Why Have You Given up on Exercise?

How many times have you given up on exercise? If you're like most of us, probably more times than you can count. There are plenty of reasons we find it hard to stick to an exercise program. Sometimes we give up for reasons beyond our control—an illness, for example, or an injury. Sometimes there's no particular reason. One minute we're exercising and patting ourselves on the back for it and, next thing you know, that 10 pounds are back and so is the guilt and frustration.

There's always a reason we give up and there are key moments that can happen in any exerciser's life to watch out for. These moments can create so much frustration, so much self-doubt, you may feel like you have no choice but to quit. However, it's often during these hard moments that you need to keep going.

Find out why you give up on exercise and what you can do about it.


You Give Up Because You're Not Losing Weight

Frustrated man looking at his weight on a scale
Getty Images/Mike Kemp

If you exercise to lose weight, it's not terribly surprising that you expect to lose weight. And perhaps you even have realistic weight loss goals, say losing a pound or so a week.

However, you may notice a strange thing when you start an exercise program, a period of time where you may not lose any weight. The fact that it's quite common doesn't make it any easier to swallow. What's the point if you're not even getting results?​

It's important to be patient. Many people expect to see results after just 1-4 weeks. But for many it takes way longer. And the problem may be that you are getting results that you don't notice—such as reduced stress or increased muscle mass.

Why You Shouldn't Give Up

You may think this is the best time to give up, but this is precisely the moment to keep going and there are a bunch of reasons why. You may be losing inches instead of scale weight, which means you are getting results, just in a different way. Or your scale may be lying to you and not telling you the whole story. And don't forget, it's just hard to lose weight.

Keep in mind that there are things you can do if you're not losing weight, such as take a look at your diet or hire a trainer to help you figure it out.

But let's boil it down to the most important reason to keep going: Because sometimes, you just have to keep doing it before you know how things will turn out. So, if you're in this situation, what if you could let go of weight loss for now and just let yourself do it? Let yourself exercise the best way you know how and let your body respond ​because it will in its own way. It may not be the way you envision, but it will respond if given enough time, consistency and attention to your sleep, stress management, workouts and, of course, your eating habits.

The big question is, how much time? The real answer is that it takes as long as it takes and weight loss will be different from person to person, depending on everything from genes and hormones to age and gender. My answer, based on personal experience with myself and my clients, is more like 3-6 months, sometimes up to a year. That suggestion is based on the fact that most of us need lots of practice to get a consistent workout program down and most of us will fail a few times along the way.


You're Gaining Weight

Frustrated woman looking at weight on a scale
Getty Images/Mike Kemp

Gaining weight after starting an exercise program can be confusing—especially if you started exercising to lose weight. But this is more common than you think and in many cases, weight gain is a good thing. It means that your body composition is changing and that is evidence of your hard work.

However, once again, this isn't the time to give up, no matter what the scale or your mind might be telling you. You can always change what you're doing or learn more about what to expect when you start a weight loss program, but what you can't do? Is give up.

Why You Shouldn't Give Up

If the scale is going up, that doesn't mean you're doing anything wrong. In fact, if you're doing cardio, strength training and you're tracking your calories—as in actually calculating how many calories you're eating—there's a very good chance you're on the right track, no matter what the scale is telling you. The main culprits for an initial weight gain are:

  • Gaining muscle - If you start lifting weights, you're going to put on some muscle. If you're a woman, that may scare you, but there are two important things to remember: 1. It's very hard to put on big, bulky muscles without working very hard at it and even men will struggle to gain muscle. 2. You want more muscle. Muscle can actually help you lose fat since it's more metabolically active than fat. Gaining muscle may mean a bump on the scale but in a good way. It means you're gaining muscle and losing inches and that's exactly what you want.
  • Water retention - This is also common in new exercisers as part of the body's healing process as well as a way to get glycogen (the fuel your body needs to exercise) more efficiently to the body. Glycogen is stored in the cells along with extra water, so the more you exercise, the more efficiently your body can store and use glycogen, which means your cells will naturally retain more water.

