Fitness Tips: How To Stay Motivated
Finding motivation to work out can be difficult - whether you're trying to muster up the inspiration to get in today's workout, or if you're trying to convince yourself to start working out in general - it can be a daunting task, and you can definitely become discouraged easily.
I was in the same boat for many years. I had a hard time getting motivated, and a hard time staying motivated. But I've been able to turn the tables and turn my routine into a habit that involves minimal motivation from within - it just comes as second nature!
Below I've listed a few things that I find help to keep me motivated.
Getting Motivated / Preparations
1. Set Goals
Setting goals is an important part of having a successful workout routine - without goals, we don't challenge ourselves, and we hit plateaus.
It's important to start with simple goals, and then expand those into more complex or long-term goals. Remember, your goals need to be realistic and achievable - telling yourself to lose 50lbs in one month is absolutely not a realistic goal. It's easy to get frustrated and give up when your goals are unrealistic - by setting unrealistic goals, you're only failing yourself right from the start.
More importantly, try to set goals that aren't attached to your weight or size - set a goal to lift a little heavier, to do more reps, to do a harder workout, or a longer workout, to walk more often, to go swimming once a week. These are short-term goals - a long-term goal might be to prepare for a marathon (but remember, to be realistic, the marathon would need to be far enough away to give you ample time to train and prepare), or to enter a competition.
A SMART goal is an effective goal - keep your goals Specific, make sure they're Measurable, ensure that you can take Action, that they're Realistic, and set a Timeline. Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible - Tony Robbins.
2. Put It On Paper
It's not enough to set goals, you need to have something tangible to reflect on. Whether your goal is to lose weight or boost your energy, write it down. Better yet, keep an exercise journal with your goals outlined at the beginning, and then keep track each day of what you're doing to work toward those goals. Record what you did during each session, how long you exercised, what you ate before/after, and how you felt. Recording your efforts and tracking your progress can help you work toward your goals, and remind you that you're making progress.
3. Make A Schedule
If you're like me, you thrive in a structured environment. If not, it's still a good idea to have a scheduled workout plan to help keep you on track, especially during the early stages while you're still trying to form a habit. Nothing kills motivation faster than not knowing what you're going to do each day.
Whether you choose a detailed schedule that breaks down each exercise you plan to do each day, if it's broken down by target areas (leg day, arm day, etc), or if you just scope out some helpful YouTube videos (like these ones) to help get you started. It's only important that you have a plan - what's included in the plan is entirely up to you.
For most healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity. This is a baseline, mind you. To give you some perspective, when I first started working out I was doing hour-long workouts 3-4x a week. Now my workouts are about an hour long, 6x a week.
Making a schedule also encompasses knowing when in the day you'll do your workout. Don't just wake up each day and say "I've got to work out today", plan to work out at a certain time, in a way that fits your schedule.
If you can, I would recommend waking up a few hours earlier in the morning and getting your workout done before you start your day. If you plan to work out in the evenings (which is fine!), keep in mind that it might be harder to stay motivated on those unexpectedly long days, on those stressful work days, on those days when you're tired and just want to go home. Working out in the morning sets the tone for your entire day, and after a few sessions you'll start really looking forward to them.
4. Sign A Contract
This may sound a little hokey, but hear me out. Research shows that we're more likely to follow through with commitments when we make them in front of others (friends, family) for accountability. If I say I’m going to make a commitment to do something for a certain amount of time, and if I don't follow through, then the consequences are that my friends and family will know I didn't stick to my word.
Once you write out a commitment to yourself, sign it, and keep it posted where you'll always see it when you maybe need the most encouragement (in the bathroom, by the mirror, by your bed, by the treadmill). That way you're holding yourself accountable, too.
5. Find A Workout Buddy
Whether you're working out from home, or going to the gym, you can still have a workout buddy. Ask a friend to help keep you motivated, and in turn you can help motivate them. Join an online group if you don't know anyone who is interested. Even words of encouragement, or hearing from your workout buddy that they've done their workout can be enough to motivate you.
