6 things that are probably stopping you exercising

Jamie Millar
·8-min read
Photo credit: jacoblund - Getty Images
Photo credit: jacoblund - Getty Images

From Harper's BAZAAR

No motivation to exercise? There are times when the hardest part is lifting yourself off the sofa in the first place. That’s why we’ve compiled six fail-safe ways to overcome those excuses and motivate you to get that workout done.

If you're still sore from your last workout

Perhaps you are new to fitness or haven’t been able to exercise for a while. Or maybe
you overdid what you usually do, or tried something new. It’s no reason to give up. Quite the opposite.

"You should be satisfied that you’ve achieved significant enough overload," says Jim Pate, a physiologist at the Centre for Health and Human Performance in London. The inflammatory response to the tiny tears you’ve caused in your muscles is what drives your body to adapt, so it doesn’t get overloaded next time. "Soreness is a good sign," confirms Pate.

So, you’ve earned a sofa day, right? Not quite. "You need to rest, but you don’t want to be static," says Pate. "You’re trying to encourage your muscles to work better for you, so you need to maintain them." In other words, the rest is relative. While the thought of it might make you wince, "a slightly softened effort will keep your body ticking over and allow it to let go of that soreness."

Hop on a treadmill or rower, if you have access to one, or get your trainers on and take to the streets. Warm-up with 5-10 minutes of moderate cardio at between 50-60 per cent of your maximum intensity, with a few bursts of higher-level stuff.

Once your stiff muscles are more pliable, dynamically stretch and mobilise (think lunge rotations), paying extra attention to tight, sore areas. If it’s only one area of your body that’s sore, train the other areas as normal. Cool down with static stretches, holding them for at least 30 seconds.

If you're tired after a bad night's sleep

He might not have been a sports scientist, but William Shakespeare was right when he defined sleep as "sore labour’s bath". It’s when your body repairs the damage caused by the previous day’s activities. "If you didn’t get enough sleep, you’re already starting in a hole," says Pate.

In a study in the journal Medicine & Science In Sports & Exercise, cyclists tasked with riding at an ever-increasing intensity gave up sooner when they were sleep-deprived compared with their daisy-fresh counterparts. Still, this should not put you off.

Exercising is the best way to give your tired brain a lift. One study at the University of Georgia found that exhausted volunteers who took part in moderate-effort exercise experienced a decline in fatigue symptoms, while further research revealed that a 10-minute stair climb can boost alertness more effectively than 50mg of caffeine.

Pate advises avoiding anything too intense and building sessions around mobility, stability and skill development. Bear in mind, though, that your coordination will be impaired, so this is not the time for gymnastics. Practising sit-ups, however? Ideal.

Photo credit: Unsplash
Photo credit: Unsplash

If you're bored with your training plan

A training plan might seem a bit old-school compared with the latest trending fitness class, but it still has a place. If you have a proper plan – and not just a handful of exercises you do out of habit –you’re probably working towards a clear goal: whether that’s adding muscle or improving your 10k time.

Mix things up too much and you’ll violate two important principles of exercising: specificity (if you’re improving your 10k, you should run); and progressive overload (forcing your body to adapt by applying a greater stimulus than it’s used to).

The trick is to tweak your training plan just enough. "Each week, you should be making small increases – lifting slightly heavier, adding a few more reps, running a little faster," says Jonathan Dick, an elite coach at Equinox Kensington. "Then, after four-to-eight weeks, make changes to your plan so that you move towards more advanced versions of your favourite exercises. This way, you can make consistent progress."

If you can't find your headphones

Whether your partner has grabbed them for their own workout, or you can’t blast out your home exercise soundtrack without upsetting the neighbours, use the quietness to tune in to what you are doing.

"Choose exercises that challenge your co-ordination," says Ian Robertson, personal training manager at E by Equinox in London’s St James’s, who suggests learning a kettlebell routine or hitting a boxing class: "You’ll be far more engaged."

Granted, music is a proven performance enhancer, but aimlessly trawling Spotify for the right track is not. In a study published in the journal Computers In Human Behaviour, treadmill runners who looked at their phones during training spent 10 of the 20 minutes they worked out at low intensity and only seven at high.

Besides, you don’t need your trusty playlist to get fired up. "Rhythmic breathing can actually help you push an extra rep and very often we lose this benefit when we don’t hear it," says Robertson.

Photo credit: Unsplash
Photo credit: Unsplash

If you only have 15 minutes anyway

You can get a lot done in that time – work your entire body, raise your heart rate, build muscle, burn fat – and, crucially, do so with minimal equipment.

Don’t believe us? Weighted HIIT, such as this kettlebell workout from Sylvester Savyell, another elite coach at Equinox, provides more bang for your buck than standard cardio. "You’ll continue to burn more calories as your muscles recover," he says. Spend five minutes warming up, then perform as many rounds as possible.

1 KETTLEBELL GOBLET SQUAT
15 reps Holding a kettlebell to your chest with your feet shoulder-width apart, squat down, chest up, knees wide (imagine sitting back in a chair). Then drive back up, squeezing your glutes.

2 PULL-OVER WITH STATIC HIP THRUST
15 reps Set up in a double-leg glute bridge, with the kettlebell on the floor behind your head so you can reach it. Pull it over until it’s above your chest, the lower. Don’t let your bridge collapse.

3 BURPEE INTO OVERHEAD PRESS
10 reps Goblet squat down and place your knuckles on the (ideally, padded) floor. Shoot your feet out and back, then in again. As you stand, lift the kettlebell and press it overhead. That’s one rep.

4 KETTLEBELL LUNGE WITH CHOP
10 reps each side Hold the kettlebell at one shoulder with hands and fingers interlaced. Lunge with the opposite leg and simultaneously chop the bell across your body (keep a firm grip on it). Reverse.

5 SIDE PLANK WITH PRESS
10 reps each side Lie on your side, propped on your elbow, with your feet stacked and top arm (holding the kettlebell) straight above your head. Contract your core to lift your hips so your body is straight, then lower.

If you just aren't feeling it

It happens to the best of us, and once in a while, your motivation will fail you. But if you feel that your drive is constantly stalling, take a moment to reflect on the underlying causes.

"It's often the result of trying to force an end game that goes against your true aspirations," says Tom Foxley, a CrossFit coach and founder of winning-mentality system Mindset Rx'd. "Maybe you've never really wanted to get to where you say you want to, or perhaps your desires have changed."

In other words, if you genuinely want to reach a goal, you should always feel pulled towards it, rather than always having to push. If you're certain about what you want to achieve than think about how that will feel.

"Emotional drivers are more complex than logical ones," explains Foxley. Desired outcomes are the fire that forges iron self-control, so bring distant consequences closer in your mind. Or you could cut yourself a deal. "If the full session is an hour-long, tell yourself you’ll do, say, the first two sets," says Foxley.

The chances are that, once you’ve completed them, you’ll be inclined to do more. Either way, you’re taking the weight of expectation off your shoulders. "Frequently, you don’t want to work out because you feel the pressure to have a great session," says Foxley. But athletic success isn’t built solely on great sessions. Its foundation is an unwavering commitment, whatever your motivation level.

In one study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology, subjects visited the gym twice as often when they scheduled their sessions ahead of time, compared with when they were given ‘inspirational’ reading material.

"Turning up and doing 20 per cent is better than doing nothing at all," says Foxley. You can’t argue with that, so pull on your kit and get going. You’ll never be disappointed you did.

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