How to Stay Motivated to Exercise

Podcast Episode #008: How to Stay Motivated to Exercise

Willpower is a fickle thing. Some days it's strong, while other days it feels non-existent. That's why you can't rely on your willpower to build a healthy habit of exercise. This podcast explores some better ideas to keep motivated for regular exercise.

How to Stay Motivated to Exercise [Full Text]

Today I have a great question from Kelly. Let's dive right in...

"A big challenge for me is the difference between myself and my husband. He's not into physical activity and he likes TV and eating as recreation. I find it difficult to be self motivated to do my fitness and eat moderately. Any ideas?"

A really great question, Kelly, and this is something that I hear quite frequently: Two partners who aren't quite on the same page when it comes to fitness and healthy living. In terms of talking about moderating your food choices or making healthy food choices, I encourage you to take a look at podcast episode number five where I talk about avoiding food temptations and there's some really practical and helpful hints in there.

Today I'd like to discuss that motivation to stay active and to get your exercise done. I used to go quite regularly to a particular yoga class and at the start of each class the instructor would always say the same thing. She'd always say, "You've already done the hardest part."

I remember thinking that was really encouraging, the hardest part is simply getting there. But once you're there, once you begin your exercise, whatever type of exercise it is, the rest sort of takes care of itself, so in terms of talking about motivation to exercise, I think that's really where we need to start.

What Do We Need to Do Just to Get Started?

Today I'd like to talk about four specific actions you can take that will help you eliminate any barriers or any excuses or any conflicts that can prevent you from starting your daily exercise.

Exercise In the Morning

The first one is to exercise first thing in the morning. You've probably heard this before. You probably don't need me to go through all the reasons why this is so important, but if you can get into a routine or a habit of exercising very first thing in the morning, the chance of other conflicts or other temptations to skip that exercise are massively reduced. There's also a lot of research that shows that those who exercise in morning actually get better results.

There's a really interesting research study that took two groups of women. One group of women exercised first thing in the morning and the other exercised when they got home after work or in the evening. After eight weeks, that morning exercise group showed significantly better results in terms of weight loss versus the group who exercised in the evening.

Among other variables, one thing that researchers noticed was that the morning exercise group slept significantly better than the evening exercisers. That just makes sense. If you exercise in the evening, your juices are flowing, your heart rate's going, you're very alert, you're very awake, chance of falling asleep very well really diminishes.

Think about that. At the very least, consider exercising in the morning because it will improve your sleep. In addition to all that, it helps you avoid all those conflicts that could arise throughout your day.

This is so powerful that when I was a personal trainer working with clients face to face, I made it my goal to slowly wean off all of my evening and afternoon exercisers and convert them into being morning exercisers. This was very successful. I had all of my clients exercising first thing in the morning. Now, for me that meant I'd get to work at 4:30 or sometimes 5:00 in the morning and would train people at the latest til 11:00 AM. I just found through experience that those who scheduled workouts in the afternoon or in the evening were much more likely to skip their workout, to cancel, or to come much less energetic, believe it or not.

I know morning exercise sounds daunting, but again, once you get there, the hardest part is already done.

If you're not a morning exerciser or not a morning person, there's a couple things that you can do to really help break down the barriers to get started.

Number one is to lie out your clothes, have your running shoes ready to go. I know that seems like a small step, but it's committing in your mind that yes, this is going to happen. Number two is to have your exercise or your workout already planned. You're going to go for a jog, you're going to go for a walk, whatever it is, have it planned out ahead of time so that there's no decision making required when your alarm goes off in the morning.

In the show notes for this episode, I'm going to include links to two of my favourite workouts that maybe are ones that you'd want to try in the morning. One is a yoga workout and the other is sort of a resistance training, circuit training workout. They're both available in video format online. You can take there two workouts, cue one of them up the night before, have your clothes ready to go, and then the mental barriers are completely removed. All you need to do is wake up, throw on those clothes, and you've got your workout ready to go.

Make It an Appoinment

The number two way to stay motivated for your exercise is to set an appointment with a friend. I had another client who was really good at attending our sessions, but when it came time for him to exercise on his own, there were always things that came up and rarely did his exercise actually happen. One of the things I got him to do was to schedule appointments in his calender. Now, I asked him to treat those just as if they were business meetings. They were non-negotiable, they had to happen.

What do you think happened? He didn't go to any of those meetings. He didn't do his workout.

There's no accountability in seeing this meeting pop up in his calender, so we changed the tactic slightly and I had him invite me to each of those workout sessions. On my calender it said hey, it's time for us to workout and his calender also said that.

Now, what did this do? For the first couple weeks whenever I saw that message pop up, I'd send him a text message or a quick email and just say hey, I'll see you in the gym shortly. It was sort of our little joke. I'll see you in the gym. He knew I wasn't actually going to be there, I knew I wasn't going to be there, but it was just enough accountability to remind him yes, this is something that I actually want to do.

Can you follow that lead as well? Even if your spouse isn't on the same page as you in terms of exercise, can you use a friend or a coworker or a family member as a little bit of accountability?

All you need to do is ask them to set appointments with you in your calender and then you'll know that they're being notified when you're supposed to be exercising. Ask them to follow up with you. Ask them to remind you. Like my client, it only took a couple weeks of this reminding process until the habit started to form and he started to go to the gym without me actually reminding him.

