Updated: Jan 14, 2022
Haven’t got sweaty for some time? Can’t seem to keep up a consistent training regime? More often than not find yourself on the couch instead of the gym? Sounds like you’ve lost your fitness motivation. Don’t worry, these 5 fitness motivation methods will help you get results.
‘Strong motivation is an absolutely essential requirement . . .’
(Grout & Perrin 2004)
A shocking number of people struggle to maintain the motivation to keep up a fitness regime. They start off with the good intention of committing to a comprehensive exercise plan but all too soon excuses creep in.
Then they begin skipping sessions; at first just the odd one here and there. But before long, both health and exercise are sacrificed for nights on the couch in the company of a family-sized packet of Doritos and that horrific time trap called TV.
Why do so many struggle with workout motivation?
Reasons abound for why people slip back into bad habits: ‘commitments’ – ‘the kids!’ – ‘damn temporary traffic lights’ – ‘cold and wet British weather’ – etc., etc. ad infinitum.
The most prolific and pernicious reason why those good intentions succumb to comforting temptations is because of peoples’ inability to maintain motivation. This humble polysyllabic is the driving force behind any and all success achieved in health and fitness. Without motivation we wouldn’t get much further than the fridge.
Why do some people have bags of motivation to work out?
But why, I’ve very often wondered, with a generous pinch of perplexity, why are some people overflowing with the stuff whilst others are bereft of a single solitary drop? Is it down to genetics? Nature . . . or Nurture? Or did those motivated individuals procure a secret formula – an elixir of motivation – from the devil at the mere price of their eternal soul?
Personally, I doubt it’s much to do with any of these reasons – especially the first one.
It's my humble opinion that motivated people have at their disposal a bag of psychological tricks. A bag of tricks from which, whenever the temptation to take the easy option grips, they pull out a tried and tested trick and magic some motivation into themselves. Just like that! Almost with the wave of a wand.
Learn fitness motivation techniques from the grates
Waxing and waning fitness motivation isn't just a problem for us mere mortals. Even legendary trainers and athletes suffer from a dearth in motivation from time to time. But, they overcame motivational droughts by developing techniques and strategies.
Here’s Arnold Schwarzenegger, in his The Encyclopaedia of Modern Bodybuilding, discussing his idiosyncratic style of self-motivation:
“When I began to train, I wrote everything down – training routines, sets and reps, diet, everything. And I kept this up right through my 1980 Mr. Olympia victory. I would come into the gym and draw out a line on the wall in chalk for every set I intended to do. I would always do five sets of each movement. So for example, the marks / / / / / on my chest day would stand for five sets of Bench Press and five sets of Dumbbell Flys. I would reach up and cross each line as I did the set. So when I finished Benches the marks would look like X X X X X, and I would never think to myself, Should I do three sets today, or four? I always knew it was five and just went ahead and did them. Watching those marks march across the wall as I did my workout gave me a tremendous sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. They were like an invading army crushing all opposition in its path. This visual feedback helped me to keep my training goals clearly in mind, and reinforced my determination to push myself to the limit every workout.”
Over the years I’ve developed my very own bag of fitness motivation tricks. Granted, many of my motivational tricks are woefully unscientific. But what they lack in empiricism they make up in practicality.
The aim of this article is to share these tricks with you so that you can start filling your own bag.
And when that day comes when the overpowering urge to skip exercise takes hold, and you find yourself being lured into taking the lazy option, you can reach in to that bag of tricks and pull out a handful of motivation.
Fitness motivation method #1: Set long-term goals
Fitness goal setting is one of the best ways to improve motivation levels. The desire to achieve a goal can send enthusiasm through the roof. And when we're enthusiastic we're more likely to get actively engaged. Which means more participation and improved fitness.
How long term should long-term goals be?
A long-term training goal should be no shorter than six months. Any less than six months and you might not have sufficient time to prepare adequately for whatever fitness goal you've set yourself.
For example, if you set yourself the goal of losing weight, or running a marathon, or tackling an Ironman, you may need between six months to a year to prepare.
Do I have to stick to just one long-term goal?
No, not at all. In fact, it's good practice to pursue multiple long-term exercise and fitness goals or bundle them together. If you wanted to lose weight and tick that marathon off your bucket list, you could definitely combine these ambitions into one long-term goal.
Also, you could establish a super long-term goal while working towards shorter ones. Here's an example of what I mean.
