How to Motivate Yourself to Work Out Even When Life Gets Hectic
Sometimes, finding the motivation to work out can be just as hard — if not harder — as doing the workout itself. That's why learning how to stay motivated is an essential part of any fitness routine, whether you've been working out for years or you're just beginning a new health journey. Fortunately, there are lots of ways to encourage yourself to get moving and motivate yourself to work out.
Ahead, you'll find 15 tips for finding the workout motivation you may be sorely lacking right now. Some have worked for me personally, others are backed by research, and a number are directly from an expert: Kelly Froelich, an NASM- and ACE-certified trainer and cofounder of the digital fitness platform Balanced, who was kind enough to share how she keeps herself (and her clients) motivated.
As you read through them, remember that it doesn't reflect on your character; no fitness journey is linear, and even the most dedicated gym-goers, athletes, and trainers experience dips in motivation at one point or another, too. If you're not feeling motivated to work out, also consider what might be causing those feelings in the first place: are you exhausted, burnt out, stressed out by work, or feeling pressured to do other things instead of taking time for yourself? Addressing the root cause of your lack of motivation could help you prevent tough moments where you rely on sheer willpower alone to get a workout in.
In the meantime, though, these tips for finding workout motivation can help. Keep reading for some inspiration, and keep in mind that one of these motivational strategies could work for you today, and another might work for you tomorrow. Keep them all in your arsenal so you're always ready to find some energy to make a workout happen.
— Additional reporting by Lauren Mazzo
Just Get Dressed
As someone who deals with depression and anxiety, I find that breaking tasks down into small steps can help me build the momentum needed to get stuff done. In my experience, this tactic works with exercise as well. When I'm not feeling motivated to work out but I know exercising will make me feel better, I tell myself: You don't have to exercise. Just get dressed. More often than not, simply getting dressed helps me feel motivated enough to get out the door and on the trail. It might work for you, too.
Stick With Workouts You Actually Enjoy
For me, this is key to staying motivated to exercise on a regular basis. I used to work out nearly daily, spending hours in the gym each week. I looked forward to intense cardio and strength training — but for the last couple of years, I've only been interested in exercising outdoors and stretching in my house. Hikes, long walks, bike rides, and kayaking trips are my workouts of choice these days. Currently, I'm working out less than I did for most of my 20s and my workouts are easier, but I wouldn't be exercising at all if I only allowed myself to do HIIT.
This isn't only true for me. Experts say, time and time again, that the best workout is the one you enjoy doing, because it means you'll stick with it since you'll want to do it again.
Find a Workout Buddy
"For extroverts or people who like being around people, I think accountability buddies or simply workout buddies are great. Sometimes, it is easier to let yourself down by skipping a workout than letting a friend down by missing it," Froelich tells POPSUGAR. "My favorite go-to activity to catch up with a friend is a workout and a meal afterwards."
Research confirms this benefit, showing that working out with a partner (even a virtual or simulated one) encourages people to work out harder. You don't need to do every workout with a friend, but having a standing weekly workout date for a yoga class or run can become a regular thing you look forward to — and you're much less likely to cancel on a friend than you are to cancel on a workout with yourself.
Try "Habit Stacking"
This term was coined by SJ Scott, author of "Habit Stacking: 127 Small Changes to Improve Your Health, Wealth, and Happiness" ($16). In the book, Scott suggests "stacking" new habits into a single routine, so that the new behavior you're trying to encourage is tied to something you already do. "I like to start my day with a coffee, a workout, and a meditation," Froelich explains. "That coffee, which I love, puts into motion the rest of my day, as I know after the coffee, I work out, and then meditate." Here's more on why habit stacking works, and how to try it yourself.
Pair Long Walks With Your Favorite Podcasts
I habitually listen to podcasts on walks, because it's a surefire way to get me moving and keep me moving, even when all I want to do is sit on my couch and watch "Insecure". Try it! A good podcast can make even hour-long walks fly by, and you'll probably learn something to boot. For a double dose of health and wellness, consider listening to one of these mental health podcasts the next time you take a stroll.
This workout motivation technique works so well, it's the entire impetus behind the viral hot girl walk — though with that trend, feel-good music playlists are fair game as well as podcasts.
