tired, we really need to clean out the car and that corner behind the fridge isn't just going to dust itself, is it? 

Oddly enough, people who exercise have the same issues and obligations, yet they somehow manage to exercise every day. Are they doing something magical that you just haven't been privy too? I'd tell you, but then I'd have to kill you.

What To Do Instead

  • Look for opportunities to exercise, rather than reasons not to - If you don't have much time, try lunchtime workouts, shorter, more intense workouts or split your routine
  • Change your negative thinking about exercise - If your workout is just another obligation, how excited are you to do it? But what if your workout is a chance for some quiet time to yourself? Or a time to watch your favorite TV show while on the treadmill or lifting weights? Paint your workout time in a more positive light and you'll be more willing to do it.
  • Be honest with yourself - When you're lying in bed, negotiating with yourself about whether to do your workout, ask yourself this: Are you really going to work out extra hard after work or tomorrow to make it up? Part of creating an exercise habit is committing to it no matter how warm that bed feels.

Stop Thinking It Will Be Easy

Lifting weights

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Do you ever get sucked into watching an exercise infomercial? There's something fascinating about them, that pretty, skinny blonde smiling as she moves on the ab twisty thing or the shirtless, flat-abbed man working up a sweat by yanking on the cables of some contraption or other. They make it look so easy, so fun that you think - Hey, I can do that! And if I do, I'll look just like that!

But those people are smiling because they're getting paid. And they didn't get that body with an ab twisty machine. They got it with work - the kind of hard work that comes from making exercise a priority. Buying a machine or a gym membership or even hiring a trainer isn't magically going to make exercise easier, no matter what those infomercials say. 

What to Do Instead

  • Be realistic about how much exercise you really need to lose weight - Most people work out at least an hour a day, most days of the week to lose and/or maintain weight loss. Most of us need time to work up to that amount of exercise, which means weight loss is simply going to be slower as you take that time.
  • Be realistic about how much exercise you can actually do - This depends on your schedule and also on your fitness level. Even if you have the time, your body may only be able to handle 20 or 30 minutes at a time. Before you commit to anything, really think about what you can mentally and physically handle and start there. You can always add more over time.
  • Understand that it will be uncomfortable - Exercisers make it look easy, but it's not. If you want to change your body, you have to get out of your comfort zone and challenge your body with more than it's used to, eventually adding more high intensity. That will be uncomfortable but, understanding the difference between good pain and bad pain will help you figure out what's normal and what's not.

Stop Waiting for the Perfect Time to Exercise

mother and daughter doing yoga in the park

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Every year, I wait for the perfect time to clean out my basement. I always pick winter because what else is there to do? In the moment (usually a warm, sunny day), I'm positive it will actually be fun to organize basement in the dead of winter. My dark, cold, depressing, disgusting basement. Fast forward to winter and there I am, piled up on the couch, binge-watching Homeland

We often do that with exercise, too, waiting until the kids go back to school or get out of school. Waiting until after the vacation or after we change jobs or after the wedding. If you think that way, the perfect time will never come.

What to Do

  • Stop procrastinating - Just like getting married or having kids or, um, cleaning out the basement, there's never a perfect time. So, start now. Put on a pair of shoes and take a walk. There. You exercised.
  • Work with your life the way it is now - We're always waiting for things to calm down but when does that actually happen? If we're lucky, we may get a week or two now and then when life isn't utter chaos. Don't try changing your schedule to fit a workout. Instead, try fitting a workout into your schedule, even if it's just 10 minutes at a time.
  • Focus on a healthy lifestyle - The phrase 'healthy lifestyle' is way overused, yet it's the perfect phrase to describe the behaviors you need to focus on to really lose weight.

Stop Being Afraid to Fail

Stop being afraid to fail

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If there's one thing that's certain in life, it's that we will fail.  Yes, we'll also pay taxes and we'll die, but we will also fail at something and, inevitably, we'll fail at exercise. It's not that you suck, it's simply that you can't expect to be able to exercise all the time. There will be times when you're sick, injured, exhausted, on vacation or going through something that forces you to abandon your exercise program.

It's just what happens. The trick isn't to try to be perfect but to allow for those times in your life when you just can't work out.

