10 Ways to Get Motivated to Actually Go to the Gym

Because #bikiniseason is almost here. (I hope!)
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Katrina Persad
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Because #bikiniseason is almost here. (I hope!)

A year ago, I was a self-professed couch potato. 

During Canada’s eternal winters—apparently still going strong here in Halifax!—my motivation to do anything but watch Netflix gets dangerously low.

But a few months ago, a super-fit friend of mine started taking me to the gym with her... and now I’m hooked. 

If you're not lucky enough to have a Sarah in your life, here are some ways to kick your own butt and get to the gym.  

1. Accept That You're Just Starting Out

Gym motivation tips - acceptance

Don't be afraid to start working out alone.

If you've never set foot in a gym, it can be intimidating to join the masses of 5am gym-goers. 

But it's okay that you don't know how to do a pull-up! (Or know what a pull-up even is.) The fitness community is extremely supportive, and people love sharing what they know, so ask questions!

Side note: Don't body shame yourself out of exercising. Your version of healthy is going to look different than other people's, so don't comparing yourself to others. As some sweet readers pointed out, nobody is paying attention to you at the gym anyway. 

2. Get the Right Tools

Gym motivation tips - tools

The right shoes can make all the difference.

IMO, this is the most fun and motivating step. Having the right tools—from clothes to shoes to gym equipment—can really boost your confidence and willingness to work out. You don't have to break the bank to feel comfortable. Check out your local Winners/Marshalls for some cute digs.

Avoid worsening injuries by seeking accommodations for any physical limitations you may have. In my case, getting a knee brace for my permanent knee injury made all the difference so I could attend regular weights classes. Pain often means no gain! 

3. Take Up An Exercise That Interests You

Gym motivation tips - interest

Mastering side crow is a goal of my yoga practice.

Doing an exercise that you like means you're much more likely to stick with it. If you don't know what to do, try out a few different activities to find out what you enjoy.

In a testament to my former laziness, I love any workout that involves lying on the floor. Yoga and pilates are mentally and physically uplifting for me. 

But last year, I got introduced to barbells. Then, I did a few months of hula hooping classes. Recently, I took an acrobatics class at a circus school (so cool!). Next, I'm thinking rock climbing. All from someone who used to get winded climbing the stairs!

4. Start Small

Gym motivation tips - start small

Aim for five minutes a day at first.

If you're not working out regularly, then forcing yourself to do a two-hour gym session that maxes out all your muscle groups will lead to burnout, fast! Don't try to do too much, too soon. 

Instead, make exercise so easy that it would be silly not to do it. And then build up from there! 

Want to be able to do 100 push-ups? Great. Start with one push-up today. Tomorrow, maybe do two. Sure, you could do more, but a slow build is more likely to be sustainable. You don't want to over-commit yourself and then end up quitting.

5. Make Exercise a Habit

Gym motivation tips - habit

Scheduling workouts eliminates my inner debate about whether I have time to exercise.

A habit begins with a cue that triggers a certain behaviour, followed by that behaviour, which yields a certain result. If the results are satisfying, then you'll do it over and over again, until it becomes automatic. This can be negative (like being cued to eat cake every time you sing happy birthday at the office) or positive (being cued to go running after your dog eats breakfast).  

My cue is scheduling. I don't work out if I don't book it into my calendar. If you love routine, this will be easy. My days are long and busy, so I don't commit to a standing time, but each day, I add exercise somewhere in my calendar. When I hear the reminder notification, I know it's time to lace up and head out the door. 

6. Set Measurable Goals

Gym motivation tips - measurable goals

It's so satisfying to hit those daily targets. (FYI: these aren't my results; my fitness tracker doesn't offer such a complete recap.)

What gets measured gets managed. Seeing results from your workouts will help you stay on track and want to keep kicking ass! 

For me, getting a fitness tracker was a huge motivator, after I discovered how little I was walking in a day. I just hit 500,000 steps for 2015, and now I'm itching to hit one million ASAP. 

If you're targeting certain body areas to gain muscle or shed fat, try taking your measurements on a monthly basis. Scales are hugely inaccurate measures of "fitness"—I only use mine to weigh luggage. Besides inches, focus on quantifiable numbers such as your daily steps, increases in dumbbell weights and duration of plank holds. Over time, you'll be able to see how far you've come!   

7. Don't Break the Chain

Gym motivation tips - consistency

If you're never going to be a daily exerciser, decide on your days and make vertical chains instead.

Get a calendar. Put an "X" over every day you exercise. Try to exercise daily. Don't break the chain. Tell yourself that you are the kind of person who doesn't break the chain.

If you’re now just getting into exercise, remind yourself that you have to keep going to see results. If you've been exercising for while, then remind yourself that you're too awesome to give up on the results you've achieved so far.

8. List Your Excuses... Then Exercise Anyway

Gym motivation tips - excuses

Don't let a little rain stop you from a great workout!

You can reason your way out of anything healthy, but remember that you can meet your complaints with compassion and then set them aside.

At my worst, I talk to myself like you would a tantrum-throwing child. "I hear you, Katrina, it's cold outside. I know you're tired. I'm sorry your feet are hurting. When we get home, we can watch 'The Mindy Project'. Now get going."

9. Be Accountable To Someone

Gym motivation tips - accountability

A promise to someone else can be the key to your success.

When I first joined a weight class, I could barely lift just the bar. I would have quit then and there if Sarah hadn't been standing beside me, encouraging me to keep going. Even though we go to different gyms now, she's always checking in and seeing how I'm progressing.

So tell your dog. Tell your mom. Make your workouts a Facebook status. Ask for encouragement and support. If no one in your life is supportive, remember that your gym is filled with people who care about their health. If you don't have a gym, tell me your goals and I'll support you!

10. Reward Yourself

Gym motivation tips - reward

Celebrate your daily successes!

To get myself through mind-numbingly boring workouts (like the elliptical machine), I like to dedicate a specific TV show to exercise only. I need my 'Better Call Saul' fix, so I get in the gym. 

But my favourite types of rewards are the kind that strengthen your exercise habit. Buying a cute sports bra or replacing your worn-out yoga strap is a gift that keeps on giving.

Repeat after me: junk food is never a reward. Scarfing a family-size bag of chips not only undoes the physical benefits of your workouts, but it also creates a psychological dependency that is a terror to break. 

And One Thing to Avoid...

Habits research has shown that "finish lines" (in the literal and metaphorical sense) can actually de-motivate you in the long run. 

So while that wedding you have coming up might inspire you to hit the gym more often, it's still essential to work on creating a sustainable practice that you can (and WILL) maintain, even after the big day as passed. 

Exercise is a lifelong commitment, but you only need to take it one day at a time! 

Victoria's Secret Angels visit SoulCycle, 2011

Take it from the Victoria's Secret models—exercise should be a lifelong habit!

Have Your Say

How do you get motivated to work out? What types of goals do you set? Are you a home exerciser or a gym goer?