Pay For a Workout Class
If paying for a workout class simply isn't in your budget right now, don't do it — you can work out outdoors, or at home, for free. If it is possible for you to pay for a workout class, however, doing so might be a good way to motivate yourself to exercise. If you're anything like me, you won't waste that money by skipping out.
Join a Challenge (or Create One For Yourself) and Pick a Prize For Following Through
"Challenges are a great way to self-motivate, as well. A 30-day challenge with a significant prize at the end — a massage or a dinner out with friends — is a great way to stay motivated," Froelich says. "Intrinsic motivation, such as an internal desire to do something, is great to stick to something in the long run, but sometimes you need a bit of extrinsic motivation, such as a prize, to start you off."
That challenge can totally depend on your goals and interests. It could be deciding to follow a workout plan, signing up for and completing a 5K, or working out three times a week for a month straight. Many workout apps have built-in challenges or training programs you can easily sign up for, and are often affordable, if not free.
Take Your Workout Outdoors
Exercise is medicine, no matter where you do it. But research shows that spending time in nature can be especially beneficial for overall health and wellness. (It's also just more fun, in my opinion.) So if you're struggling to find the motivation to work out, take your workout outdoors. Whether you walk, bike, hike, roller blade, play pickleball, or run, knowing your workout will double as quality time with nature might help you feel more motivated to get it done.
Remember Why You Started Working Out
"I also think it's important to come back to why you started," Froelich says. "When I train for a marathon, there are many, many times when I simply do not want to go on a long run for whatever reason — it could be too cold, too hot, too late in the day, not enough sleep. But, I always come back to the reason I was going on a run."
Signing up for a race or training for a specific event — whether that's a big hike or activity you want to do on vacation — can put the pressure on, but in a good way: if gives you a concrete "why."
If your "why" is simpler (for exmaple, that it feels good or leaves you with a clearer head) that's not any less valuable. Try to remind yourself of that post-workout feeling, and it could be the thing that helps you find some workout motivation.
Consider Fostering or Adopting a Dog
This one is certainly not a quick fix, and fostering or adopting a dog is no small feat. You definitely shouldn't take it on if you know you don't have the disposable income, emotional capacity, or bandwidth to provide a dog with the care they deserve. That said, if it's possible for you, fostering or adopting a dog would give you built-in motivation to stay physically active. Research shows that people with dogs tend to exercise more, just by nature of being good pet parents.
Set Goals You Can Realistically Achieve
Froelich encourages her clients to set realistic goals, such as working out three times a week for 30 minutes. "The key is that the goal isn't 'work out Monday, Wednesday, Friday' and, if you miss a day, you miss the goal. The goal should be flexible to how you are feeling and what times work for your schedule," Froelich explains. When your workout goal feels atainable vs. intimidating, that removes one more blockade that could mentally stand between you and getting to your workout.
Don't Compare Your Body or Fitness Journey to Others
Froelich says she's happiest and most likely to stick to her workout routine when she turns off Instagram during the week. "There are amazing communities and positive inspiration on Instagram, but there is also a lot of comparison. Comparison can be the enemy of happiness," Froelich says. And it can also very quickly zap your motivation.
"Instead of comparative 'body inspiration,' use your own body as inspiration," Froelich adds. "It can already do so many incredible things, and working out is a way to push your body in a safe way to do even more." Instead of thinking about how many push-ups someone else can do, pride yourself on getting in two more reps today.
Create a Workout Motivation Playlist
For much of my adult life, I've worked remotely as a writer. Over the years, I've discovered having a few designated writing playlists helps me switch into "writing mode," even when I have to work in the same room where I sleep and watch TV. It's a simple tactic that can be applied to finding workout motivation, too, and one I've relied on in the past. Creating a "workout motivation" playlist or two might help you find the will to exercise as well. Here's a list of the best workout songs for 2023 — with an entire playlist, ready to go — to get you started.
Say Kind Things to Yourself, Even When You Miss a Work Out
Tearing yourself down won't make you want to get up and do better tomorrow. "Be gentle with yourself. You are setting new goals for challenging things," Froelich says. "Progress is not a straight line, but it does tilt upwards. If you have a bad workout or miss a workout day, say motivating things like you are talking to your best friend. Sometimes, we can be our own worst critic."