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How to Exercise When You Don’t Want To

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No matter how committed you are to your workout routine, we all hit slumps where we just can’t get motivated. If you’ve been overtraining, it can be smart to take a few days off to avoid injury. If you’re not at risk of hurting yourself though, you will be better off pushing aside your excuses and getting your body moving.

The simple truth is that if you give in to temporary laziness, it gets harder each day to get back to your routine. And though it’s not true for everyone, for most of us, when you start to let your fitness slide you also start to let your nutrition slide. Pretty soon, you’ve slipped down a pretty slippery slope that leaves you feeling bloated, sluggish, and unhappy with yourself.

April 14, 2013 at 05:17PM
Arya Ziai / Health Photos / CC BY

So, next time you find yourself tempted to take a few days off from exercising instead of letting yourself undo all the hard work you’ve done, try some of these things first:

Make a Small Commitment

If you usually run 4 miles a day, give yourself a break and commit to only running 2 miles. The smaller goal will be less daunting so you’re more likely to do it and chances are once you get moving, you’ll surpass the minor goal since the hardest part of exercising isn’t the workout, it’s starting.

So, instead of doing your usual 1-hour class at the gym, take a 30 minute class or commit to doing 20 minutes of strength training or a cardio machine. If you normally walk for 30 minutes, head out instead for a quick walk around the block. Do you work out every day? Ease back to every other day.

Be Accountable

It’s hard to slack off when you are accountable to someone else. Find a workout partner who you can count on and who, in turn, will count on you.

If you can’t find a good workout buddy, find a virtual buddy who you have to check in with. When I moved to another state, leaving my best friend and workout buddy behind, we would check in with each other daily with our accomplishments for the day.

You should also let your friends and family know your goals. When I put on a few extra pounds, I let those close to me know that I’m going to be watching what I eat and exercising more since the added pressure keeps me from cheating.

Also, I think it’s only fair to let the kids know when militant nutrition mom is making a comeback so they can mentally prepare for the absence of unhealthy (aka yummy) snacks.

Get It Out Of The Way Early

Don’t trick yourself into thinking that you will “find” time to exercise. If your motivation is already waning, your workout is going to fall farther and farther down your priority list as the day drags on.

Get up early and exercise first thing in the morning. If you really don’t like to get up early, set your alarm for just 15 minutes earlier and only commit to doing a 10 minute workout.

You may not blast a ton of calories or tone your entire body in that time, but you will start your day on the right note which will hopefully affect your decisions for the rest of the day.

Make Up An Exercise Rule

This tip is one we use in my house a lot. We have a pull-up bar hanging in the doorframe leading from the kitchen to the dining room.

The rule is that you have to do one pull-up to walk through the door. If I get hungry while I’m working, I have to do 100 jumping jacks before I can get a snack.

When I’ve really been slacking on my gym time, I force myself to exercise during commercials while I’m watching television. See “The Couch Potato Workout: How to Make the Most of Commercial Breaks” for suggested exercises.

If you have a sweet tooth, you could make a rule that you can’t have dessert after dinner until you’ve taken a walk. I don’t know if this works for everyone, but for first-born type-A personalities this tactic works magic.

Wear a Pedometer

In “Get Fit And Lose Weight With This Simple Trick” I explained how this inexpensive device can work wonders when it comes to being active.

If you aim for 10,000 steps a day it doesn’t matter how you get them. If you aren’t up for your usual run, walk, or workout, you can get your steps jogging in place while you watch TV or going up and down your stairs several times.

This freedom from a set workout can help you recover from boredom while helping you stay active until your passion returns.

What NOT To Do

Don’t buy anything that you think will get you to workout more (with the exception of a pedometer). For every 10 treadmills that are sold, I’m pretty sure 9 of them are collecting dust in the garage or being used to hold clothes that the owner hasn’t gotten around to hanging up yet.

How many workout videos have your purchased? If buying them helps you exercise, why are you reading this article?

Gym memberships are great if you need access to equipment and enjoy taking classes, but don’t sign up hoping that paying for the membership will motivate you to use it.

