How To Start Working Out When You Don’t Like To Exercise

by | Jan 9, 2013

Photo by kirainet

You know who you are. As hard as you’ve tried, you’ve never liked going to the gym. Maybe you’ve even hired a personal trainer a few times, hoping the added expense and accountability would be enough motivation to turn you into a regular gym rat.

But it didn’t work.

Every time you’ve started an ambitious workout program with the goal of getting in shape, something–you’re not even sure what–cuts you short before you’ve reached your goal.

Deep down though, you know what the problem is: you don’t like working out. It’s hard, it’s uncomfortable, it’s sweaty and the weight room has a weird smell. You don’t like how you look in those stupid clothes, and who even has time for that sorta thing anyway?

But still you wonder about those people who are in the gym all the time. What’s their secret? How do they stay motivated day after day and year after year? Are they a different species? Or is there something they know that you don’t?

Few people on this earth were born with an innate love of the gym. But what generally separates people who like working out from those who don’t is pretty simple: fitness.

Working out sucks when you aren’t in shape. But the good news is that you don’t need to become a complete meathead to get to a place where exercise is no longer a pain. Just like learning to cook, once you reach a minimum proficiency level–in this case fitness level–exercise stops feeling bad and starts feeling good. And just like with cooking, the only way to get there is to Just Do It*.

If you’re just starting a workout program your goal shouldn’t be to get buff or lose weight. The first step is getting to a fitness level where you no longer hate to exercise. And for that all you need is consistency.

When you first start your program don’t force yourself to do anything too hard or unpleasant, just make sure that you stick with it and never quit. I hated running my entire life, so the first time I went jogging after years without any cardio training I told myself I would just run until I got tired. I literally made it about 4 blocks and went home. After a week or two I was up to 8 blocks. That was over 10 years ago and I’ve since completed three marathons. Running is no longer my go-to sport, but I’m now the fit person I’ve always wanted to be.

There’s no reason to torture yourself at the gym. Once you’re in better shape you will enjoy pushing yourself a little harder every now and then. But until you get there, just make yourself do something. Anything. Just do it regularly and don’t make excuses.

The key to being consistent is making your workout so easy/convenient/fun/awesome that not doing it just feels stupid. Here are a few tips to set you up for a lifetime of fitness.

10 Tips For Starting & Sticking With Exercise

1. Commit to consistency

This is worth repeating. Make a commitment to sticking with your plan. If you find yourself not able to meet your goals, change them so they’re easier.

2. Take baby steps

I jogged around the block for years before I got lost one day, accidentally ran 8 miles and decided marathon training no longer seemed so ridiculous. Don’t expect to turn into Superman overnight. For now just try to stop being Hedonism Bot.

3. Pick an exercise that’s fun

Not all exercise happens in the gym. Like to climb rocks? Shoot hoops? Swing the bat? Start with the fun stuff and work your way up.

4. Bring a friend, make it competitive

Having a workout partner is one of the most effective ways to be accountable and make your workout fun. Making it a competition is also great for motivation.

5. Join a sports team

Even better than one friend is a group of friends. Intramural sports teams are a fantastic way to get a few weekly workouts.

6. Get into music, podcasts and audiobooks

If your schedule isn’t conducive to group activities, your iPod still got your back. Put together an inspiring workout mix, download some of your favorite podcasts and audiobooks and whistle while you work.

7. Get a dog

You know what takes a lot of energy? Puppies! If you can’t motivate to exercise for yourself, at least do it for Fluff Fluff.

8. Caffeine charge

Sometimes a long day can make an evening workout seem impossibly difficult. At times like these, caffeine is your friend. After about half an hour you’ll need to workout to burn off that extra energy.

9. Get some nice workout clothes, shoes and mp3 player

New toys are fun. Sometimes it’s the little things that help the most.

10. Reward yourself

Doing something consistently is an accomplishment, even if your actual task seems small and insignificant. If you’ve been exercising regularly, don’t forget to pat yourself on the back for many jobs well done.

*Dear Nike, please don’t sue me.

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Originally published Jan 3, 2011.

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89 Responses to “How To Start Working Out When You Don’t Like To Exercise”

  1. Hi Darya!

    To be honest, I love exercise. I definitely hate hard workouts during track and always tremble in fear before track meets thinking about the physical pain I’l go through, but I definitely love moving around. Whether if it’s a simple as going on a walk or doing some yoga. My friends ask me how I get motivated to workout, and they’re always bummed when I tell them that I don’t need motivation to workout because I love it. Now, I’ll be directing them to this post since its more helpful than me saying “I just love exercise”.


  2. Phoebe says:

    I’ve always been fit as i’ve been dancing since i was 4. I still can’t find any exercise that doesn’t make me bored out of my mind. HELP!!!

    • Darya Rose says:

      Do you still dance?

      Are there any music, movies, or podcasts you enjoy?

      Are there any physical activities you enjoy for their own sake?

    • Jessica says:

      This is exactly my problem too. I don’t find exercise too difficult, I just hop off the machine early because I’m so bored and can’t take it anymore.

      I did have some success for a while watching TV shows while I worked out (only short sitcoms worked, trying to focus on a drama while exercising made time pass too excruciatingly slow). Then my gym disabled netflix via their wifi 🙁 🙁

  3. Christa says:

    Awesome list of motivators! Sometimes starting and staying with it longer than two days is the hardest part of working out. Thanks for giving some ideas!

