Have you decided to give your living room a run for its money instead of the gym? If you’re like me, my clients, and so many others, it may be hard to stay motivated to exercise at home, using your oh-so-sacred space for aerobics.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, people started working out more at home due to restrictions and lockdowns (albeit brief in some parts of the world). Post-pandemic, work-from-home or hybrid schedules are still more common than before. Pandemic or not, working out at home can be a convenient, inexpensive way to build fitness and improve your health.
With the abundance of YouTube videos, live-stream workouts, and much more, what could go wrong? Truthfully, a whole lot if you don’t make a plan. As a health coach for the last five years, I’ve worked with many clients who have come to me for help after trying to do it all on their own — and not meeting their goals. I’ve also gathered some top expert tips about what's worked for personal trainers who help their clients train at home.
How to Get Started
“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.”
—Jim Ryun, first high-schooler to run under 4 minutes for the mile
Ninety-nine percent of the time, getting started is the hardest part. But, you have a much greater chance of continuing after you start, says certified personal trainer (CPT) Leigha Verbeem.
Two of the most common barriers to starting a workout routine include: time and not knowing what to do. Let’s tackle those issues head-on with the following get-started strategies.
Here are some ideas for how to work exercise into your existing routine:
If you work from home, use “commute-to-work” time to exercise. You can start with a 10-minute brisk walk around the block in the morning, then another 10-minute brisk walk in the evening at the end of the work day.
If you work onsite, consider an active commute. If your office is located a few miles from home, consider biking, jogging, or walking to work a few times a week. If your office doesn’t have showers, you could walk or run home.
Stay active on weekends by doing chores, walking to and from as many errands as you can, and planning activities where you can move more — ideally outside. Try hiking, pickleball or tennis with friends, kicking a soccer ball around with the kids, playing basketball, or volunteering at your local community garden.
If you have younger kids who need to be driven to activities, take the time when your child is doing their supervised activity to exercise. Power-walk, run, cycle, roller skate… whatever you can do straight from the car works.
There are so many ways to squeeze in more movement during the day. Take an extra-brisk walk to the mailbox, do squats or planks or push-ups while you drink your morning coffee, walk on a treadmill standing desk while working, rake leaves or pull weeds in the yard.
The not-knowing-what-to-do issue goes hand-in-hand with the time problem, but there’s an easy solve for that when you want to work out at home. Turn to the internet!
Pick a 10-minute video on Youtube. This way, you don’t have to think about what exercises to do in what order and how much rest — the video includes all of that. Just follow along and don’t overthink it, suggests Verbeem.
Create a 15-minute playlist, pop in your earbuds, put on your trainers, and head outside. Walk, jog, or do a run/walk in one direction until you’re halfway done with the playlist, then turn around and head back. See if you can make it back home before the last song on your playlist ends.
Hire an online personal trainer to write a program for you. “There’s no guesswork when an expert gives you a program that’s tailored to you. You just need to follow through,” says Verbeem.
Gamify your workouts. Try VR fitness, WII, or Oculus games for cardio. The simulated environments can make working out a home feel less lonely and more entertaining.
How to Keep Going
Now that you have some ideas to get you moving, you need a weekly plan. Spontaneous movement is encouraged every day, but structured exercise time where you block off your calendar and focus on “me time” will get you into a fitness routine.
Choose three days a week, ideally at the same time each of those days, and start small, says certified personal trainer Cristoff Morissette. There’s no harm in starting with 20 minutes because we all need to start somewhere. Think of the priority as creating the routine first no matter how small, then the rest will follow.
Cameron Linden, RDN, EP-C, and director of operations for Kickoff, suggested that one of her clients start with one mini workout (15 squats, 15 push-ups) every time after they go to the bathroom. This technique, called habit stacking, associates one thing we do automatically (going to the bathroom) with a new behavior we want to do more often. This simple strategy makes exercise more achievable because it’s integrated into the person’s day. As Linden’s client got comfortable with the squats and push-ups, she moved him on to a more structured workout of 15 minutes, then 20 minutes, 40, 45, etc. Now, he’s been working out consistently for over a year!