If that alone isn't enough motivation, make a pact together: each one of you can create and decorate your own fun "I'm Lazy" jar. Whenever either one bails on a scheduled workout, they have to put $5 in the jar. After four missed workouts, you have to buy your workout buddy a gift! While it's nice to give gifts, this might help keep you motivated to do your workouts - otherwise things could get pricey! Plus, it might encourage your buddy to keep tabs on your workouts better, too!
6. Make It Fun
By nature, humans need change and variety to stay motivated. We also need to have fun — even while we’re working hard. Do both!
One of my biggest hurdles was thinking that working out had to be boring, or that it had to feel like a chore - I thought I *had* to go running, or that I *had* to buy expensive workout videos - but I couldn't have been more wrong. I think the real key to making sustainable lifestyle changes especially in fitness, is to do what you enjoy. There are workouts for everyone - so don't worry if you didn't enjoy your workout, next time you can try something different!
Don't like running? Try HIIT. Don't like HIIT? Try weights. Don't like weights? Try joining a team. Don't like sports? Take a dance class! Go kick-boxing, go to karate, go swimming - just find something that you enjoy, and don't be afraid to try something new! It's important to change it up, but your options are almost endless! Even switching your workout from indoor to outdoor (drag those exercise mats on your deck) can completely change the workout and how you feel.
7. Eat Something
If you're doing morning workouts, it's hard to find the motivation, let alone the energy, to do a workout on an empty stomach. Your body just woke up from sleeping, your muscles are stiff, and now your tummy is rumbling.
My go-to pre-workout snack is usually a banana, but any simple carbohydrate will do because they are digested fast and provide quick energy. Granola bars, fruit, crackers, toast, etc. Protein doesn’t break down fast enough to become fuel for a workout (it is used later to prevent muscle damage), so ensure your snack contains carbs, and worry about the protein for your post-workout meal.
Be sure to avoid fatty foods before working out—fat makes you feel full and sluggish and could cause you to cramp up easily. Although carbohydrates are good, you should not get them from raw sugar or candy. Either of those foods will cause a sugar rush—and probably a crash—while you’re mid-workout. Also, don’t overeat before you workout. These are all snack suggestions, not meals. Eating too much can cause indigestion, sluggishness, nausea and vomiting.
Even though you may be tempted to skip the calories, don't. Not eating before a workout can result in low blood sugar, which leads to light-headedness and fatigue. If I don’t eat a snack before my workout, everything feels harder, I run out of energy faster, and I don't feel as good afterward. If you fuel correctly, you’ll work out harder, and your workout will feel much easier.
A small caffeine jolt before the gym may also enhance your exercise results, so you don't have to feel bad if your morning pre-workout is accompanied by a coffee or tea. In an International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism study, trained athletes who took in caffeine pre-exercise burned about 15% more calories for three hours post-exercise, compared to those who ingested a placebo. If you're not much of a coffee drinker but still want a quick caffeine fix, try matcha, a powdered form of green tea.
8. Dress The Part
You know that feeling you get when you buy a new clothing item and you can't wait to wear it, and you're instantly in a better mood because you're looking all cute and such? The same applies to workout clothes, too!
When you're first starting out you might want to stick to some old sweats and a falling-apart sports bra *just in case* you don't stick to your routine, but they can get old fast - and plus, you want your workout gear to be cute and functional, so sometimes we need to bite the bullet and just buy an outfit or two that will make us comfortable during our routine. I know I'm always excited to work out when I have cute active-wear!
If you're short on cash, that's okay, too! You don't need to spend a lot of money to feel good. Trust me, you don't need Lululemons and shiny new Nikes to work out. Winners has affordable active-wear, Wal-Mart has super cute active-wear, and so does Old Navy! There's even a section of active-wear at the Salvation Army!