Now, there's also the other obvious culprit: Eating too many calories, which is easy to do if you're not keeping track. It's easy to compensate for our workouts with extra calories or extra rest without even knowing it. If you're trying to lose weight and having the opposite experience, look at your diet first. Keep close track of what and how much you're eating before moving on to other reasons you may be gaining weight.

If you're losing inches and getting stronger, but still worried about what the scale says, my advice is to ditch it. There are other methods of tracking your progress, such as taking your measurements, which are much more reliable and tell you the information you actually need: Whether your body composition is changing.


It Hurts to Exercise

Man checking woman's ankle
Science Photo Library / Getty Images

Unfortunately, the words 'pain' and 'exercise' often appear in the same sentence entirely too often. We know the well-worn sayings of "No pain, no gain," and "Pain is weakness leaving the body," but if you've ever experienced pain from exercise, you know how hard it is to care about any progress you might make in the future. It's also unfortunate that, aside from chronic injuries, most of this pain is something we inflict on ourselves by doing workouts that are too hard. Even worse, it's completely unnecessary. We may think we have to go for a full hour, at full speed with the heaviest weights or the highest intensity we can stand but, if you want a program you can actually live with, pain is the last thing you want to cultivate.

Why You Shouldn't Give Up

Exercise shouldn't hurt and if it does, beyond some stiffness/soreness, you're doing it wrong. Yes, you should be out of your comfort zone—breathing harder, working in your target heart rate zone, sweating and maybe feeling a little uncomfortable. If you're lifting weights, you should feel your muscles working to lift that weight, maybe a little burning. Some soreness a day or two after a new workout is normal. However, if you're sore every day or can barely move, you're pushing too hard.

To avoid pain during or after exercise:

  • Make sure you're not ​exercising too much.​​
  • Make sure you ease into a program and give your body time to build strength and endurance before pushing too hard. Try this 4 Week Jumpstart Program for a great way to get started with a basic exercise program.
  • Understand the difference between normal discomfort and genuine pain or injury.
  • Work within your own limits and if you're not sure what those are, err on the side of caution or hire a personal trainer to help you figure it out.
  • Give yourself time. The more you practice, the easier it gets and the less it hurts.
  • Don't be afraid to start at a beginner level. Many of us try to jump back into our old workouts after a long break and that's when we run into the most pain and suffering. It's hard to admit that we need to start all over but, if it's been more than a month since you exercised, that's exactly what you need to do.

If you feel actual pain—sharp pulls or stabs or dull throbbing in your joints or muscles, not soreness—stop what you're doing and see your doctor if it doesn't go away.


You Get Bored

Bored woman stretching on a studio floor with a magazine in front of her
Getty Images/Britt Erlanson

While exercising isn't the most exciting thing in the world, if you're bored all the time, you're doing it wrong. It won't be fun all the time, of course, but you should get some kind of pleasure in it, whether it's simple satisfaction, feeling your own strength and fitness, enjoying a certain exercise or just admiring your muscles in the mirror.

Boredom is common, but it's not a good reason to give up. Do some movement that you love so it's not boring. Or try something that is new and challenging. Add in options like dancing, hiking, biking, climbing, or whatever is available in your area.

Why You Shouldn't Give Up

It isn't the treadmill's fault that you loathe it to the very last button, bolt, and belt. Even if the treadmill, or whatever machine you're using, is the only thing you have available, there are ways to change up what you're doing and breathe some life into your routine. In fact, some of us may need to go back to the drawing board entirely just to figure out what we actually like to do. If you hate the gym, maybe you'd prefer being outside or working out at home. If you're competitive, try training for something specific like a bike race or a 5K. If structured workouts make you gag, free yourself up to do your own thing. Play a game of tennis or try an exergame or just take several brisk walks throughout the day. Make everything you do count.

You can also mix up your workouts in so many ways, you could have a different workout every day. Some ideas:

The point is, don't give up just because you're bored. There's something out there for everyone if you're willing to take a risk and try new things. Sure, you may get it wrong the first time around, but we all need the freedom to fail.

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."