  4. That picture of the pup is so me!
    My mom & I keep talking about joining Curves together, but neither of us has made the first step to joining.
    I’m going to stop there on my way home tonight.
    Thanks for the encouragement!

  5. Darya,
    You are totally right. Consistency is the key. this is the tripwire for so many people. Most of the people commit to exercising and slimming down or the summer & have a head start and then the motivation just fades away.
    I have one tip that I live by: COMMIT TO “NO ZERO DAYS”. If you have low days and feel bad, remember this and do just 10 push ups, or just 10 sit ups. Commit to something small and keep pushing. It is the small changes and consistency that drive is forward

  6. Karen says:

    This is great advice, and I am going to give it a shot. I was a committed walker and hiker, I have always worked with an animal rescue group, so I have always had a dog or three to walk for most of my adult life. Then, a series of injuries put me out of commission, for 18 months, then another 6 months, and I have gradually become positively gelatinous. Now, walking a block leaves me winded and limping. I decided to take the “no zero days”to heart, and I commit to doing SOMETHING, even if it seems like nothing, every day. Coming back from injury isn’t easy and, at almost 60, I can see new problems stemming from my sedentary lifestyle almost every day.

    So, even if it’s just ten minutes on my balance board or core rider, or a couple short walks during the day, I pledge to move something, every day.

  7. Maria says:

    Thanks for your advices! Really helpful!

  8. Jujubie says:

    I must say, after reading this I feel more like a loser.

    After a lifetime of ‘weight complex’ beating me over the head, all I think of now when i hear ‘exercise’ is “you’re fat”. All I can think about is the endless train of fitness videos and workout sets and forced sports participation I was put through for a perceived weight problem that I didn’t have at the time. By the time I got away from that negative reinforcement, it didn’t matter. I hated the thought of exercise and knew without a doubt that I would always be a cow – that every form of fitness would fail me because even when I wasn’t ‘fat’, I was.

    So now we get older, our bodies stop functioning and start screaming, and our ways are set. I’ve spent ridiculous funds on workout videos – and don’t touch them because it never worked before, why would it now? I live in a hilly city that would be great for quick walks or bike rides – but heaven forbid anyone actually see my fat a** out there trying to pretend I’m fit. I bought an exercise bike that is now a drying rack. I have one of those original ab rollers from the 70’s (wagon wheel with a handle) that I love, but feel like it will never do any good. I am so overly self-conscious about my appearance compared to others (thanks to being drowned in “you’re fat” for 18 years), that no matter how thin I ever get, I won’t be happy, and I won’t believe that I look good no matter what anyone else says.

    My ideal weight is 165 lbs. That’s just it. That’s the number I’m stuck with. That’s what it was when I did sports, that’s what it was in college when I walked 5+ miles a day around campus, that’s where it dropped to and stayed when I rode the bus to work and warped around the city all day. But in this world, that is FAT. Gee, thanks. My ideal weight, that makes me look like skin and bones, is still FAT.

    Who needs this crap! I want a beer.

    And motivation goes out the window.

    Jogging is no good – hurts when you’re top heavy.

    I don’t like group activities, so workout buddy and group classes are not going to happen.

    Exercise is not fun unless it isn’t called exercise. I’d love to take up medieval sword fighting, but I would never call it exercise or I wouldn’t do it. yet I don’t do it anyway because it’s a group activity.

    on and on. sorry. this made me want to vent.

    I try to do things. I try to think there is hope, but Exercise is a four-letter word poking me in the eye with a “you’re fat” red hot poker. I will hide behind the case of beer in my fridge before I face its wrath.

    And for the record, if I got over the complex, Amy Schumer wouldn’t be the only one “16(5) lbs and still able to catch a d*** any time I want.”

    165 should not be considered FAT.

    • Darya Rose says:

      I’m sorry to hear about your struggles. You’re absolutely right that if physical activity feels like punishment for being who you are, then it is neither fun nor sustainable.

      Regular exercise almost never results in weight loss, since it increases hunger and people typically eat more when they workout more. That said, exercise is wonderful for improving health, improving mood, building strength and other less tangible benefits.

      If you’re interested in reframing physical activity as something you do for yourself to feel good instead of a punishment you afflict on yourself for being bad, then I highly recommend Michelle Segar’s book No Sweat.

      You might also consider working with a therapist or coach to help with the feelings that come from fat shaming. The book Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach is also a wonderful resource.

      Let me know if there’s anything else I can do to help.


  9. wilda says:

    Hi, what do you say about actually getting there? I hate the transition of changing into my gym clothes. I can’t figure out a way to just do it. I hate the transitions. It is a mental block. Once I get there, and I work out, I feel great but that feeling can’t be harnessed to get me to do it consistently. I know I shoul ddo it, I feel better after I do it, I fantasize about doing it, I make plans in my head to do it, but I get stopped by the actual transition from thinking about it to doing it. Why is this so hard?

  10. Bharath says:

    WOW! this is the exact same way I am following my exercise but got some good points from your article. they seriously helps a lot.this is the second article i loved on your site Rose.
    Thank you for your article. keep writing these articles.

  11. Stephen says:

    I need to send this to couple of my friends. As someone who has always been a gym-goer and ‘exerciser’ I can get frustrated when others don’t like exercising and give up all the time. Hopefully this will help them 🙂

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