We’ve all been there — the alarm goes off at 6:00 a.m., but instead of hopping out of bed, energized for your workout, you hit the snooze button and roll back over. And that’s the start of a downward spiral from intense fitness motivation to a vague feeling of guilt in the back of your mind that says, “I should really get back on track with exercise.”
And you know how I know this feeling? I’ve been there. I may have a master’s degree in exercise science and a high-level personal training certification behind my name, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t faced my own struggles with motivation. The only difference is, I’ve honed a few skills to maximize my motivation and perseverance so I can keep on keepin’ on when the going gets tough.
1. Mix up your intensity
There is no rule book that says you need to work out at high intensities every time you hit the gym. In fact, constant high-intensity training can lead to burnout and over-training. Scott Danberg, Fitness Director at the Pritikin Longevity Center puts it this way: “At Pritikin Longevity Center, we teach our guests that better health through exercise occurs with ‘feeling the exercise glow’ rather than always ‘feeling the exercise burn.'” In other words, you should mix up your routine so that one day you work out hard to “feel the burn,” but you follow that up with a moderate routine where you “feel the glow.” You can even follow that up with a low-intensity day where you just “feel the simmer.”
And trust me, it’s a lot easier to tackle those tough days consistently when you know you can follow them up with an easier routine.
2. Buy some cute clothes
Don’t underestimate the power of gym clothes. When I was 11, and first debating whether to sign up for basketball, one of the items I placed on my “pros” list was, “expensive shoes.” I went on to play the sport, and continued playing for many years. The 11-year-old me understood something powerful — sometimes, the clothes make the girl.
If you’re having a hard time sticking with your program, give yourself some leeway to buy a few great pieces of workout wear, or a pair of bright running shoes, then only let yourself wear them when you’re exercising. Lacey Stone, a celebrity fitness trainer who has worked with Jessica Alba, Amanda Seyfried and Kelly Osbourne concurs, “Buy some fresh new kicks or a new ensemble. That way when you go to the gym, you will want to move.”
3. Celebrate small accomplishments
Did you make it to the gym three days this week? If so, pat yourself on the back. It’s important to acknowledge and celebrate the small accomplishments. Betty Herberger, Corporate Trainer for The Biggest Loser Resort says, “If you don’t have the little accomplishments, you won’t have the big ones. Set a goal for yourself each day, and once you do it, celebrate it.”
4. Seek out accountability
Ultimately, you’re the one who is responsible for the choices you make, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have help along the way. Jenn Seracuse, Director of FLEX Pilates at FLEX Studios NYC emphasizes the importance of accountability: “I’m a huge fan of accountability as a motivational tool. If you let someone know your workout plan, you’re much more likely to follow through.”
And you can take it a step further by engaging your family and friends in your goals. Seracuse gives the example, “Create a challenge among friends to work out at least five times a week for a month, and text each other your workouts. This keeps momentum up and also helps create a support system to keep you on track.”
5. Stay consistent
Consistency may not sound like much of a “secret,” but it’s ultimately the key to success, and one of the hardest tricks to master. The thing about consistency is that even if it sounds boring on paper, it pays off in fast results. And as John Rowley, a trainer, best selling author and ISSA Director of Wellness points out, “Fast results are powerful because they build momentum and motivation. When you’re consistent, you start to see measurable results, which in turn make you more motivated. Consistency plus results equals lifelong success.”
Schedule your workouts and treat them as an unbreakable appointment, aiming for at least four workouts a week for four weeks. You can do anything for four weeks if you set your mind to it, and you’ll be amazed at the results you see. And as Rowley says, those results will lead to greater motivation.
6. Empower yourself
The mind is a powerful thing. If you can internalize a few phrases to keep yourself going, you’ll be amazed at what you can achieve. For instance, Rhonda See, trainer and owner of two Sky Zone indoor trampoline parks in New York suggests the phrase, “I am responsible.” This phrase “creates a sense of control, making persistence the result.”
7. Know your time triggers
Vince Han, CEO and founder of mobile health company Coach Alba, has an interesting perspective when it comes to self-control. “Most people can identify specific times of day when their best intentions will fail. For instance, late at night when craving a snack, during lunch with friends or right after work when they don’t feel like exercising.” Han terms these times “make or break moments.” By coming up with mini-plans to overcome these tough triggers, you’ll be able to stay on track.
