How to Motivate yourself to Exercise

Don’t stop reading. This isn’t another article about how great exercise is for you, or a lecture on how much exercise you “should” be doing. You know all that. We all know all that. No, this is an article about motivating yourself to go do the exercise, to make it easier for yourself to get out and “go play”.

People who know me, know that I’m a big fan of exercise, playing sports, and keeping in shape. It is true that at almost 60 years old, I am and have been active all my life. Swimming, weight training, walking, skating and bike riding are my current activity choices, but I will throw a baseball, play badminton or tennis, do an aerobics class and want to (re-)take up curling in the near future. My past included playing soccer, syncronized swimming, curling and softball, and always, always weight training. I’ve always been a gym-goer.

Now, I’ve never been a pro athlete or anything – I went to school, got married, worked full-time, and raised two boys. And throughout my ordinary life, I maintained my exercise routine, always finding ways to keep motivated.

I was once asked in the locker room how long I had been training, and with the answer of, well, my whole life, I was scoffed at: “Well, sure, easy for you to make time, you’ve always done it. It’s harder for the rest of us to get to the gym.”

That was unfair. I’ve never had any more time in my day than anyone else. And lack of time is the number one reason cited as to why people don’t exercise more regularly– they say they don’t have time. But that’s not really true, is it? There’s time to surf the net, watch Netflix, amble the mall, sit at Starbucks.

So, it’s not really lack of time why most people don’t exercise more. And what my locker room buddy didn’t also note is this: It’s not hard to exercise. It’s fun, once at the gym, or once in the pool, or once out on the trail or on the bike. That is the fun part, the play. No, what’s hard is making yourself get out of bed, off the couch, or out of the work clothes at lunch; it’s hard to organize your workout stuff then commute to and go into a changeroom and put on those runners or that bathing suit. The hard part is getting ready and then going to the exercise. The hard part always was and still is, even for a lifer exerciser like myself, to make yourself go.

So, how have I done it? How do I do it? I have some tricks and tips I’ve collected that help motivate me to go play, and I want to share them. I’ll use a gym routine as my example, but the tips apply to pools, yoga studios or any setting you choose.

Go out to exercise. Shower there.

Join a gym. Don’t exercise at home. You may think you are saving time by exercising at home, but that never worked for me. Home had too many distractions, including my kids and husband. I needed the outing to motivate myself. Just make sure your choice of gym is as convenient as possible. The best was one at work, or at least on the way to or from work. And don’t forget that the shower after the workout is part of the exercise routine – too many women will just drive home in soggy sweatpants to use their own shower with all their own stuff. This is a mistake – the shower can become a great motivation to exercise, but you must try this to believe it. Think of it as the spa part. When you pick your gym, make sure you like the shower facilities.

Time to exercise.

Most gyms are open very generous hours, so find a time to go that fits with your current lifestyle.

When my kids were in daycare, I exercised before work, or better yet at lunch, to get home as soon as possible after. When they got a little older and had their own after-school activities, I switched it up, going directly to the gym from work before heading home. The secret here is : Make going to the gym part of your work day. Don’t go home first then expect it to be easy to leave after supper and head back out to the gym. It won’t be. Much easier to do home-gym-work-home or home-work-gym-home. I never did as many aerobic classes as I wanted, because they were scheduled too late at night. But I did them if they were right after or right before work. Even better if they were at lunch hour.

Exercise on Lunch hour.

This is one that many won’t do. Hair takes too long to fix. Prefer to work through lunch. Errands to do. This is all true, but the benefits of lunch hour workouts are the greatest. Some tips:

  • Keep your hair and makeup as simple as possible. Shorter hair, or pony-tails.
  • If no shower is available, or you just can’t be limited to a 5 minute shower, try wet-wipes on the face and sweaty parts, then change into clean underwear and socks.
  • 20-30 minutes of daily lunchtime exercise is fine – on a 45 minute lunch hour, you can commute, exercise and shower, change, do makeup, and return to work. It IS possible. Yes, it is. The secret is the gym bag.

Set Up your Special Workout Bag:

Make it easy. Have a bag already packed up the night before your workout. The bag itself is a motivator, because it will contain only your special workout clothes. These should be fancy specialty shorts and tops or an expensive Speedo, or Lulu Lemon pants or whatever you need, BUT, and this is the important trick: they must only exist for your workouts. You may not wear them grocery shopping or hanging out. You must own gym-only runners, or hiking boots only for trails, or whatever, but they are special and only for your special exercise time. And they must be pretty, expensive and replaced on birthdays and Christmas. Trust me, you will enjoy the anticipation of wearing them, but since you can only wear them for exercise, well… you get the motivating point!

Same thing for the shampoos and cosmetics– only use the good stuff, like from the Body Shop, or anything you wouldn’t share with the family. Keep it in your gym bag.

Don’t forget : clean towels, socks, and underwear. Even a fresh top, especially if you are going out somewhere after. I’ve gone from home to work to the gym to out for dinner and a show, all from the same magic workout bag.

Finally, take that gear bag with you everyday. Every night, clean out the used sweaty stuff and replace with the fresh towels and clothes. No worries about the cosmetics and shoes – they live in your bag always!

Coffee. Snacks.

The main trouble I found going to the gym right after work was that I was really very tired by 4pm, not to mention hungry. So I discovered that a cup of coffee at 2:30 or 3pm with a piece of chocolate really boosted my energy levels enough to get to the gym after work. This advice also works for a 10:30am snack if you want to workout at lunchtime.

Be Kind to Yourself

Don’t stress if the bag sits unused for a day or two. Aim to exercise every day and take that bag every day, but know that three times a week is enough to keep us non-pro athletes in good shape. Or, go every day, but cut the exercising shorter on days you just aren’t enjoying the play. On those tough days to get motivated, I tell myself, no exercise today – but I do want the shower, so I’ll go just for that. By the time I get to the gym I decide a little stretch might be fine, and, you guessed it, by then I feel more motivated to work out. But I admit that on some days I’ve only done the shower. No one’s judging!

Habit

If I had to give a one-word summary to my successful exercise lifetime, it would be “Habit”. The biggest trick is to make exercise a habit. You always have done, always do, and always will do. You may adjust, tweak, change, take breaks. But you will always go back. Even when I broke my leg, even when I was nine months pregnant, even on vacations : I packed a great gym bag and went to the gym. And at least took a shower!

I was once asked at the gym “What are you training for?” At first I didn’t understand the question, until I realized they wondered if I was a triathelete or something, training for some upcoming event. Smiling, I answered, “I’m on the thirty year maintenance plan”, meaning, of course, that I just exercise for the lifetime benefits we all know go with maintaining an exercise program.

I hope you can use some of my motivating tricks, and you’ll probably find others of your own. Enjoy!

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