5 Ways to Stay Motivated to Exercise

The deeper we get into the New Year the more people will find themselves asking, “how do I stay motivated to exercise?” . Maybe you’ve started the New Year off strong with your goal to exercise, and you haven’t missed a session yet. But, you’re worried about what’s going to happen when that initial motivation wears off…

That “New Year new me” energy is only going to get you so far, so here are 5 realistic ways to keep your goals afloat and to stay motivated to exercise all the way into next year, and hopefully…for the rest of your life.

1. Choose Physical Activity You Actually Enjoy

Of the biggest mistakes I see when it comes to exercise goals is individuals participating in training they don’t particularly care about.

This leads to them chalking their problem up to “oh I just don’t like exercise”. Which is entirely possible…but, before you doom yourself to that conclusion, have you actually tried all the different forms of physical activity out there?

Even as a strength and conditioning coach I’ll be the first to admit training in a standard issue gym setting can be on the boring side. Especially if exercise isn’t your jam in the first place. Here’s the thing though…no one said you had to train in a gym. 

Unfortunately everyone culturally get’s shoehorned into the idea that if you want to get fit, you go to the gym. But there is so much more the world of exercise than barbells and dumbbells. Try team sports offered up by your local rec leagues. Try adventure activities like hiking, climbing, and rucking. Try combat sports like Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai, Karate, boxing, and MMA. Try more acrobatic activities like gymnastics, calisthenics, and tricking.  Whatever is actually going to keep you engaged in exercise and looking for more…do it. If you are constantly dreading your training sessions, it’s going to be very hard to turn this into a lifelong habit.

Trainers can sometimes get too caught up in all the details of what is going to be the most scientifically optimal training you can possibly prescribe someone. Regardless of what the science says the answer will always be “whatever the client will actually do”.

2. Continue to Goal Set

Give purpose to your training. Even if it’s completely arbitrary. 

Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to train when you’ve got some big event coming up? Maybe you signed up for an adventure race, are competing in your first powerlifting competition, or you joined a weight loss challenge at work. These big challenges keep you focused, make training more enjoyable, and give you a solid sense of direction in where your training is leading you.

Then all of the sudden we finish the big goal. Now we find ourselves aimlessly wandering the gym, we aren’t really sure what we should be training, and ultimately we start skipping sessions because well… “not like we’re training for anything anyways”.

Being fit for being fit’s sake is cool, but it lacks motivating power when it comes to providing drive to your training. Get yourself into a continuous habit of completing goals, and immediately setting new ones to chase after so your training doesn’t stagnate.

Try to keep your goals specific so they can be objectively measured. For example, “I’m going to train to compete 25 push-ups in a row” is a lot stronger than “I’m going to get better at push-ups”. 

3. Find Your Tribe

You don’t have to do this alone. 

One of the easiest ways to ensure success in your fitness endeavors is to find a community that supports your growth. This could be a team in one of the activities we mentioned above. It could be a group of friends you get together to train with. It could be a fitness class you routinely take. Doesn’t matter.

Not only is training with others going to make the experience of training more enjoyable, you’re adding an additional layer of accountability. Now skipping out on that training session doesn’t just mean you missed training for the day, but a friend also misses your presence and is sure to let you know not to miss the next one.

You’re also likely to find you are able to push yourself to a level you might not have otherwise thought possible compared to if you were all by yourself.

Finding an appropriate community that supports and uplifts you and your goals can be absolutely lifechanging and often goes overlooked when it comes to health and fitness, and I highly suggest it’s at the top of your list when it comes to how you can support your exercise goals.

4. Changes Things Up

You might not have a motivation problem. You might have just been doing the same thing for too damn long.

You’ll see this a lot with powerlifters who follow very repetitive training programs with very little variation in the types of movements they do. Basically, they squat, bench, and deadlift, or close variations thereof…every…single…training session. That’s not to say there is anything wrong with that. In fact, it’s a smart idea if you want to be good at the sport, but overtime this style of training wears on a person.

This is why you’ll see those same powerlifters completely switch up their training  for a block or two where they could be doing lifting that is completely unrelated to their overall goal of powerlifting. These “pivot blocks”, as they are called, give the lifter a much needed mental reprieve and they come back to their powerlifting training feeling refreshed and ready to attack their training even harder.

Shoot to structure your training in a way that you constantly have something new to look forward to. If you are continously training the same way over and over again it’s very likely that training is going to wear you out.

5. Cultivate Discipline In Your Life

Finally, understand that motivation isn’t always going to be there for you.

Professionals in the health and fitness industry always seem to wow people with their dedication to training. However, these individuals don’t continue to train day in and day out because they possess unrealistically high motivation levels. They are not superhuman, and they are not without their own flaws.

They train each and every day because it’s what they do. Whether they feel like it or not, whether they got 3 hours of sleep or 8, whether or not they had a crappy day at work, whether the sun is shining or the weather is bad, whether they had a perfect diet day or they are hungover from a night out, they show up.

This is ultimately where you want to get yourself with your fitness goal, and any other habit you’d like to have in your life for that matter.

Realize this is not a goal of “how do I stay motivated forever?” because that’s impossible. This is a goal of figuring out how you can structure exercise into your life so that it becomes something you can do whether you are motivated or not.

(For more on sticking to your exercise goal check out this video!)

Matt Molloy

Matt Molloy

I'm a graduate the University of Pittsburgh with a major in Exercise Science. I’m a local guy (North Penn) and athletics has dominated my life. I've led teams in basketball, baseball, soccer, golf and my passion, long distance running. I've been strength training for 6 years with a focus in power-lifting but have recently stretched to strongman since joining the pride here at the Den. When I’m not in the gym I enjoy, spending time with my friends, music, and relaxing and playing some video games.