Nine Tips To Help Improve Your Motivation To Exercise

Silhouette of a man walking and looking at a watch, on a basketball court at dawn
(Image credit: Nicholas77 / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Finding the motivation to start exercising can be hard, and finding the motivation to keep exercising can be even harder. Whether you’re having to work around a tight schedule of work and family commitments, feel self-conscious, or just can’t face the idea of pushing yourself physically, there are many factors that make exercise seem beyond you.

To help you change your mindset around moving, we enlisted the help of sport psychologist Professor Andy Lane, who’s working with fitness app Strava, for some advice on exercise motivation.

1. Start Small

If you haven’t been exercising much, there can be a sense of lethargy. The challenges of starting again will seem harder and demotivating. The route around that is to say, “I’m just going to get out for 15 minutes. I’m going to walk the first eight minutes, and then I’m going to walk back the next eight minutes, or I’m going to start running.” The idea of walking for eight minutes isn't daunting – you know you will do that.

2. Don’t Focus On Big Goals Straight Away

At the start, you can demotivate yourself with goals. By all means set a big aspirational goal, but don’t look at it. Keep your mind in the here and now and take it one step at a time. Start out just by going for some exercise. Make it simple.

3. Prepare When You’re Motivated

Accept it’s a challenge to exercise and give it enough respect, and don’t make the challenge harder by having to ask, “Where are my shoes? Where is my running gear?” Do all that preparation beforehand when you’re motivated, so at the point when you’re feeling vulnerable, all those decisions are easy.

4. Motivation Will Come Once You Start

Your motivation when sitting down and not warmed up is different to when you get moving. Your mind changes. Anyone who exercises will know that if you do eight minutes of walking, you’ll turn around and you’ll run home. Let motivation come from within the exercise. When people say they’ve lost their running mojo, my response is, “You’ve left it under a bench about a mile into your run”.

5. It Doesn’t Have To Be Brutal

If you’re finding it so hard, and you’re wondering if running ever becomes easy, the answer is yes! You’re setting off too fast – slow it down. Exercise does not have to be brutal to be beneficial. Look at your route – is it full of hills? Is 30 minutes achievable? Are you thinking you don’t want to walk? Whyever not? That’s an attitude which can lead to you feeling negative. Slow it down, walk, or even find a route with traffic lights so there are natural breaks.

6. Connect With Others

It helps to do things with people. It’s hard at the moment, but it’s not hard to connect to other people virtually through things like Strava. From a beginner’s point of view, it helps to get positive reinforcement. The chances that you’ll stop after three weeks are reduced when people are saying “well done” each time. People might also run with you, which helps normalise a slower pace. Running completely on your own is challenging, so actively seek that support.

7. Think About Your Lifestyle

If you go out and have a gallon of lager, going for a long run the next day is simply not happening. You don’t have to have a monastery-type life, but your diet is hugely influential on your mindset and sleep is important for your recovery too. If you have a big night out, maybe the next day just take a walk.

8. Negotiate The Time You Need With Your Family

If you have a family, the adults should give each other the green light to go and exercise and not feel guilty. In fact, where possible, try and bring the family along with you. It’s much better than both of you sitting at home feeling miserable.

9. It’s Not Just About Fitness

Try to make exercise not just about fitness and goals, but to make you feel better, more positive and happier at the end of it. Put music or a good podcast on. Pick a nice environment to run in. Where possible, get out and exercise as the sun rises. It’s fantastic.

Feeling Motivated? Let’s Go!

Nick Harris-Fry
Senior writer

Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.