How to motivate yourself to workout if you absolutely hate it
By Sakshi Udavant
Everyone, at some point in their lives, experiences resistance to exercise. We know it’s good for us, but we just can’t motivate ourselves enough to do it. But why? I spoke to three experts to find out.
Why we hate exercise
‘Working out is not natural for human beings,’ says Eliza Flynn, a pre and postnatal personal trainer at The Warrior Method. Our bodies intrinsically want us to preserve energy (a trait inherited from the early days, when food was harder to find). ‘So for many of us, there’s an internal struggle – where our body wants us to relax, but our head tells us to exercise,’ she says.
Socio-cultural factors play a role too. Working out is more than just moving your body – it’s an active experience of the complex relationship we share with our body. In a society that sees overweight people as ‘ill’ or ‘unhealthy’, the pressure to lose weight can be overwhelming – and exercise is often seen as the best way to get there.
Childhood experiences of fitness-shaming (being yelled at in PE class or always losing out on sports days) can cause people to resist exercising because they feel inadequate and insecure about their abilities and their bodies.
‘We don’t like our bodies and think we have to be a certain size to go for a run or don a swimsuit,’ says Gemma Nice, an online yoga instructor and founder of Easyoga. This gives rise to unhelpful thoughts like ‘I’m too fat to run’, or ‘my body is too tight for yoga’. ‘It’s hard to enjoy exercise with this mindset,’ Nice adds.
Changing our mindset
Stop looking at the workout as a torturous activity that you absolutely have to do. Think beyond weight loss. Look at other benefits like stress reduction, improved mood and better cognition.
Think about why you are exercising. Are you trying to improve your balance for dancing? Are you looking for natural ways to alleviate symptoms of depression? Are you training for a competition? Consider these long-term goals to help you fight the initial ‘I-hate-my-body’ resistance.
‘Visualisation helps,’ Flynn says. If you can’t actively think about the benefits, try imagining the scenario instead, she suggests. ‘Picture how strong you feel and what you are achieving through this activity.
Find an activity that suits you
‘We tend to do what society says we’re good at or should enjoy,’ says Jill Greenwood, fitness trainer and author of Superfood Slaw. You don’t have to run just because everybody says it’s a good form of exercise, for instance. ‘If you’re simply going through the motions without enjoying it or benefiting from it, then you will never stick with it,’ she adds.
Instead, look for forms of exercise that fit with your preferences and lifestyle, she adds. For example, if you enjoy dancing and want to gain flexibility, taking a ballet or gymnastics class may work better than running or swimming.
Adapt your workouts to your current responsibilities
Life changes can disrupt your workout habits. If you used to exercise regularly and had to stop because something (whether school, work or injuries) came up, don’t let that end your fitness journey. Find new ways to incorporate exercise into your life.
‘For example,’ Greenwood says, ‘being a mum means I don’t have time to spend hours in the gym and follow strict session times, so I’ve had to adapt my workouts to my new life, and my goals of motherhood.’
Instead of abandoning your goals, think about how you can tweak your routine to find new ways to exercise. If you’ve just moved to a new place, look for local exercise groups. If you’re recovering from an illness, try milder forms of exercise. If you just got married, try a couples’ workout. Adapt exercise to suit your life instead of squeezing yourself into uncomfortable routines.
At the end of the day, remember that exercise is less about trying to ‘fix’ your body and more about becoming a stronger, healthier version of yourself. This should help you get started, find joy in the process and stop thinking of it as a chore.