“If tight on time, reduce the scope but keep the schedule,” suggests Dominique Garcia O’Dell, CPT.
In other words, life happens and things pop up that can make sticking to a consistent schedule week after week hard. No worries; just pivot! If you’d planned a 30-minute gym session for the day but your daughter got sick and needs to get picked up from school early, tend to her needs. When she’s settled and resting, find a 30-minute workout on Youtube and get moving.
How to Navigate Out of a Rut
It happens to all of us. We get sick, work gets extra busy, we have to care for an ill family member, the kids are on summer break, we take a fabulous vacation… things happen that can turn our well-intentioned routines upside down. When that happens, the best thing to do to get back on track is to remember why you started on your fitness journey in the first place.
Get clear on your values. Creating a value mindset for exercise can increase the chances of you showing up, even if it’s in your own living room.
Verbeem sees many clients who have an extrinsic goal, like wanting to look good so other people find them attractive, or their doctor told them to lose weight. Perhaps their family puts a lot of pressure on them to look a certain way. Instead of focusing on external sources, try to find your intrinsic motivator. Ask yourself why you’re exercising — the real reason you want to exercise. Then ask yourself again five times. You’ll likely arrive at a deeper meaning that may end up surprising you. Write it down and revisit it as often as needed to stay motivated.
“We know that motivation fails us… that’s part of being human! When it comes down to it, you have to find what works for you. For some, it’s preparation like having workout clothes and shoes on or easily accessible. For others, it’s utilizing a calendar or phone notifications. A big part of it is removing barriers that get in your way and setting yourself up for success,” says Erin Norton Miller, CPT.
If you’ve already achieved a goal, revisit and redefine them with your trainer. Often a goal can change and provide more motivation and meaning like wanting to be stronger, manage stairs better, play with their kids, or even sleep better, says Verbeem.
Finally, never ignore small wins. “Small wins will keep you motivated and engaged!” says Morissette. Are you sometimes feeling bored with a home workout or frustrated you’re not seeing results? An easy way to stay out of a rut is to celebrate small wins.
4 Ideas to Stay Motivated to Work Out at Home
“Exercise to stimulate, not to annihilate. The world wasn’t formed in a day, and neither were we. Set small goals and build upon them.”
—Lee Haney, 8-time Mr. Olympia
Change it up and pick joy: Feeling pressured to try something new online? Remember, you aren’t obligated to exercise in a certain style just because you saw it worked for someone else. Choose an activity you enjoy, try a different style, or revisit an activity you liked as a kid, says Verbeem. It’s much easier to continue an activity you crave than force yourself into something that doesn’t feel aligned with you.
Get creative with time and space: A common excuse is lacking certain equipment or space at home, but that’s OK, says Verbeem. There are so many ways to utilize your space no matter how small, and you can even use household items like full gallons of milk or water jugs for weights, borrow your kid’s hula hoop or jump rope, use a chair for tricep dips, grab hand towels for sliders, and a staircase or steps for cardio.
Book a virtual appointment with a trainer or a friend: Having an accountability buddy gives you the potential to go from skipping a workout to showing up every single time. “Having someone there to push you, give you feedback, and challenge you in new ways can really get you to the next level,” says Verbeem. You can even join a Facebook group for your favorite activity if you want to stay at home.
Don’t underestimate the power of SMART goals: Specific goals can make all the difference. Maybe you want to change your weight by X amount by a certain date. Do you want to sign up for a race or competition? Try to come up with a plan to get you to that specific goal, says Verbeem.
“Remind yourself of how good you feel afterward, and use that to motivate yourself,” recommends Verbeem.
The Bottom Line
“You are only one workout away from a good mood.”
There are lots of ways to stay motivated at home. But remember, there’s always support available when you need it. Asking for help from a certified personal trainer can help you meet your goals much faster without any guesswork. If you need an accountability partner to up your at-home workout goals, sign up for a free consultation with a certified personal trainer today.