I’m not trying to talk you out of supporting the fitness equipment industry, I’m just trying to tell you (from experience) that those things work best when you’re at the peak of your fitness motivation, not when you’re struggling. But if you’re having no trouble getting out the door to run every day, by all means don’t hesitate to buy yourself a nice set of Hoka shoes (or whatever your favorite running shoe is).

So, if you’re already feeling guilty about skipping a few workouts, don’t add guilt over spending money on something you’re not using to the equation.

Don’t beat yourself up for missing workouts. It’s good that you value health and fitness, but don’t become so obsessed with it that you view yourself as a failure when you have to take it easy for awhile. Hopefully, if you use some of the tips above, you won’t undo all of your hard work. Cut yourself some slack! Next time you get a little lazy, don’t throw in the towel completely and bury your sorrow in a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. Instead, scale back your intensity for a little while and before long you’ll find that your body is craving more exercise.

These are the things that work for me. I’d love to hear your secrets if you have one to share!

25 thoughts on “How to Exercise When You Don’t Want To”

  1. thanks for the inspiration i’ve been trying to get moving more

  2. Great tips and ideas for people who exercise and who wants to exercise liked me.

  3. I am lazy and I want to lose weight, but exercise aren’t just my thing. Although I have this little routine exercise which helps me sweat every day.

  4. Great motivational information! I need to get my butt in gear and get moving more!

  5. All of these are great ideas. I find that I have to workout early in the day before I talk myself outta it. It works.

  6. Time is also important for work outs and exercise. It’s a matter of time management and self control too. Great advice you have here.

  7. Thanks for the great tips. I agree with you on setting goals and the pedometer really helps. I am just starting back into excising and have to take this very slow. I over worked myself the other day and had to take off 2 days to recover. I hope to be back at it tomorrow.

    • Good point Melinda! I think a lot of people overdo it when they are jumping back into exercise because they want to hurry up and get results. Thanks for the reminder that doing so can have the opposite effect if you end up needing to take even more time off.

  8. You got it right 😀 When laziness strikes, it ruins our plans to strive to lose weight. Losing weight is indeed a stuggle

  9. I was doing so good on my new exercise program until they had me do a detox week. I can not get back into it now and I am so disappointed in myself. I am printing this to put on the fridge.

    • That is hard because that will wipe you out and you don’t have the energy. Don’t be disappointed in yourself! If it’s important to you, I’m sure you will find a way to get back to it. Good luck!

  10. I have found if I do in the morning, I feel energized all day

    • I agree! When I get in an early morning workout, I manage to get more done by noon than I usually accomplish all day.

  11. Great info!!! I can definitely relate to how temporary laziness can distract you long term. I began training for a half marathon a little over a year ago and can admit I just got lazy and comfortable. Thanks for the motivation (and kick into gear!).

  12. Great tips as I am one that really needs to exercise but become very overwhelmed when thinking about it. I think I will make shorter goals and give it a go.

  13. I hit that slump most of the time but when I keep reminding myself that I have to as I am not getting any younger. Really nice tips!

  14. Unfortunately I can not exercise anymore without hurting myself—-but what you say is true for anything you want to accomplish!

    • True! I had to apply a lot of these tips to running my website, especially some of the tasks that are necessary but were difficult for me (i.e. learning how to use Twitter).

  15. I will be starting a exercise routine starting this coming week and i cant wait . I am going to try and exercise before if that is a good idea.

  16. I always find it easier to do in the morning but its more convenient in the afternoon during nap time. Staying motivated is the hardest part.

  17. I so need to start exercising!! Due to my lower back pain I will start yoga soon (As soon as I get a mat). I often fall in the lazy bandwagon and try to tell myself that I’ll workout once the bos go to bed…and it never happens.

    Thanks for all your tips!

  18. Really great tips! I have fallen into a unmotivated rut each and every single time I have attempted to stick to an exercise routine. But even with that, I think that adding not beating yourself up for missing workouts was really great. We are all our harshest critics and it’s easy to get down on yourself for not sticking with something you know is so important.

  19. I try to meet up with my friend once a week too just to make sure I don’t fall behind. I think I would most likely not flake out when I’ve got someone else counting on me. I do love this list. I actually think I gotta print it out so I can be reminded! Thanks for this!

  20. Great tips! I love the part about clothes on the treadmill because you haven’t hung them up yet! So true!


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