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How to stay motivated when you really don't want to work out

The fitness experts share their pro advice

Les Mills workout© Les Mills
Katie Baxter
Freelance Writer
January 17, 2024
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Finding the motivation to work out is hard enough at the best of times — let alone in the dark and dreary depths of January. When you add cold and uninviting weather into the mix, hauling yourself to the gym (or even forcing yourself out of bed!) can feel like a near impossible feat.

To counter the January workout blues, we spoke to a handful of fitness experts for their top tips on how to stay motivated when you really, really don't want to work out. Believe it or not, even fitness fanatics experience peaks and troughs in their motivation levels — it's only human. 

Luckily for us, there are some trusty tricks of the trade that you can fall back on to make the prospect of working out a whole lot less daunting. 

Starting is the hardest part 

Clichéd as it may sound, it really is true what they say: that first step is the hardest to take. But, according to Ciana Glynn, personal trainer, holistic health coach and founder of The Wellness Primer, once you get into the swing of things, the feeling of exercising can actually become addictive. 

"Once you start moving, this naturally changes your physiology and releases endorphins, shifting your mindset in a positive way that you will more likely follow through on your desired outcome," she said. 

"Sometimes it's the initial thought that can feel overwhelming. If this is the case, commit to, for example, the first five to ten minutes of your session. Sometimes, just getting started is the hardest part. Once you begin, you feel great doing it, that you'll more than likely continue to follow through."

Committing to the first five or ten minutes of your workout makes it a lot easier to get started
Committing to the first five or ten minutes of your workout makes it a lot easier to get started

Set realistic goals 

It's all well and good to decide that you want to work out more in the new year to get healthier. But what does that look like in practice? Setting yourself bitesize, tangible goals is a surefire way to spur you on when you really don't want to work out. 

Ali Malik, personal trainer and founder of Fit Labs Kensington, explained just how crucial it is to have realistic goals to work towards. "Break down larger fitness objectives into smaller, achievable milestones. This not only makes the journey more manageable but also provides a sense of accomplishment along the way."

And whenever you feel your motivation flagging, Jenni Tardiff, master trainer at The Gym Group, advised sharing your goals with others, to hold yourself more accountable. "Tell everyone what your goals are, write them down and record your progress. You will be more likely to stay on track and achieve your fitness goals," she explained.

Any movement is better than nothing 

When January rolls around, it can feel like everyone is suddenly flocking to the gym in their droves, swapping cocktails for protein shakes, signing up for ultra-marathons and donning their running shoes at 6am. But the reality is that it doesn't have to be all or nothing — subtle, healthier changes to your routine can be much more sustainable. 

Even a longer dog walk or a walk to the shops contributes to your daily activity levels© Les Mills
Even a longer dog walk or a walk to the shops contributes to your daily activity levels

As Jess McDonald, Les Mills instructor, TAP coach and presenter, explained, making small adjustments can make a huge difference when you don't want to work out. "It can be tough to find motivation to work out, especially when it's cold and dark outside," she said. 

"But remember, any activity is a workout! Remember that even a quick walk adds to our activity levels. So, on days where you may feel tired, simply walk. Choose to walk rather than jumping in the car when you pop to the shops or if you're on the school run. If you have a dog that you walk often, choose a slightly longer route and quicker pace as this adds to your activity too!"

Find a friend 

Friends make everything better — and working out is no exception. Finding someone to tackle your goals with injects some much-needed fun into your workout routine. 

Jess explained that finding an accountability partner massively helps when it comes to staying disciplined. "It's always more fun to work out with your pals, as we can keep each other accountable and help each other when we feel we may back out! When I know I'm lacking motivation, my friends help lift me out of it. And it's so much more fun to be with friends!"

Working out with friends helps you stay motivated as you can hold each other accountable© Les Mills
Working out with friends helps you stay motivated as you can hold each other accountable

Jenni added: "Organising and committing to meet someone at the gym makes it less likely for you to cancel as you don't want to let anyone down by not showing up. They will likely be feeling the same and looking forward to seeing you to help with their motivation too."

According to Jenni, booking a group class can also make working out more fun. "Booking a group exercise class is a great way to meet new training buddies and be part of a fitness community that provides social support and accountability. Try various workouts/classes until you find something you enjoy and that way you are more likely to stick with it."

Remember your 'why'

When your alarm that you set the night before for an early morning workout blares and your room is still pitch black, it's easy to lose sight of why you're doing it in the first place. 

Ciana said the key is reminding yourself of your fundamental motivation — the reason why this life change is so important to you. This will help you stay disciplined even when motivation is lacking in that particular moment. "Don't forget to remind yourself why you are doing what you're doing," she said. "Remind yourself of how good you will feel afterwards. Feelings make the motivation stronger."

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