Not something you expected to hear from a health-fitness professional, huh? But let’s be honest, ain’t it the damn truth sometimes? While some of us may feel this way about exercise in general, others who ordinarily enjoy exercise still feel this way about it on occasion. Even for the fitness enthusiasts like myself, there are those days when I simply don’t feel like it and I end up doing it because I know I should and I just grind my way through another workout.
For as long as there have been surveys conducted on the topic, the results have been relatively constant: about 5% of the people admit to actually enjoying exercise. 5%! After being in the fitness business for the last 15 years, my personal belief is that about 4% acquire a taste for exercise over time and the other 1% of us is simply hard-wired for it. As you can probably guess, I am one of the 1%, which is one reason I am in the business.
On most days, exercise is like therapy for me. It helps to keep me happy and sane. But I can tell you there are plenty of days when I just plain don’t feel like it for a variety of reasons. Perhaps I have had a day or two of eating poorly or I woke up on the wrong side of the bed and I just can’t find my mojo. Other times I’ve got too much on my plate and the stress of feeling pressed for time clouds my judgment and knocks my health down a few notches on my list of priorities. While I normally feel blessed to be one of the 5-percenters, I have my days when I literally have to talk myself into it.
I’d say it’s a pretty safe assumption that if you are reading this blog you have already bought into the idea that regular exercise is not only good for you, it’s absolutely necessary if you want to live a healthy lifestyle. If you aren’t convinced yet, sooner or later your body will let you know that you better start moving or it won’t be as cooperative as it once was. In fact, you may soon have a full-fledged revolt on your hands. The human body was made to move, plain and simple.
As a health professional, I see plenty of people who do not enjoy exercise. I can safely say this describes the majority of my clients. This is something I have not only come to accept, but for which I am grateful. Helping someone to acquire an appreciation for exercise and witnessing how it can literally change lives is the main reason I am in this industry.
As you can imagine and perhaps have experienced yourself, the beginning of this journey is not always pretty. To put it mildly, there is resistance. I have heard all the excuses in the book, a few of which I have already named here. Over the years, I’ve come up with a few strategies for overcoming this initial and recurring aversion to exercise.
- 1. Remember How Good it Feels to Move – Most of us will admit that when we aren’t feelin’ it, the first step is the most difficult. There is sort of a mental and physical inertia that occurs. However, once we convince ourselves it is worth it and actually get our bodies moving, we typically feel glad that we did and better off afterwards. One way to get yourself inspired to take that first step is to remind yourself how good you felt the last time you exercised. Chances are you’ve been here before and you’ve dreaded it before. But remember how much better you felt when you finally got going? When you really stop to think about it, that resistance is just your mind playing tricks on you. Instead of being the victim of that thought process, become the observer of those thoughts and you will see how self-destructive it really is.
- 2. Just Start Moving and Your Body Does the Rest – While the mind controls the body, there is a physiological element of resistance going on as well. Once you get the body moving, your heart rate increases and your muscles get warm and you should physically have more energy. If you don’t experience a boost after 5-10 minutes, you may want to slow the pace or simply focus on less strenuous exercise that day. Listening to your body is important. If you can’t wake up the muscles after that warm-up phase, try some gentle stretching or even yoga. When I have had less than optimal sleep, yoga provides the gentle movement and conscious breathing my body needs.
- 3. Find a workout partner – Find someone who will pick you up when you are down and for whom you can return the favor. It is an unfortunate truth, but some of us feel worse about letting someone else down than we do about letting ourselves down. This provides an added element of accountability. A more positive way to look at this is that asking someone to be your workout partner is a conscious decision to do something for yourself because you know it will ultimately benefit you. Look at it as an act of self-compassion rather than a crutch. Another way the workout partner strategy helps is that it requires you to find the time and put it on your schedule.
- 4. Take an Exercise Class – If you can’t think of anyone who would make a worthy workout partner, consider joining an exercise group or taking exercise classes. Group exercise can be very motivating because not only is the instructor pushing you, but the other class participants are working their tails off and that can be powerful inspiration. The great thing about this is that by following someone else’s instruction, it takes your mind out of it. This leaves little time or space for thinking about how you don’t want to be doing this right now. There is an energy in a group environment that tends to pull you along. Another benefit of taking a class is that it may be an opportunity to try a new form of exercise. Variety in training is not only good for you physiologically, it can put some excitement back into your workout. And finally, group classes are excellent recruitment pools for new workout partners.
- 5. Hire a personal trainer – Some of us are simply group-averse. Hiring a private trainer has many of benefits of the exercise class without the crowd. Not only that, but the risk of getting yourself injured is even less with a private trainer because the trainer is responsible for watching your technique and nobody else’s. A trainer can also modify your current routine to make it more effective and interesting for you. This can breathe new life into your workout! There are countless knowledgeable personal trainers out there. The key is finding someone who is qualified to work with any physical limitations you may have and, most importantly, someone you like.
- 6. Move It Or Lose It! – If none of the above approaches work for you, the last resort is the fear factor. I am not a big proponent of using fear as motivation, but sometimes nothing else works. Let’s say you currently don’t really have many physical complaints and you figure why exercise and mess up a good thing and maybe risk getting injured? To that I say this: It is only a matter of time before you ask your body to do something it is ill-prepared to do—like walk a few miles while shopping all day, dancing at a wedding, climbing several flights of stairs when the elevator isn’t working, or shoveling snow. You name it. Do you think your body will be ready for that? If you already feel rusty and stiff-jointed, think about this. As bad as you feel right now, you can pretty much count on it getting a whole lot worse unless you start exercising.
Your best approach is to look at exercise as if you don’t have a choice. It’s time to stop looking for excuses not to move and open your eyes to all of the reasons why you must. If you don’t know where to start or are afraid of injuring yourself, personal trainers like myself are easy to find. Just get moving! Do it for yourself and the ones you love. Make your world and theirs a better place.