If you think exercise is a chore, it will be a chore—and we all know what happens when we have chores. Given the opportunity, we’ll avoid them. “Most people don’t like exercise because they’re conditioned to believe it’s a ‘consequence’ or ‘punishment’ for bad habits,” says Jenny Jaucian, PT, a NASM-certified personal trainer, 200-hour Yoga Alliance instructor, a Precision Nutrition Level 1 Coach, and the founder of Jenny J Fitness. “People use exercise as a way to somehow erase all of the weekend binging, late-night eating, and excessive drinking, which creates this negative connotation towards exercise.”
That’s why, she—and other fitness pros we spoke to—say that the single biggest thing you can do to enjoy exercise more is to fundamentally change how you feel about it. “When you create a more positive perspective on exercise, you are more likely to do it because it creates a more satisfying and enjoyable experience,” says Jaucian. “Examples for changing your perspective on fitness include seeing how daily movement helps increase energy and focus throughout the day, [and recognizing it as an] outlet to relieve stress and anxiety.”
That’s all true, of course, but let’s face it: Successfully reprogramming your mind to fall deeply in love with pushing your body through greater physical effort is way easier said than done. In fact, let’s get something out of the way right now: Working out is hard—it’s supposed to be hard—and down here on planet earth, where we have full-time jobs, stress and anxiety, responsibilities, and, in too many cases, the lack of resources, finding the time and motivation to exercise can feel incredibly daunting. Even the fittest personal trainers in the world will wake up on some days and say to themselves, “ugh… really?”
The first step toward making exercise feel less like work? Simply understand that you’re normal for feeling that exercise is hard in the first place. The second step is to be kinder to yourself about it. (As science has shown, putting off tasks has less to do with the actual task than how you feel about that task.) The third step for making exercise less miserable? Pick something you’re interested in, commit to it for a few times, and give it a go. The fourth step? Employ any of the secret tricks that follow for making exercise a less miserable experience.
That’s right: We reached out to scores of top fitness pros for their tips and secret tricks for making exercise feel less hard, which they gamely provided. So read on for some great things you can do to convince yourself to workout more and for longer. And for some great beginner workouts you can try, don’t miss The Walking Workouts That Will Help You Get Lean, Says Top Trainer.
There’s an old saying in running circles: “The first mile is the worst mile.” According to Steve Stonehouse, USATF Coach and Director of Education for STRIDE, simply coming to terms with the fact that the “first eight minutes” of running “s*cks” was a huge help.
“Someone told me this when I started running and it helped me so much,” he says. “As a new runner, the first half-mile or mile was always brutal. I’d feel like I was dying, I’d get down on myself about how slow I was going, how out of breath I was, and I would think about quitting and turning around. But I would remind myself the first 8 minutes will always s*ck, and I’d just focus on getting over that hump. After about 10 minutes, the endorphins kick in, you find a rhythm and it does get better. And eventually, you’re hooked!” And for more great exercise advice, don’t miss The 5 Greatest Exercises for Toning Your Abs, Says Trainer.
If there’s one area of your life where you should behave promiscuously, it’s exercise, says Jeanette DePatie, CPT, author of The Fat Chick Works Out! and founder of Everybody Can Exercise. “So often we commit to the first exercise we think of or see, and then we get married to it,” she says. “One of the most important tips for making exercise less miserable is to take the time to find something you like. There’s more than swimming, biking, and running. Maybe it’s stand-up paddle boarding. Maybe it’s tango lessons. Maybe it’s aerial exercises or pole dancing. You may need to kiss a few fitness frogs before you find your dream exercise program.” For more exercise tips, see here for the Secret Exercise Tricks for Keeping Your Weight Down for Good.
Yes, it sounds corny, but telling yourself, “You got this!,” is a wildly effective mental trick while exercising. According to a 2016 study from Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, cyclists who received self-talk training before a race enjoyed a 39 percent increase in endurance.
It’s not just about what you’re saying, but also how you say it. A 2019 study published in the Journal of Sports Sciences found that cyclers who switched their self-talk from first-person (such as “I can do this!”) to second-person (“You can do this!”) enjoyed a performance boost during a 10K race. (Also, you should keep it positive. Telling yourself that “you s*ck if you can’t do this” isn’t the way to go.) For more on how to self-talk correctly, see The One Secret Exercise Trick That’s So Easy You Won’t Believe it Works.
