Practical Tips to Stay Motivated to Exercise

On Monday morning I was training a client and we began discussing motivation.  What motivates a person to get active, and commit to staying active?

There are two types of motivation, intrinsic and extrinsic.  Intrinsic motivation is when the motivation to exercise comes from the feeling and results you create from exercising (endorphins, good mood, feeling strong, standing taller, doing daily life activities with ease).  Extrinsic motivation is when something outside of yourself (a friend, a trainer, music, or a cost, a health issue, or a weight problem) are motivating you to exercise.  Extrinsic motivators turn going to the gym into a “have to” or a “supposed to” rather than a “choose to” or “want to”.

Initially, I think all people start exercising for an extrinsic reason.  You sign up for a gym pass and then keep going because you don’t want to waste your money.  Or you hire and commit to a trainer and don’t cancel the sessions because you know she will be waiting for you.  Or you commit to a running group with a friend who will start to ask questions if you don’t show up!  Or you decide you are fed up with your crappy Grouse Grind time, and want to do something about it!  Eventually when exercise no longer becomes the torturous endeavour that so many beginners believe it to be, it does start to feel good!  You start to get stronger, feel happier, notice less aches and pains, are less moody, have more energy for your day etc.  If you stick with the extrinsic motivators long enough to start to feel the intrinsic motivators, then you’ve create a new habit.  Stick to that habit long enough and you’ve got a commitment to the gym going strong!  So strong that you don’t even think twice about whether or not you should go.  It’s a part of your day, your life, your ‘being-ness’.

(On a side note, I am reading a great book by Gretchin Rubin on habits, if you are a bit nerdy like me and want to read about the science and good stuff behind habits, check it out!).

So how can I help you create some EXTRINSIC motivation in your life?

First, let’s be honest.  Even us intrinsically motivated exercises have a few days where we think “hmm…this again…I’m not feeling it today”.  They happen, and that’s when I resort to one of the following items on my list below.  They are handy ways to help you create a gym habit, and a handy way to sneak in a keep you motivated as you go along.

1.  IPOD-  If you don’t have any ipod, get one.  Get one that has internet connection.  With your new found Ipod you are going to be able to take part in my next bullets below:

2.  SONGZA-  Songza is a music app/website.  You go to (or download the app on your ipod).  You can then choose any genre of music, or select a playlist of music based on your mood or activity (working out).  Songza is a lifesaver.  Music affects our nervous system by altering our mood.  If you need to get pumped up or energized to get going on your workout, then get the right playlist going.  Also- when else in your day do you get to turn on some really good tunes and listen to music?  The gym is a great place to pop in those ear phones and listen to some of your favourite songs.

3.  This is a website created by amazon where you can purchase and download your favourite audio books.  I always have a few books recently loaded on mine, and you can often find me in the YWCA Health and Fitness Center listening to one as I exercise.  It’s a great motivator because the time will fly by, you stimulate your brain, and if you read non fiction like me, you get a littler smarter all at the same time!  Plus, you look forward to hearing the next chapter, so it’s your motivation to get into the gym the next time to keep listening 🙂

4.  Podcasts.  These are downloaded in Itunes (you can also search for other websites like this one: if you don’t have itunes).  But Itunes is the easiest.  Within Itunes, depending what version you have you will have to find the Itunes store.  Podcasts are free, but you still find them in the store.  Right on the main page you will see all sorts of groups of different podcasts based on topics.  You click on one that sounds interesting, and can subscribe to it.  As a subscriber when you plug in your Ipod it will now download the most recent episodes for you.  If you want to set this up and are having issues, just send me an e-mail.  Here are some of my favourite (most of them are health topics):

1.  The Human Health Experiment.  The podcaster is named Tommy Caldwell.  I met him while living in London Ontario, and he is definitely a health and fitness guru to follow.  He is very direct and to the point, while at the same time very informative.  He has another podcast called the “Outlaws of Health”, where the guys in the group tackle certain topics in health that may be considered controversial.  Very entertaining!

2.  Serial (EVERYONE NEEDS TO LISTEN TO THIS ONE).  It’s a bit creepy, but the way they have designed the show is incredibly capitivating.  It’s a story of a murder in baltimore and a teenage boy is sent to jail for it (it took place in the 90’s).  The podcast host has gone back and dug up old evidence and is re-interviewing those involved.  You won’t regret downloading this one.