8. Follow a sustainable workout
If you don’t want to be the next American Ninja Warrior, you don’t have to train like one. Understand that crazy workouts aren’t sustainable, so there’s no need to jump on every fitness bandwagon or attempt wild workouts, especially if you don’t like them.
Jerry Greenspan, a fitness and dynamics expert with an M.S. in Mechanics of Human Movement says, “I remind myself that the only reason to train like a Navy Seal is because I am a Navy Seal. Otherwise, I just need to complete a reasonable workout that keeps my body toned and healthy. I like myself too much to subject myself to an ‘insane’ workout. As Mr. Miyagi said in the original Karate Kid, ‘Balance — key to life, key to karate.'”
9. Set attainable goals
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to lose 100 pounds or wanting to compete in a bikini competition — those are great goals. But they’re big goals. And if you don’t break them down into more attainable pieces, you’re likely to find yourself dejected and disappointed.
“My secret to motivation is that success begets success,” says Lisa Druxman, founder of FIT4MOM. “Most people set the bar too high and then feel like a failure when they miss the mark. Instead, set very small goals that you are sure to achieve. They will build up into a grand result.”
10. Find the right instructor
Not every exercise instructor is a high-quality instructor, and even some of the best instructors might not gel with your personality or goals. Give yourself time to check out different instructors and different forms of exercise before committing to one. Tracy Carlinsky, a celebrity trainer from Brooklyn Body Burn, suggests that you “Find an instructor who is going to continually challenge you during every class. We’re all driven by different personality types, so find someone that speaks to you and your needs.”
11. Get plugged into an online group
If you’re not ready to head to the gym, and you feel nervous about sharing your goals with your family or friends, the internet is a beautiful thing. There are lots of online groups and social media hashtags that can help inspire you and keep you motivated. Kayla Itsines, personal trainer and founder of The Bikini Body Training Company, says, “Joining a group online, as well as following motivational fitness accounts on social media, allows for some anonymity. The more you surround yourself with images of a healthy lifestyle, discuss topics with others and absorb new information, the easier it is to change your own lifestyle.”
12. Take progress pics
Itsines also points out that taking progress pics is a great way to see the changes you’re experiencing, internalizing and confirming your success. “Once you find your emotional motivation, take progress photos. These should be taken at the same time, on the same day, every week or month, with the same clothing to ensure consistency. Comparing these photos over time shows you the small changes that occur every day, that are often difficult to spot.
13. Make it fun and rewarding
Working out doesn’t have to be a slog. If you hate running, don’t run. If you hate going to the gym, don’t go to the gym. Seek out fitness opportunities that you legitimately enjoy, or keep trying new opportunities until you find one that resonates with you. And before you enlist a trainer or group exercise leader, make sure she understands the importance of fun, much like Robbie Darby of Rad Live Fitness. “My favorite workout motivation is ‘make it fun and get it done.’ I encourage dance parties between sets of squats and lunges, and I always set up a trail of rewards for myself. For instance, if I stick to my training plan each week, I treat myself to a pedi or new lipstick.”
14. Create a manifestation journal
Writing out your goals, dreaming about your future, and cataloging your progress can be a powerful tool. Alyson Charles, fitness and wellness coach and host of ‘The Juice’ on Veria Living TV network suggests that you “Take an empty journal and fill it with images, quotes and affirmations that will guide and support you on your journey. The process of creating the journal will make it very clear what you want to accomplish and how that looks and feels.”
After creating your journal, keep it close to you at all times and flip through it regularly. This helps solidify the goals and keeps you focused on what you want to achieve.
15. Just freakin’ do it
Seriously, just freakin’ do it. Don’t give yourself the time to think about it or excuse yourself from your routine. Michelle Bridges, fitness and health expert and creator of 12 Week Body Transformation makes this her mantra with her clients. “I encourage my clients to channel ‘JFD!’ when they are feeling unmotivated, busy or tired. As I always say, motivation is like a bad boyfriend — never there when you need it. Instead of waiting around for motivation to hit, focus on commitment, routine and persistence.”