If you’re finding yourself lacking in motivation, one of the surest ways to get over it is to recruit a friend to join you. “Get a gym buddy to tag along,” advises Ashlee Van Buskirk, a former competitive bodybuilder and owner and operator of the Denver-based fitness and nutrition coaching business Whole Intent. “A friend at the gym will help you feel more relaxed and you’ll have someone to pal around with to take the edge off. Plus, it will help you hold yourself more accountable to your exercise routine too.”
You don’t have to be an aspiring fitfluencer to be proud of your exercise and broadcast it to the world. “When you want to work out, announce it to the world,” says Dr. Rashmi Byakodi, a health and wellness writer and the editor of Best for Nutrition. “By telling your friends or by posting on social media, you’ll feel accountable and try to follow what you have said. Accountability is the best key to keep your motivation high.” So post that hiking selfie from the top of the mountain! Be proud of showing off to the world your new PB! And for more great advice, check out The Secret Exercise Trick for Flatter Abs After 40.
“Connect your workout to bigger themes in life,” advises Rohan Arora, CPT, the founder and CEO of Gaining Tactics. “Instead of connecting your workout to just your body, connect to other areas of your life, such as confidence, personality development, and overall mood improvement. For instance, exercising can reduce cortisol levels in your body, helping reduce stress and making you feel better. Similarly, exercising can make you feel better about your overall body image, boosting your confidence. The idea is to somehow associate your workouts with bigger things in life, things that can motivate you to take action.”
According to Laura Thomas, an ACE-certified personal trainer and founder of Thomas Fitness Consulting, it’s helpful just to remind yourself that, by exercising, you’re looking out for #1. “Remind yourself that this is not for anyone else other than you,” she says. “And not for an aesthetic or weight goal, but to be active so that you can use stairs, walk, carry groceries, carry kids, pick things up from the floor, clean, cook, travel, etc. without pain or fatigue.”
“When it comes to working out, there is no immediate reward,” says Dr. Byakodi. “Only consistency and dedication for a long period can bring positive outcomes. But our mind looks for an immediate reward in everything we do. So keeping some short-term goals and rewarding yourself and celebrating every milestone can keep you motivated.”
So promise yourself that you’ll buy those new clothes if you complete 20 routines in a month. Or you’ll buy yourself a new pair of shoes if you hit 200 minutes of exercise in a single week. Celebrate that exercise!
“For people who don’t like exercise, I would recommend practicing gratitude—for being thankful for the body that you have,” says Shaun Zetlin, CPT, of Zetlin Fitness. “I wouldn’t think of exercise as a chore or punishment, but the ability to move freely, especially if you are able to move without pain. Most of us have an emotional choice to choose to move our body or not.”
So what should you do? “Allow yourself to talk to your body (silently is fine) and tell yourself positive affirmations that will fuel you into obtaining your full physical potential,” says Zetlin. “Recall times when your body surprised you in performing an exercise (especially if you were burdened emotionally).”
“Know thyself!,” says Paul Johnson, founder of Complete Tri. “Some people would rather workout with lots of people around so they can feed off their energy. If that is you, run in a running club or workout at a gym. Others prefer to exercise alone so they are not self-conscious. If that is you, find home-based workouts, or hit the trail very early in the morning. Also, find a healthy treat (like a protein shake) that you crave, and have that be your reward at the end of the workout.”
Don’t like working out? Choose the shortest and yet most effective workout you can by engaging in high-intensity intervals training (HIIT). “HIIT workouts are a great way to intensify your workouts in a small amount of time,” says Dr. Christina Hector, DO, a Board-Certified Sports and Family Medicine Doctor. “Many HIIT workouts require no equipment. These workouts can be found online and on social media apps for free. I recommend 20 minutes of HIIT workout workouts 3-5 times per week. Performing these workouts in the morning can give you an extra boost of energy throughout the day.” Looking for an easy workout that comes with big results? Here’s What Walking for Just 20 Minutes Does to Your Body, According to Science.