Every evening I follow the same bed-time routine; I set out my work clothes, I make my lunch for the day, I fill up my shaker with my BCAAs, and I set out my workout clothes. When you wake up, everything will be ready to go and you won't waste valuable time fumbling around in the dark trying not to wake anyone else up in an attempt to find your shorts. Being as prepared as you can will help keep you accountable, and sometimes these simple barriers are all it takes to lose motivation.
10. Do It To Music
If you're following a workout video and learning proper form, it might be wise to keep the music off, or at least keep it at a low volume. Otherwise, it can be pretty difficult to get through a strenuous workout in silence. Not to mention, playing music that gets you fired up will definitely help keep you motivated!
Create a high-energy playlist of all your favourite pump-up songs on Spotify. Even make a couple so you can change it up regularly!
11. Have a Yummy Post-Workout Meal
It's important to give your body the fuel it needs to recover after a workout, especially if your routine involves weights. That doesn't mean you need to eat a bowl of oatmeal or something equally as bland. My post-workout meal is always a protein shake, because protein is important for muscle recovery. But I always mix it up a little with different flavoured protein powders and different fruits in the smoothie. Even the protein powder itself mixed with water is yummy! I actually crave it, and look forward to it every morning - this is my reward (even though I would probably have one, even if I didn't work out, but shh!).
I use a base of 1 cup soy milk and 1 cup water, a couple handfuls of greens (alternate kale and spinach), 1 tablespoon of chia seeds, 1 tablespoon of ground flax seeds, 1-2 cups of fresh or frozen fruit (banana, avocado, blueberries, peaches, strawberries, cherries, blackberries, depending on what flavour combination I am going for), and my protein powder! They've got all kinds of amazing flavours out there, from plain Jane vanilla to cake batter and cookies and cream! Yum!
12. Reward Yourself
While we all have goals in mind (better health, weight loss) when starting a workout routine, the simple truth is that isn't always enough to keep us motivated because we lose sight of our goals if we don't take the proper steps. Instead, some people might benefit by making the benefits of working out more tangible. No, I don't mean smashing donuts after your workout as a reward. You could treat yourself to a smoothie or an episode of your favourite show! Make sure your reward is a part of your routine.
By doing this, we are creating a neurological "habit loop" which involves a cue to trigger the behaviour (setting out your workout gear), the routine (going through with the workout), and then the reward. This extrinsic reward is powerful, as your brain is able to latch onto it and make the connection between the behaviour and the reward. This will help make the routine into a habit. Eventually, the motivation becomes intrinsic and the brain begins to see that the workout itself is the reward.
13. Focus On The Feel-Good Feelings
Anyone who has ever done a good workout knows that you can be tired and mopey and not wanting to do anything at the beginning, but afterward you feel on top of the world. After my workout I am always uncannily peppy and energetic, not to mention I feel as though I get through my entire day better. I'm less irritable, I'm more positive, I don't feel so tired at the end of the day, etc. These feelings are rewards in and of themselves, but sometimes it takes us a while to get there. Even if I've done a killer workout and my legs are all rubbery and I can barely lift my arms, by the time I make it to the shower I'm already feeling the positive effects of the workout.
Try to focus on those feelings, the way you feel after a workout. Think of how you're feeling when you feel lazy - probably pretty lousy. Wouldn't you want to feel better? And doesn't working out make you feel better?
Sometimes, though, these feel-good fantasies are only effective when accompanied by more realistic problem-solving methods. After you've identified your desire (to work out) and visualized the outcome (feeling better), you then have to identify what it is that's holding you back (called mental contrasting). Once you've done this, you'll be able to figure out what you can do to overcome it and make a plan. For example, if you're too tired to workout after work, identify why that is (stressful job), and make a plan (switch to a morning workout, or do your workout on your lunch). If you're not enjoying your workout and you're not looking forward to it, why is this? Is it too hard? Adjust the intensity. Is it too long? Adjust the duration? Is it the type of workout? Try something else!
