How to Train When You Have Zero Motivation

A big fitness industry misunderstanding is the idea that health and fitness professionals are so good at sticking to training routines because we have endless supplies of motivation sitting around in our back pocket at all times.

We do not. 

In fact, the number of times I’ve stared down at a barbell and questioned what exactly I was doing pursuing the silly goal of picking up progressively heavier and heavier pieces of metal when I have a very comfy bed at home is getting out of hand at this point. Truth be told there are many days where I absolutely don’t want to train.

Could be a bad day, could be fatigue, could be the prospect of yet another challenging training session bearing down on me, whatever it may be…the motivation is not always there.

So how do you still manage to train everyday then!?”- perplexed gymgoer

The Secret“-Physical Activity as a Habit

First and foremost…motivation is bullsh*t. 

If your intended game plan for physical activity/training requires you be motivated every single time to show up, it’s not going to work.

No one on this planet has achieved a mindset in which they are motivated everyday. Dedicated sure…but motivated, no. Doesn’t matter how fired up you may feel about a particular goal right now…that feeling will fade guaranteed. I don’t say this to be mean, or pessimistic towards your goals, but because I want you to avoid a major mistake. Thinking motivation=a habit.

Ideally, you want to develop the patterns and behaviors that lead to the end result of physical activity being an absolute in your life, something that you…”just do“. (No 5 min “SUPER HYPE Get Your Life Together Immediately” motivational YouTube videos needed).

This is the exact kind of answer you’ll receive from trainers when you ask them how they never miss a session. No motivational speech, no inhuman amount of energy needed, just a shoulder shrug and “idk I just do it.” Training is often so ingrained into the life of fitness professionals that they don’t even realize the habits they’ve established

Now, admittedly this is much harder said than done. Developing a habit takes time and dedication, sometimes more than an individual is willing to put work towards, but it is an actual path to success whereas motivation is not. At the end of the day you want to be working on a genuine habit, not trying to unrealistically keep yourself motivated for the rest of your life.

That being said I know what it’s like to have established solid exercise habits in your life and still feel like you’re slamming your head into a brick wall trying to get yourself to train for the day. Here’s the additional strategies you can use when you feel like you have all but nothing left to give.

1. “PIVOT!”

So realistically, even if you have established training as a daily habit, we all have our low points. Maybe you’ve come to the conclusion that there’s absolutely no chance of your normally scheduled training happening today.

Okay…would you do something that wasn’t your normal training? 

Heavy deadlifts and your normal accessory exercises just aren’t doing it for you. What about something weird? Would you train Jefferson deadlifts? Zombie squats? Behind the neck split jerk (even though you’ve never tried weightlifting in your life)?

Pivot weeks and pivot months are programming strategies in which a lifter is purposefully given unique lifts and reps schemes that they don’t normally train to break up the monotony of their routine. The end result being the lifter comes back feeling mentally refreshed and ready to take on their normal lifting full force.

The same can be done for one particularly bad day. If you know you won’t do your normal training but can convince yourself to come in and do something you never do just for fun…do it. Any small bit of physical activity will be better than none.

2. Go Through The Motions

Sometimes we ditch an entire workout because we know we don’t have the energy levels/required focus/we aren’t in the mood/you name it…to take on a challenging workout.

I’d propose you try your very best to just…show up…then run through the motions of whatever you had planned.

Take all your intended lifts at 40-50%, even if you feel like a complete idiot for doing so and think you are wasting your time. You might realize as the workout goes on you are A. Feeling better and B. Training harder.

This works for a few reasons. 1. Regardless of anything else, you didn’t completely toss your workout you still got in and did something. 2. Often times you just have to get through the first 10 to 15 mins of training with no motivation until you realize your mood improves or your energy levels increase from the physical activity itself. 3. You may take just a handful of light 40% sets before you realize “maybe I did have more to give today than I thought“. Suddenly 40% intensity turns into 60%, 60% turns into 70%, so on and so fourth. Now a workout you were originally going to ditch turns into a productive session that you are happy you did.

This stands as one of my favorite tips for our clients who aren’t sure about making it through a class for a given day. Just stay for 5 mins. If you still feel bad after 5 mins head home and take some needed rest, but it’s very rare that’s the end result. Sometimes just starting is truly the worst part.

3. Low Intensity Physical Activity 

Following the philosophy of “any activity is better than no activity“, try something super low intensity if you just don’t feel like training for a given day.

Get outside, get some sunshine, and go for a walk. Go play with your kids for awhile. Take the dog out back to go play fetch. Just…move.

I think as lifters we can sometimes forget this is even an option in the first place. If we aren’t going to be hyped up, lifting heavy, and slamming down some big weights what’s the point right?

However, even basic activity for as little as 10 minutes can be enough to improve your mood, increase your energy, or potentially even inspire you to do more.

4. Enlist The Help of a Friend

Before you completely call things off, is their someone who can get through this workout with you?

Maybe you don’t have the motivation for today…but they do. Or, maybe you are both lacking in the motivation department and can lean on each other for support.

Group fitness is one of my favorite ways to get people started with exercise in the first place. Motivated or not fitness is just more fun with a friend, and you’ll often find yourself working harder with someone by your side.

None of your friends ready to board the fitness train with you? Sign up for a gym with a strong community. I think too many people are used to the traditional commercial gym environment where no one talks, everyone has their headphones on, and eye contact is avoided at all costs. Try an environment change to a gym with a community ready to have your back.

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.