What to Do Instead

  • Forgive yourself - Most of us try to guilt ourselves into exercise after quitting, but you may find you make more progress if you actually forgive yourself. 
  • Lighten up - I regularly take myself way too seriously and you probably do too. Remind yourself that this is just exercise...not brain surgery, not rocket science, not anything that will cause anyone to die if you don't get it perfect all the time.
  • Get back on track and move on- It's hard to face our bodies after a long break from exercise and, for that reason, some of us prefer the head-in-sand approach. That can be fun for a little while but, eventually, you'll need to get back to it.  The best way to do that is to just move on. Forget what you did wrong and focus on what you can do right.

Stop Sabotaging Yourself

Stop sabotaging yourself

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My husband does this thing where he'll pack his workout clothes when he goes out of town, thinking he'll find time to exercise when he gets there. 90% of the time, there are no stinky workout clothes in his suitcase when he comes home - Which is a plus for me, but not so much for him.

As we all know, thinking we'll just 'squeeze in a workout' whenever we have time never works.  If you end up having extra time, which never happens, are you really going to work out? No. You're probably going to check email or Facebook or maybe play a game of Candy Crush, right? So how do you avoid this pitfall?

What to Do

  • Plan your workouts ahead of time - Sit down with your calendar and go through your week to carve out your exercise time. Once you do, plan what you'll do during that time. If you only have 30 or so minutes, for example, circuit training might be the most effective workout for you.
  • Prepare for your workout time - It starts the night before as you get everything you need for your workout - clothes, snacks, water, iPod, etc.
  • Make it easier to exercise - Put your clothes next to your bed, choose activities that are accessible and don't require too much preparation or equipment, join a gym that's on your way home or to work. Remove as many obstacles as possible to get yourself moving.
  • Be flexible - A lot of us have rules about our workouts - They have to be at this time and last this long and include this activity. If even one of those elements isn't present, we might say "Oh darn...guess I can't work out!" If your workout doesn't fit, change it until it does.

Stop Going It Alone

Stop going it alone

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Most of us struggle with exercise and weight loss, but it's a shame how many of us struggle alone. I think you're supposed to walk around the world acting like you know what you're doing when, really, most of us don't have a clue.

It can take tremendous courage to admit you're struggling, but doing so to the right person can be a huge relief and may be just what you need to keep going.

What to Do

  • Ask for help - It's hard enough to lose weight and it gets harder when you have friends or family working against you.  How can you eat those carrot sticks when your husband just brought home an extra large pizza? Talk to your family about how they can help you...hide the junk food, for example, or eat healthy dinners with you and save the pizza for when you're not around.
  • Find a support system - We can often find the best support from our friends, coworkers or online. That support system can give you motivation when you're flagging, accountability when you're slipping and understanding when you're struggling.
  • Talk to a pro - Many people are afraid to hire a trainer or dietician for help. Maybe it's the cost or maybe you're embarrassed to talk about how much you suck to a stranger. Luckily, professionals are just that - professionals who are in business specifically to help people with these issues.

Stop Trying to Be Perfect

Stop trying to be perfect

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What's the first thing you do when you fall off the exercise or diet wagon? Wish that the wagon would just run over you already? We love to use guilt and shame to motivate ourselves to exercise, but it often backfires. 

When you're not perfect, you feel bad about yourself. And when you feel bad about yourself, you want to feel better. And how do you make yourself feel better? With a workout? No, more likely with a bottle of wine and a big bag of Doritos. 

Or maybe that's just me.

There's nothing wrong with the occasional pity party, but if you're always comforting yourself with emotional eating, it's time for a new approach.

What to Do

  • Stop kicking yourself - It doesn't burn any calories and it's really hard to reach your own butt with your foot.
  • Get some perspective - Imagine telling your story of failure to a trusted friend.  Would he or she say,  "You know, you really suck. You should probably just give up"? I doubt it.  Imagine what you would say to a friend in your shoes and then say that to yourself.
  • Take the pressure off - When you make a blunder, your first instinct may be to panic. Ignore that instinct and remind your inner critic that you're allowed to make mistakes. Give yourself all the chances you need to succeed, no matter how many it takes.
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  1. Swift D, Johannsen N, Lavie C, Earnest C, Church T. The role of exercise and physical activity in weight loss and maintenance. Prog Cardiovasc Dis. 2014;56(4):441-7.