3.  The Chalene Show.  Chalene is a fitness celebrity.  She can be credited for the Beachbody fitness videos and movement.  She has millions of fitness videos online!  She now works as a motivational speaker, and helps entrepreneurs get their businesses going.  Her main podcast is all about health, fitness and being your best self.  She has a great personality.  I think you will like her energy, and the topics she speaks about on her show.

4.  The Rich Roll Podcast-  Rich Roll is a vegan ultraendurance athlete and recovered alcoholic.  Although I eat meat, and don’t run marathons anymore there is something about his podcast this keeps me listening to him!  Check him out for yourself.  His podcasts are very long (a few hours).

5.  The holistic Health Diary-  These girls are from London Ontario and their podcasts are upbeat, fun to listen to, and very informative.

6.  Health Optimized- Rita Catolino.  Rita is a fitness trainer also in London Ontario.  She doesn’t have any new episodes, but I like what she talks about in her old ones.

That’s it for my favourites..

6.  Goals and a Routine

This is one of my main motivators for going to the gym.  When you consistently have goals such as “Increase my hamstring flexibility so I can touch the floor” or “Squat 180 pounds” or ” Be able to do the crazy core exercise Katherine showed me” 🙂 you stay motivated and consistent with the gym.  It’s not only about “Losing the weight” or “doing what’s right for my health”, you need to have some hands on practical ideas for goals to keep you going!  Writing down your workouts is also a great motivator.  You can slowly see over the span of months, days and years how much progress you are making, and continue to make.

7.  Join a class, bring a friend, hire a trainer.

If for whatever reason you can’t seem to get into it with those tips, it’s time to make a commitment.  Join a class that you actually find FUN.  Find a workout buddy that will commit to you 100%, or hire a trainer.  At least one of these methods should get you in a habit.  After a certain period of time this habit will become regular life.  And at some points life gets in the way again, and you may fall out of habit!  That’s ok.  Recognize it, and create a plan to get back in.

Some final thoughts around motivation:

–  It’s better to get to the gym (or your workout space) and do SOMETHING rather than not going.  Don’t let the habit fall.  Even if you show up at the gym and stretch, it’s better than ditching on your self and your schedule.

–  Don’t put so much pressure on yourself for things to look a certain way.  I think many times we expect ourselves to achieve, and run faster, and lift heavier, and look leaner.  Well, sometimes progress and results take a freaking long time.  And progress and results ONLY come with consistency and long term dedication.  So stop focussing solely on what are you getting right now from activity, and focus on staying committed.

–  Know what type of habit maker you are.  I am what Gretchen Rubin calls an “Upholder”.  When I set a habit, rule, or schedule I stick to it 100%.  Noone needs to hold me accountable.  Are you a questioner (You need to ask a million questions about everything before doing something), a rebel (You create the rules, noone creates them for you), or an obliger (you have an easier time doing something for someone else than yourself).  You need to figure out how you create rules and habits in your own life, and trick yourself into making that work for the gym.  For example, if you are an obliger, you probably need a trainer!  A rebel doesn’t need a workout plan or program, they need to come up with their own idea about what is fitness and stick to it.  A questioner needs to do their research about all aspects of health and fitness while they get going on a routine.

Click here for Gretchen’s blog on this topic

I write this from a place of being a person that has gone to the gym /been active steadily for 13 years.  Sure, there were travel times where I skipped it, and weeks when I gave myself rest.  But for the past 13 years I have been active at least 3-4 days a week, but usually more like 6-7, mostly in the gym.  I can speak from what has worked for me, what keeps me motivated.  I can also speak to the fact that when exercise is a priority and is scheduled into your life just like everything else, you take the commitment seriously.  For me, I know my mood suffers, I get achey, I get tired, I put on weight, I revert to being weaker, I lose fitness, I feel less motivation in the rest of my life, and I feel shitty about myself if I don’t exercise!  These are my intrinsic reasons why I hit the gym.  What are yours?

I hope you got some value from this blog.  Feel free to share below what motivates you to get in there and get it done!!!

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