I don’t know who needs to hear this, but we’re human beings. We don’t get energy from an iPhone charger or AAA batteries like the Energizer Bunny, and therefore, we naturally ebb and flow. That goes for moods, motivations, and workout routines. We’ll have periods where we’re more active and periods where we’re less active (yes, that includes when walking to the fridge and back to the couch is the only activity we’ll do in a day). Maybe you got injured and had to cool down the workouts for a while, maybe you got so busy you had difficulty finding time, or maybe there was a freaking global pandemic that removed every sense of normalcy and stripped you of the workout routine you were used to.
If you’re in one of the ebbs (or the flows? IDK), don’t panic. First of all, know that you’re not lazy. You’re just in one of the less active periods where other things have become more important than exercise (and yes, that includes finishing season one of Tiger King). But movement is crucial for physical and mental health, and can help you feel like your happiest and best self; the times when you feel busy, stressed, or anxious are when you need it the most. Even if you’ve totally given up on a workout routine, there are many ways to find the motivation to start again (and keep it up!). Here are 10 of them:
1. Change your motivation
When you work out solely because of the way it will make you look, you’re more likely to feel discouraged. You might feel shame and guilt for being “out of shape,” or you don’t see results quickly enough and give up out of disappointment. Nothing is less motivating than thinking you’re not good enough as already you are. Exercise establishes a connection between your mind and body, helps you feel stronger, makes you love your body for what it can do (instead of the way it looks), and can have powerful effects on mental health.
Too often, we focus on common motivators like weight loss or because we know we’re “supposed to” as reasons to work out. But you won’t truly be motivated to keep up a routine unless you have what I call a “why reason.” Sure, you want to lose weight or be healthier, but why? Do you want to feel more confident and connected to your body? Do you want to feel like you’re doing everything you can to be your healthiest? Do you want to live a long and healthy life for your children or your spouse? Do you feel happier and less stressed after a workout? Now those are reasons that will motivate you to exercise even on days where you’re tired, unexcited, and just don’t feel like it.
2. Take your time getting back into it
Not only could going from laying on the couch all day to three-mile sprints twice a day be harmful, but it won’t be sustainable. When you do get back into the gym (or the yoga mat on your living room floor), remember that the goal is to make the body healthier, not strain it or overwork it. You’ll most likely feel discouraged forcing your body to do workouts that it’s just not ready for, so remember that you don’t need to be painfully sore or out of breath to make a workout count. Start by going on more walks, lifting light weights, and doing short workouts that feel less overwhelming and difficult. You’ll be more likely to fit in exercise and keep up with a workout routine when it feels manageable and doable. Don’t start where you were or where you want to be; start from where you are right now.
3. Make small changes in your routine
One of the most common reasons we give up on workout routines is because we don’t see ourselves as the kind of person who keeps up with a workout routine. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy: if you don’t see yourself as someone who prioritizes health and exercise, you never will prioritize health and exercise. Boost your overall confidence and change the way you see yourself by making small changes like keeping a full water bottle with you at all times to increase hydration, ordering a side salad with your takeout, or always taking the stairs. Making a bunch of small habits can help you stay motivated to keep up with your fitness goals or workout schedule because it boosts the confidence you have in yourself.
4. …But don’t change everything at once
When getting back into a fitness routine, you may be tempted to overhaul your diet too. Even if a total health makeover comes from the best intentions, focusing on too many changes at once can be overwhelming. Instead, try focusing on one thing. If your #1 goal is to get back into a fitness routine, then fit in some movement every single day. Don’t try to totally change your diet or wake up two hours earlier for an extensive morning routine. Once your fitness routine becomes more habitual, you can use it as motivation to make other changes in your routine. Start with one focus and let it snowball into others, rather than trying to change everything at once.
5. Set a schedule
Yes, it’s important to create a schedule, but it’s even more important to be realistic about it. Don’t set your alarm for 5:30am to fit in that workout if you typically wake up five minutes before your workday starts, and don’t add in a 60-minute block every day if you know you’re busy from the minute you wake up until the minute you go to bed. Instead of feeling disappointed by an unrealistic schedule that you won’t keep, start small. Add in time slots here and there as quick work breaks or as a part of your morning and evening routine. Once you find the schedule that works best for your lifestyle, add it to your calendar and honor that schedule like you would any work meeting or appointment.
6. Try something new
There’s a reason you didn’t keep up with a workout routine before. Sure, it might be because times are weird, and Selling Sunset was so good you had to binge it all at once, or it might be because whatever you were trying before just wasn’t working. Therefore, don’t go back to the same type of workout or the same schedule you’ve tried before. If you dread running or weight-lifting, then don’t do it: try a Zumba class on Youtube, sign up for a boxing app, or go on a walk while listening to a podcast. Also, try experimenting with working out at different times. Maybe you’ve realized you like to have peaceful, slow mornings, so you should schedule workouts after work, or that multiple 15-minute workouts throughout the day are better for you than a 60-minute session.
7. Redefine what exercise means
If you’re like me and depended on trendy studios, ill-lit rooms, and fancy lavender cloths to get you to work out, the stay-at-home order likely caused a big shift in your fitness routine. But here’s the reality: you don’t need a gym, a motivating instructor, or an hour every day to get a good workout. Instead, fit more movement into your average day to make a huge impact. If you stopped exercising at all because going on a two-mile run or 45-minutes of HIIT was never happening for you, you might be defining exercise the wrong way. Instead, think about how you can do a quick yoga flow in the morning, go on a walk at lunch, and jump rope after work. Think of exercise as living less sedentary, rather than a specific time or way to get your body moving.
8. Create competition with yourself
Being competitive might not always be a positive trait when it comes to sibling rivalry or a romantic relationship (anyone else guilty of keeping score when it comes to chores?), but you can use it to your advantage when it comes to a motivating fitness routine. Studios like Orange Theory and Cyclebar have dedicated their classes to exactly this concept: seeing your numbers on a screen will push you harder, whether it’s in competition with the other class-goers’ stats or just trying to beat your personal best.
Luckily for 2020, you don’t need to go into a trendy fitness studio to reap the benefits of your competitive edge. Every day, challenge yourself to add in an extra rep, run or walk an extra half mile, or exercise for five minutes longer. You can also challenge yourself to hit a milestone by a specified time; people who train for marathons are more likely to stay motivated when the marathon is already on the calendar.
9. Invest in your workout routine
Sure, sometimes motivation comes from loving ourselves enough to do what’s best for our bodies, and sometimes motivation comes in the form of a super cute matching leggings and sports bra set. People are more likely to keep up with whatever they put money into, so try investing in an online subscription, a new pair of leggings, or a pretty yoga mat or pair of dumbbells (it’s like the at-home equivalent to that $20 cancellation fee at your local spin studio). Personal trainers are effective for more reasons that just one-on-one expertise: putting money into someone that will hold you accountable means you’re less likely to slack off. There’s nothing more worthy of your time and money than your most energetic, happiest, healthiest self, so start prioritizing it.
10. Focus on holistic exercise rather than calorie burn
By now, you know you need a reason to work out that’s more motivating than burning calories (and if you don’t, see #1). But beyond motivation, you need to focus on more than intensity to keep up a sustainable routine. Keep in mind cool down, recovery, stretching, and enjoyment. Yes, you can revive a workout routine you’ve had zero motivation to keep up with by prioritizing everything else besides the physical “workout.” Incorporate stretching, foam rolling, and walking more often into your daily routine. Not only will it keep your body healthier and avoid injuries when you are working out, but you’ll be reminded that keeping your body in peak health is so much more than cardio or weight-training.