Make It Social

My third tip for getting really motivated to stick with your exercise plans is to get very social. I don't mean about social exercise, although that is great as well, I mean using social media to be very public about your intentions.

I have a friend about a year ago who was looking to lose a substantial amount of weight, about a hundred pounds. She created this series of posts on Facebook called her DIY in progress. This was where she posted her story about the changes that she wanted to make in her life and how those changes were going.

It was really interesting because all of her posts weren't positive. There was definitely some times when things weren't going as well, but you could really see the support she was building for herself simply by posting. In fact, I'd say people rallied around her a lot more in those times when things weren't going well than the times when things went perfectly.

If you're really brave, you can even get specific. Post your weight, post a picture, post a specific goal or a specific type of exercise that you want to do. The more specific you get, the more people are able to follow up with you about those specifics and help you stay on track to reach those goals.

Now I get it. You're really putting yourself out there by posting on social media about your goals and your challenges, but the motivation and the accountability that you're creating for yourself is unbelievable. If you have a spouse who isn't necessarily on the same page, this is a great way to recruit a huge support system without very much work on your end.

Build Exercise Into Your Routine

Number four way that I'd suggest to stay motivated for your exercise is to build into your routine and I'll explain with a little story. This actually just happened to me a few days ago. There was a day when it was really hot and I had scheduled to go for a long run that day. I woke up in the morning and was supposed to do it first thing in the morning. I love morning exercise typically but today I just wasn't feeling it, so I pushed it off and said, "Okay, I'll go in a couple hours."

In a couple hours, sure enough, I still didn't really feel like going. This continued on until just after lunch. I was meeting a friend for coffee in the afternoon, and I decided this was an opportunity to really motivate myself to make sure this run happened.

I put on my running gear, put on my running shoes, my shorts, put on my CamelBak hydration pack, took my phone with my music on and walked to meet my friend for coffee. He was a little surprised when I showed up and kind of asked me why are you dressed like that? I told him as soon as we're done here, I'm going to go for a run. I'm all ready to go. Just keep me accountable to that.

Sure enough, after our coffee, I'll admit I wasn't really feeling that motivated to go run and I actually made a comment to him. I said I don't know if I'm actually going to go do this. His simple words, he said you're already dressed to do it, just go run. "You love running."

I've never told him that I love running, but those simple words of encouragement, you love running, was all it took and I went out and got my run done.

Another example that I've had clients implement that's really helpful is having someone drop them off at work. Imagine you're going to work in the morning. The temptation is to drive to work and say I'm going to go for a walk at lunch or I'm going to go for a walk or a jog or whatever it is when I get home from work. What would happen if you would have someone drop you off at work and then you have no way to get home? You're forced to walk home. You're forced to to jog home. It's building in that exercise into your schedule where it's not really negotiable.

Think about there's probably lots of opportunities of things that you do regularly throughout your week, how can you build in some exercise so that it doesn't even become a question? That's instantly breaking down that barrier of getting started into your exercise. That motivation is already there. It's a prerequisite. Now you just get it done.

Your "10 in 4" Takeaway

The vast majority of people can't rely on willpower alone when it comes to getting their exercise done. They need some sort of system or routine and even more importantly, they need some sort of accountability. If your spouse isn't necessarily on the same page as you when it comes to being healthy and exercising, it's up to you to look outside of your spouse for ways to stay motivated.

My challenge for you this week is to pick one action, so it can be of the four that we discussed today or maybe it's your own, and implement that in your routine. Just one action should make a huge difference in terms of how motivated you are to get your exercise done.

I'd love to hear from you if you have an idea that I didn't mention today. You can visit this podcast episode on my blog at and leave a comment. Your idea might inspire someone else to take action as well, so let us know what you plan to do and then I'd love some follow up. How did it work? Did you notice any difference? What improvements did you see?

I want to finish with a really powerful quote that lends itself quite well to this whole idea of having motivation for exercise. The quote says, 

Mindfulness today leads to mindlessness tomorrow.

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Basically what that means is the more mindful we are today of establishing these routines and implementing some strategies that help these routines stick, the more mindful we are in doing this, the more mindless it will become it in future, the more habitual it will become, the less work it will become, and we'll start to do these things just out of habit. It will become very automatic.

Let's put in the work today so that it's less work in the future.

Thanks for joining me today!

Simone - September 30, 2015

I am in this situation where my husband doesn’t want to workout but I do. And it is hard to stay motivated. Since I am a morning person I always try to workout before anyone else gets up. However, sometimes my stomach is rumbling. But if I eat something (even just a few bites) my stomach starts aching 10 minutes into my workout. When I don’t eat I barely have the energy to get through a 30 minute workout. Do you have any suggestions for something else I could try?

    Dave Smith - September 30, 2015

    Hi Simone – I’m glad to hear you’re still getting your exercise done even if your husband isn’t on board. Good for you!!

    Eating around exercise really takes some trial and error. Usually something light and almost strictly carb-based (i.e. no fat or protein) is best pre-workout.

    Have you tried rice cakes? I often have clients try 1/2 of a rice cake…just enough to stop the hunger, but not enough to cause stomach issues.

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