You have a workout planned that you’re initially psyched about. But once the time rolls around to actually begin, you’re just not feeling it. The thought of sweating it out for the next 20, 30, or 45 minutes frankly seems about as appealing as deep cleaning your shower. Basically, you can think of a million things you’d rather do instead of lacing up your sneakers.
Sound familiar? Probably. Whether you realize it or not, this is an incredibly common scenario that pretty much every exerciser can relate to—even fitness professionals.
As a personal trainer, “everyone expects us to always want to work out and work out all the time,” Ingrid Clay, a NASM-certified personal trainer with Centr, tells SELF. The truth? “We actually struggle with the motivation to work out a lot more than you think.”
The question isn’t so much if you’re going to have days when you’re not into exercising, it’s how to respond when that blah-feeling strikes. Since many personal trainers are all too familiar with the motivation struggle—but also consistently overcome it—we asked 10 of them what they do when it arises. From simple mental reframes to specific ways they modify a routine to how they give themselves grace when it’s just not happening, let their answers serve as a road map for what to do the next time you’re struggling to get into a good groove.
Before we dive into their tips, though, a quick caveat: Sometimes not feeling a workout is a sign that your body truly needs a rest day. For example, if you’re super sore, your workout feels much harder than usual, or you’re still not jazzed after you do a full warm-up, then you should probably just call it quits for the day. In these cases, it’s not about bolstering your motivation, it’s about listening to and honoring your body.
With that, read on for some tips on how you can breathe some new life into your exercise routine—from the fitness pros who have been through it all.
1. Pivot to a totally new-to-you form of exercise.
On the whole, Katie Pierson, a Montana-based certified personal trainer, loves to ride her bike and very regularly hops in the saddle to exercise. But recently, on a day when she was scheduled to go for a long ride, she simply couldn’t drum up the motivation.
“I was like, Oh, man, I don’t think I can get on and do another,” Pierson, a certified spinning instructor and contributor at Girl Bike Love, tells SELF. So instead, she signed up for a group fitness class she’d never done before. The 30-minute session on the VersaClimber (a specialized cardio machine) was challenging and totally outside of her comfort zone, she says.
Nevertheless, Pierson had a fun time and found that dabbling in a new-to-her form of fitness helped reignite her spark for cycling. The next day, “I was ready to get right back on my bike and go for it,” she says. “Just that small ripple made a huge change in the rest of my workouts for the week.”
2. Let someone else tell you what to do.
Sometimes, figuring out what to do for a workout and then drumming up the willpower to execute it requires mental energy you simply don’t have. That’s why when Keith Hodges, CPT, corrective exercise specialist, performance coach, and founder of Mind in Muscle in Los Angeles, feels uninspired to exercise, he often lets someone else direct him.
“It’s always easier when you can go somewhere and you just don’t have to think about what you want to do,” Hodges tells SELF. “You just listen to who’s in charge or instructing.” So on days when Hodges is feeling burned out by his usual self-guided routine, he’ll go to a group fitness class—anything from Pilates to boxing to CrossFit, rowing, cycling, and more—or sign up for sessions with another trainer. (You can reap similar benefits by following along with one of SELF’s complete workouts too.)
Relying on someone else to coach and cheer him through a workout not only helps him get a quality session in, but it also serves as a beneficial learning opportunity. “I look at it as continuing education, too, because other trainers have different coaching cues, different philosophies that I can learn from,” he explains.
3. Dial back your expectations.
It’s easy to have an all-or-nothing mindset with fitness and think that if you aren’t up for a workout exactly as you’d planned it, then you might as well just do nothing at all. But Lululemon ambassador Kayla Jeter, a NASM-certified personal trainer and RRCA-certified running coach, likes to remind herself that “done is better than perfect.”
“If I’m feeling 20%, and I feel like I have to go 100%, I’m not gonna be able to give 100%,” she tells SELF. “But sometimes the 20% is the 100% that day.”
With that ethos, Jeter modifies her workout plans so that she still gets some type of movement in, even if it’s not the full, complete routine she planned. This sometimes looks like adjusting the time of her workout—for example, she typically works out at 5:00 a.m., but on days when morning motivation wanes, she pushes back her planned sessions to later in the day. Other times, she’ll modify by switching up the content of the workout itself. For example, she recently had a 30-minute easy run on her schedule, but found she really just wasn’t in the mood to hit the pavement. Instead, she opted for another form of movement she loves: biking. “Figuring out ways I can still sprinkle in joy is really important to me with training and definitely avoiding burnout,” she says.
4. Go hard—but really, really short.
Since becoming a parent recently, Asher Freeman, ACSM-certified personal trainer and creator of the Nonnormative Body Club in Philadelphia, typically finds that when they do have a little window of time to exercise, they’re often so sleepy that it’s difficult muster the motivation for a long routine. So instead, Freeman lowers the stakes by committing to a super-short yet intense workout.
