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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. 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!

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