14. Be Active Every Day
This doesn't mean you need to start working out every day - especially if you're going from a largely sedentary lifestyle, you might need to make smaller, incremental changes. Have your scheduled workout days, but on your rest days you should still be active (a walk, yoga). This could also mean parking at the back of the parking lot and walking, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, take a walk on your break at work, use a treadmill or stationary bike while you watch TV. The fewer sedentary days we have, the less those days will feel like "rest" and the easier it will be to get back into your workout.
15. Be Patient
One thing I learned when I started working out was that patience is very, very important. It is easy to get discouraged when you've been working out for a few weeks regularly but haven't lost any weight or can't see a difference. This isn't a way to placate yourself into not pushing harder and challenging yourself - it's simply the acknowledgment that seeing changes in your body takes time. For everyone, this amount of time can be different - results one person sees in 6 weeks might be the results you see in 3 months, or 6 months. Adjust your expectations, be realistic with the results you want to see, and don't be sucked in by the promises of dropping a bunch of weight in a few short weeks. These things take time, and that's OK! It's not a race, it's a lifestyle change.
16. Take Photos
Some people strongly discourage people to take progress photos, especially those with body image issues or eating disorders. Speaking as someone who has battled with both, I can say that progress photos are sometimes my biggest motivation.
Take your starting photos, give it a few weeks or months, and take another set of photos. You'll be surprised at the difference you'll see if you've kept up with your routine.
Sometimes we don't see the progress in the mirror, but when comparing side-by-side photos, we do - this helps keep me motivated because it shows me how far I've come, and that means it's possible to make even more progress. On days where I look in the mirror and feel like I am regressing, I use my progress photos to remind me what a badass I am.
17. Have a Backup Plan
Sometimes life gets away from us, and even though we are motivated and have every intention of doing our scheduled workout, it just doesn't happen. That's why it's important to have a Plan B. If your scheduled workouts are at the gym, have an exercise mat and some weights or a resistance band at home to get in a quick workout if something comes up and you can't make it to the gym. And don't be afraid to improvise - if you can't get in your full workout, do half, do some, do something! It's better than missing out altogether.
18. Be Flexible
We can plan and schedule and prepare and do everything right, but if your body is telling you no - and I mean your BODY, not your lazy brain - then listen. Be gentle with yourself if you need a break. Sometimes my workouts result in intense delayed onset muscle soreness, and I end up having to jumble my schedule around to allow the sore parts of my body to adequately rest. That's the way it goes, and being prepared for this will help keep you motivated to stay on track.
Leg day but your legs still hurt from last time? Work on arms. Your whole body is sore? Do some stretches, grab a book and call it a day, but get ready to get back into it the next day!
19. Do It For You
Yeah, hitting the workouts extra hard to show your ex just what they're missing when you flaunt your fine self might be great motivation at first, and working out to compete with others might give your workouts that added burst of intensity, but the excitement wears off, I promise you. Instead, do it for you.
Whether you're doing it to be healthy, or you're doing it to look good - it doesn't matter, just make sure it's for you, for you to feel good and not for others to feel bad or inferior.
Do it so you can walk tall in that swimsuit you swore you'd never wear. Do it so you can still be active well into your old age. Do it so you can feel better about yourself, inside and out.
Last but certainly not least, take your rest days. If you're doing weighted exercises, you'll need 2-3 days of recovery before working those same muscles again. Even if you're doing HIIT or full-body workouts, still take your rest days.
I take an active rest day every Sunday, but when I first started, I was resting at least 3 days a week.
We sometimes get so consumed with trying to get fit that we think a rest day is a wasted day. But we need to train ourselves to see that resting is just as important as working out because it's an equal part of the total process required to build strength, endurance, and muscle. Working out, especially resistance training, breaks your body tissues down. Rest days allow your muscles, nerves, bones, and connective tissue time to rebuild. If we skip rest days, we won't see the results we want, and worse, we risk injury. Nothing quite like an injury to put a damper on all the hard work you've put in! So take your darn rest days.
Remember, physical activity is for life. Review these tips whenever you feel your motivation slipping.