Here’s how it works: Freeman will choose three cardio or compound moves (think squat jumps, push-ups, and medicine ball throws), turn on a timer for five minutes, and do 10 reps of those exercises as many times as they can until time runs out. This approach, they explain, “requires a lot of exertion” and allows Freeman to access some of the same feel-good vibes they would get if they had the energy, brain space, and time to do a longer session. (Just make sure to fit in a quick warm-up before jumping into this type of high-intensity routine to wake up your muscles and reduce your risk of injury.)
5. Give yourself an old-fashioned pep talk.
After spending all day training clients in the gym, the last thing Clay usually wants to do is head back there for her own routine. “The struggle is real,” she says. But she knows she always feels good and accomplished after a workout, so she wills herself to get sweating by giving herself a tough love pep talk.
“There are times I’m literally on the couch or laying down and I’m just like, I don’t feel like going to the gym. And I’m like, girl, get up. Let’s go!” she tells SELF. “And I’ll say that out loud.” Speaking these words—instead of just noting them internally—helps Clay to really hear herself, she says. “It forces you to listen and to take things in a different, more impactful way,” she explains.
6. Talk yourself through the workout, one step at a time.
When Francine Delgado-Lugo, CPT, movement and strength coach and cofounder of Form Fitness Brooklyn, isn’t feeling her workout for the day, she’ll talk herself through it step-by-step—for example, she’ll start by telling herself to grab the foam roller, use it to do some gentle movements, and check in with how that feels.
If she needs to spend more time than usual foam rolling and completing the rest of her warm-up, she’ll do that. With this approach, she shifts focus away from needing to complete a full workout and reminds herself that what’s most important is that she tried. Most often, Delgado-Lugo finds that by the time she’s completed her warm-ups, she usually feels better and is up for doing more. In many cases, “once you get moving, you’re fine, and you’re ready to go,” she tells SELF.
7. Throw on a playlist packed with bangers.
There are a lot of simple tips that Lauren Vibbert, NASM-certified personal trainer and presenter for Les Mills, relies on when she’s just not feeling a workout, she tells SELF. Sometimes, she’ll simplify her plans—for instance, she’ll swap 60-minute cardio-strength workout for a 30-minute cardio-only session. Other times, when she knows she’s simply feeling uninspired to get started (and doesn’t actually need to cut down her original workload), it’s more about getting a quick, motivating boost.
In many cases, that comes in the form of music. She’ll put on a kick-ass playlist to boost her confidence and pump her up for her workout. Listening to female empowerment songs from artists like Iggy Azalea, Halsey, and Avril Lavigne usually provides the mojo she needs to get moving.
8. Borrow some energy from those around you.
When Ava Fagin, MEd, CSCS, assistant director of sports performance at Cleveland State University, isn’t feeling her workout, she’ll try to get someone to do it with her or she’ll intentionally exercise at a time and place where she knows others will be sweating it out too, she tells SELF. Being around people who are also moving their bodies, even if they’re not doing the same routine as her, “just feels a little bit more motivating,” she explains.
That’s why she recommends purposefully hitting the gym at a busy time on those days when you’re just not feeling like exercising. Though most of us probably try to avoid the crowds at our local fitness centers, showing up when lots of other folks are there may just provide the extra incentive you need to start and ultimately crush your workout.
9. Give your recovery the same attention as a workout.
Evan Williams, CSCS, CPT, founder of E2G Performance, tells SELF that he struggles with workout motivation about “once a week.” Sometimes on those days he takes the same approach as Hodges and joins a class or taps another trainer to tell him what to do. But other times? He realizes his reluctance is likely a sign of overtraining or burnout, so he simply gives himself some grace and takes the day off. Though he knows most folks feel bad about canceling their gym plans, he makes this decision guilt-free as he understands the science-backed benefits of rest days and accepts that “it’s okay to give yourself a day off.”
That said, when Williams pivots to this, he’ll fill that time with some mental and physical recovery work. He’ll use that session time to meditate as well as incorporate forms of physical recovery, like getting a massage, stretching, foam rolling, or spending time in a sauna or cold bath. By giving his body some TLC, he often finds that “tomorrow, I’m fresh and ready to go.”
10. Take it as a sign to reevaluate your routine.
When Lindsay Ogden, certified personal trainer at Life Time in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, finds herself procrastinating her workout several days in a row, or if that sensation of “not feeling it” is worsening, she will evaluate her current routine to see where she can make some changes. For example, she might realize she’s doing too many workouts solo and would benefit from a stronger community vibe, in which case she prioritizes more group workouts. Or perhaps she identifies a missing mental component, in which case she focuses on spending time in nature or doing more yoga. “I look at what’s missing in my program, and how do I implement more of that,” she says.
Originally Appeared on SELF
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