3 Expert-Backed Ways to Boost Workout Motivation

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3 Expert-Backed Ways to Boost Workout Motivation
Legs wearing pajama pants and feet wearing house slippers are dangling over the arm of a couch

Does the thought of working out make you want to curl up in a ball and hibernate? You’re not alone. With extra work stress, lack of time, and 0% motivation, many people find it hard to squeeze in exercise. 

Even the word exercise can give off a negative connotation because it implies effort, but we have good news. Exercise can bring you joy. 

It's all about finding what works for your body and mind. Maybe you have an existing injury, or strenuous classes make you irritable. Not everyone has the knees to do high-impact bouncing, and that’s OK. That’s why personal trainers create modifications. 

Aside from impact, motivating yourself to work out can be the hardest part of exercise. But don’t worry; we asked experts and combed the research to find the top three motivators for working out. We provide prompts plus extra tips to help you find the inspiration to make exercise a regular habit.

The Top Three Motivators for Exercise

We spoke with two experts in sport psychology and kinesiology to uncover the top three motivators for exercise.

1. Find Your Why & Revisit It Often

Research shows that your motives influence your participation in physical activity. When you first think of your why, ask why again, and maybe once more for good measure. This can help you dig even further into your primary motivation. 

At first, you may want to look better and, after you consider it more, you may also want to gain more energy, and so on. Maybe your why looks like avoiding chronic disease or being more active with your kids. When things get challenging or your motivation dips, revisit your why. 

Try to keep your why present on a sticky note or somewhere you’ll see it often, says Shira Oretzky, Ph.D., CMPC, sport and performance psychologist. There is no why too small, but if you don’t feel motivated by your statement, continue to look deeper.

2. Make it Fun & Seek Support

Social support can make sure you make exercise a habit, says Oretzky, keep you accountable, and make it more fun. Maybe a friend of yours has a similar health goal and you can meet at the same time each day. Need some extra support? A Kickoff trainer can keep you accountable and motivated. Win-win. Strive to make workouts pleasant. Try a beach walk or head into nature for the added mental health benefits. Make it amusing, and you’ll have a much better chance to return, says Oretzky. A lack of enjoyment significantly decreases motivation to exercise.

3. Set a Time to Celebrate Non-Scale Victories 

Non-scale victories can be a critical motivator to staying the course.

It’s essential to set aside time to celebrate the small wins along the way. “A scale does not dictate all aspects of health,” says Associate Professor of Kinesiology Hannah Bennett, Ph.D. Think about all the other benefits that are happening. How do your clothes feel? How are you feeling mentally? Are you more confident? Less stressed? It all counts toward your success. Non-scale victories are like rewards for working out, and rewarding yourself can increase exercise motivation as well. When you reap the benefits from exercise beyond the scale, like feeling better, extended energy, less stress, and more, you’re more likely to keep the routine. You may notice more physical improvements, like feeling less sore than you used to or performing more reps, which can build your confidence, increase strength, and keep you motivated.

Now that you’ve mastered the top three motivators for exercise, you’re ready to go. But what if you do all these things and are still not up for it? There may be other factors at play. It’s essential to make sure you’re feeling ready physically.

Do You Need a Break Instead?

How do you know if you lack motivation or if it's time to dial it back? There are a few ways to determine whether it's time to take action or give yourself a break, both being crucial for exercise sustainability. 

Taking a break from exercise can mean you may need to skip the intense workouts for a few days and switch to gentle walking or stretching, or you may need to work on your emotional health to figure out what feels good for your body.

Take a break if you experience: 

  • Fatigue or physical exhaustion. This can also mean emotional fatigue.

  • A severe lack of focus. “When participating in an exercise, if you find your mind is not focused, it’s time to take a break," says Bennett. 

  • Soreness that doesn't improve with time. If you’re sore from an intense workout from several weeks back, it may indicate an injury. But, soreness within a week after workouts can be normal, especially if you’re new to exercise. Maybe these days call for gentle exercise. To speed muscle recovery, try a foam roller, massage, heat wrap, and gentle movement. Monitor and check in with your body to make sure you feel rested for the next day.

  • Boredom or lack of motivation: Dive into the top three motivators, and remember to tap into joy.

Are you motivated to exercise? Amazing. If not, don't sweat it. You’re on your way to finding what works for you. 

How Often Do You Need to Exercise?

It can be easy to get into an exercise rut, but you may be able to get the recommended amount easier than you think. Experts say you should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, including two days of strength training. That may seem high, but if you break that down each day or even a few days, it can appear easier on the eyes. 

For example, if you walk for 22 minutes each day, you’ll exceed 150 minutes of exercise by a few minutes. After you decide when to add strength exercise, you’re in good shape. Start from where you are, even if it's 10 minutes a day three times a week. Every little win counts toward your health goals.

Ponder These Prompts to Tap Into Extra Motivation 

“Just do it” doesn’t always work when your head’s not in the game. 

Whether you think about these questions or write your answers in a journal, do what feels best. Research suggests you can convert intentions into action with the right plan. Here are some thought starters to help you hone in on that action plan.

  • When you think of exercise, what comes to mind first? Why?

  • What did you enjoy doing as a child for movement?

  • What time of day makes the most sense to exercise?

  • How can you recreate an activity you enjoyed in the past to fit your lifestyle now?

  • Who can help support you with your exercise routine? Hint hint: Exercise buddies and online personal trainers make excellent accountability partners who help you stay consistent and motivated.

  • What can you do to give yourself an extra nudge? Some examples: 

    • Pay up: Invest in a membership, online personal trainer, class, or at-home gym equipment. Bet a friend that you can reach your fitness goal by a certain calendar date or you owe them money. 

    • Just get there: Don’t overthink; just get dressed and drive to the gym. Or, sleep in your workout clothes so you can head out for a run first thing in the morning. Ask your Kickoff personal trainer to text you at 6am to remind you what today’s workout is and that you can do it! Walk to the kitchen and do two sets of 20 bodyweight squats while you wait for the coffee to brew. Take those small steps until you’re at the point of exercise, says Bennett.

    • Avoid comparisons: “Don’t compare your chapter 1 to someone else’s chapter, because you’re not even writing in the same book,” says Bennett.

When you're ready to step out of the house for a walk or move into the garage for circuit training, congratulate yourself.

Remember that finding your primary motivation should be unique to you and your goals. With these tools and tricks, you’ll be on your way to honoring your body. Listen to what feels suitable for your body on any given day, trust the process, and be patient with yourself.