Knowing how to get the motivation to work out is often half the battle of exercising. No matter your fitness goals, you may start full of enthusiasm and with the very best intentions before losing interest a few weeks into your program. You might be wondering how to motivate yourself when you’re tired, when it’s dark outside, or when you’re just too busy. You may have even invested in one of the best elliptical machines but just can’t bring yourself to use it. Know you are not alone.
Personal trainer and nutritionist Lamorna Hollingsworth (opens in new tab) explains, “It's normal to have ups and downs in your motivation. It happens to all of us. In the same way that we experience a range of different emotions, our motivation comes and goes.” Thankfully, getting your motivation back can be achieved as quickly as you lose it.
If you're struggling to stick with your weight loss or exercise program, read on to get some expert input on how to get the motivation to work out.
How to get the motivation to work out: where to start
If you haven’t been physically active in a while, you may wonder how to get motivated. Here are some expert tips:
1. Start small
Habit change coach Helen Hopkins (opens in new tab) says if you’ve lost your mojo or are starting from scratch, start small. “When we’ve done something small for a while it’s easier to dial it up. Say you want to walk 10,000 steps a day, but you have a desk job with back-to-back meetings. Within a few days, you haven’t achieved your target, so you give up. Instead, if you’d picked a more achievable target like walking for 10 minutes a day before work, you’re more likely to meet this goal and stay motivated. You can then build on this and increase your activity incrementally.”
2. Pick something you enjoy
It might sound obvious, but if you don’t enjoy swimming, staying motivated to get in the pool three times a week is going to be really difficult. So instead, pick a workout or exercise you enjoy. Hopkins said, “Reframing exercise to an enjoyable activity will help motivate you to show up. Allow yourself to get stronger doing something you enjoy, before trying something else.”
If you enjoy running, but the weather puts you off, consider investing in one of the best treadmills, so you won’t find yourself making excuses to skip a workout. Likewise, if yoga is your thing, put your yoga mat near your bed, so it’s the first thing you see when you get up. Remembering it’s something you enjoy should help push you forward when your motivation is lacking.
3. Create SMART goals
Many of us spend our lives jumping from one fitness trend to another while accomplishing very little. Setting SMART goals means clarifying your ideas, focusing your efforts, and increasing your chances of achieving your goals.
Lamorna Hollingsworth explains the SMART principle:
- Specific: When you think of your goal, ask yourself how you're going to get there
- Measurable: How are you going to measure if you are taking the action required?
- Achievable: If the goal is too easy, it will become boring. If it's too hard, we'll get frustrated
- Realistic: This is dependent on the goal you're thinking of - it's a sanity check that what you've got so far is going to work
- Time: You must put a timescale on this so that you know when you've achieved it
An example of using SMART goals for exercise could look like:
S – I’m going to run three times this week.
M – I will track my runs in an app.
A – I usually run twice a week, so I think adding another run is achievable.
R – My schedule allows three runs this week.
T – I plan to run three times a week for the next month, then consider adding a fourth run
Working out your SMART goals allows you to work towards a larger plan to motivate you while breaking the task into achievable chunks.
4. Reward your achievements
It's surprisingly easy to get excited about exercise when you have a reward planned for the end of it. Gift yourself a relaxing massage after a month of workouts, or buy a new bath foam designed to help you unwind. Or you could try:
- Treating yourself to new workout clothes
- Booking a weekend away after achieving your SMART goals
- Taking some time out with a new book
- Investing in a new pair of headphones
5. Consistency is key
Consistency is arguably the most critical component when working to accomplish goals. Without consistency, your fitness program is disorganized, your body has a harder time adapting, and it may be more challenging to form habits that will stick.
Helen Hopkins explains, “When we look at habits, the easiest way to gain consistency (and motivation) is to do something at the same time in the same place. The more we can automate our habits the less we have to think about it, which means it’s more likely that we do it.”
Set time aside for your workout at the same time every week for a month and see if this improves your motivation and how easily what once felt like a chore becomes a habit.
6. Work out with a friend or trainer
Sometimes you try everything, and you just can’t motivate yourself to get up and work out. Making plans to work out with a friend not only gives you accountability, but they can encourage you on days when you’re struggling (and vice versa).
Look for someone with the same goals, schedule, and commitments you have. Someone who makes you feel positive and inspires you regularly. If you can’t find someone to go for an early morning run with you, hire a trainer – your own personal cheerleader who can offer all the encouragement you need (it’s literally their job!)
Catherine is a freelance journalist writing across titles such as Verywell Health, Healthline, The Daily Telegraph, Refinery29, Elle, and Vogue. She specializes in content covering health, fitness, wellness, and culture.
A once reluctant runner, Catherine has competed in 30 running events in the past five years and looks forward to one day running the London Marathon.