A few months ago, one of my dearest lifelong friends decided that he would start taking his physical health back into his own hands (yay!). Prior to this, he had stopped drinking alcohol, started working on a financial plan for himself, and therefore tackling exercise was logically next on the list. Knowing that I have been physically active in various activities for years, he (very wisely 😉) turned to me for advice.
“How do you stay motivated to go to the gym?” he asked, I assume wondering how he was going to convince his body to commit to something his mind knew would be beneficial to him, but had some resistance towards.
What’s funny is that I actually haven’t been to a gym in over a year! I canceled my membership in the summer of 2020 and haven’t felt the need to re-join. Ironically, still, I have exercised more this past year than I have in any other year since high school.
During high school, I was incredibly active - involved with cheerleading, running track, dance, yearbook, managing our varsity men’s lacrosse team, working part-time at a concert venue, and more. I can be a pretty competitive (and flirtatious) person and I loved challenging the guys in school. At that time, our push-up competitions (in conjunction with a bit of raging teenage hormones) fueled my desire to stay active. I kept my mind, body, social life (and mom!) very, very busy.
Starting in college, though, I had to rely more on myself for motivation, especially when I was living on a different campus than the student rec center. And, if you’ve ever experienced a West Virginia winter, you may understand how interest could have waned, particularly from early December to mid-March! I tried attending group fitness classes and weight lifting with some of the women in my residence hall, but this did not sustain. Frankly, I was used to working out with young guys who played multiple sports. A lot of the women I was around just had a different rhythm and intensity that wasn’t a good fit for me at the time.
What did work, however, was preparation. I would build a workout into my schedule for the day so it wasn’t something I had to leave the house (er, dorm) for - it was something I could do after already being out and about, leaving straight from the lecture hall or my federal work-study job. I would bring my gym bag with me around campus (or on those colder days, just wear my gym clothes under whatever I was wearing to class), to give myself as few excuses as possible to avoid the gym. This tactic of nearly “tricking myself” to exercise was very successful for me.
After college (when I no longer had a built-in gym membership with tuition and fees), I had to get more creative... Initially, that just meant lazy. I did not work out. I drank too much. I over-ate. All of this, of course, led to me experiencing a plumper version of myself than I would have preferred to see. More significantly, I felt exhausted and very uncomfortable in my body.
One of my coworkers at the time had a regular exercise routine and she started bringing me along to the gym after work with her - for free! Within six months, I lost 20 pounds and gained a huge lesson about the importance of loving myself above all else. When she left for Texas later that summer, I decided to join with my own membership and (until the pandemic) would go an average of four times per week.
So, how do I stay motivated to work out now?
“First,” I told him, “you’ll have to define whatever ‘working out’ means to you - and be willing to change that definition when necessary.”
When someone (i.e. coach) is creating a training session for you, it’s a bit simpler to determine what a “workout” looks like. When I’m in control, though, I get to establish what that means. Is it at least two miles jogging? 20 minutes of HIIT or 60 minutes of vinyasa? A certain number of reps? Remember to give yourself grace + patience as you figure it out.
To keep it simple these days, for me, 60 minutes of yoga or 30 minutes of either cardio or strength training is considered “a workout”. My intensity for these activities, naturally, varies from day to day, but the biggest key is consistency. Some days I’ll have very active sessions, some days will be more restorative - and that’s okay!
I keep a calendar on my refrigerator and mark off each day that I work out with a note about what the workout was and what I accomplished. For example, I’ll note whether I’ve practiced yoga, weight training, dance, etc. On days I run, I mark the distance. In addition to the calendar, I have a sheet beside it where I tally how many days that month I’ve acted in accordance with my goals. I appreciate this method of data collection because I can see any patterns arising - do I seem to regularly skip Mondays, for example? Am I allocating the rest of my time appropriately to reach the goals I’ve set for myself? Last month, I had the most “workout” days ever - with 27 total!
At first, the physical weight loss was obvious proof I was exercising regularly. Then, when I plateaued (as we all do), the tallies on the calendar became proof. I would set monthly or weekly goals for myself that I was excited to achieve, but now it’s just built into the routine.
Telling myself that the outcome is worth the effort helps encourage me to take the first step. However, the most consistent catalyst that keeps me going is part of the identity I’ve adopted for myself - that of a person who regularly enjoys moving her body and is open to exploring new methods to do this. When I commit to her, it is easy to find the purpose behind my movements.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post and explore my site.
Below are a few mantras to help convince the brain to move the body (because we’ve all had those days!)
"I put in work for my future self! I got you, babe!"
"May I remember that this movement is my favorite kind of medicine."
"Exercise is an investment + an insurance policy for my most precious vessel."
"I deserve these endorphins. I deserve to feel strong, confident, and sexy in my body. I am worthy of this time and I am worthy of feeling good."
May you have the courage to liberate yourself.