We might be preparing diligently for, say, an Ironman, or marathon, which is due to take place a year hence, while also pursuing the perpetual goal of maintaining optimum fitness and health.
How to maintain the motivation to work out
So, to keep the fitness motivation fires well stoked, make your long-term goal that of improved health. While on that long journey continue to set sub-long-term goals that will help you on your way.
However, remember that goals ‘need to be fired with passion’. A ‘goal that is just cerebral, without any energy or emotional empowerment, is usually not achieved’ (Grout & Perrin, 2004). You have to believe in the goals you set and pursue them with passion.
Fitness motivation method #2: Set short-term goals
Setting short-term goals, typically between one to three months in duration, is an excellent way to keep motivation levels high. A short-term health/fitness related goal could be something as simple as striving to lose a couple of pounds or attempting a personal best in a specific exercise discipline.
For example, lets say you want to set a 5-mile run PB of under 30-minutes (a sub-six-minute mile pace). Before setting this goal you would firstly test your current 5-mile performance to see how far off that time you are. If you are within 10% of the time you would then set a date for the test day and begin training.
Once you've achieved your PB you might then set your sights on another run test. Alternatively, you might want to have a go at setting a PB in a different exercise discipline.
Following a similar training formula to the 5-mile run, have a go at the 2000 metre Ergo row. This is the standard rowing test distance that all elite level rowers and Olympians must set a PB in. A good 2000-metre erg time is anywhere under 8-minutes.
For more ideas on fitness testing follow the link: The Power of Fitness Testing.
Fitness motivation method #3: Get Competitive
Regular competitions are a terrific way of spicing up your training sessions. Organising a fitness competition with a friend can send motivation through the roof. And, if there's money – or, better still, ego kudos – on the table, you'll be bursting with motivation. Here's an example.
A few years ago I formed a training partnership with a semi-professional triathlete. We would both take it in turns designing workouts that incorporated elements of our strengths and weaknesses.
Once we’d come to an agreement on the workout, which always resulted in lots of arguing, a punishment for the loser and competition date would be set. Come competition day we’d both arrive at the gym suited and booted for a gruelling session and, like two fighting cocks (literally), desperately duke it out for a couple of weeks’ bragging rights.
But, as low key and, well, petty as this all was, by god did it motivate me to keep fit. The thought of losing made me train like a man possessed.
No motivation to workout? Compete on an online league table!
Competitions come in many different shapes and sizes. What if you don’t have a like-minded training partner who is willing to engage in exercise fisticuffs? Well, thankfully there are many ways you can get competitive.
Besides the obvious, such as entering an organised event (such a half-marathon or sprint triathlon), or trying to set a PB (see motivation method #2: Set short-term goals), you can compete on online league tables.
A colleague of mine cycles to work. The route he takes features on a mobile phone app called Strava, which tracks and records all the times that other cyclists have taken to cover the same distance.
I remember him arriving at work one morning, red as a tomato, huffing and puffing, sweat pouring down his face, proudly proclaiming that he was now the new ‘champ’. Anyone would have thought that he’d just won a stage on the Tour de France. It amazed me to see how much motivation he drew from seeing his name at the top of that Strava league table. But then that’s the power of competition.
Fitness motivation method #4: Remind yourself of the benefits
What is the ultimate benefit of keeping fit? Well, according to hundreds of scientific research articles, the ultimate benefit of keeping fit is improved health and enhanced longevity. And if you exercise regularly you stand a greater statistical chance of remaining healthy into old age.
But exercise confers many more benefits. Don't believe me? Follow the link and discover 10 Benefits of Exercise.
When motivation starts to flag, when you’re struggling to motivate yourself to hit the tarmac for an hour, or attend that circuits class, just remind yourself that this training session will (statistically) reduce your chances of succumbing to the many horrible diseases associated with a sedentary lifestyle.
In addition, tell yourself that by making the effort to exercise you'll enhance your vitality and possibly extend your lifespan.
If any one of those three benefits alone is not enough to get you active then think of all three – they could be called the three line whip of motivation that you can lash yourself with whenever you want to quit.
Fitness motivation method #5: Take measurements
If your exercise objective is to shed a few pounds and trim-up for beach season (or that dreaded social event that looms large on the horizon), it might be a good idea to take measurements so that you can track progress.
Measuring and monitoring how your body responds to exercise is a powerful motivational method. Seeing the needle shift on the scales or the numbers decrease on the tape measure are both satisfying exercise outcomes. And ones that will motivate you to maintain training consistency.
It's for this reason why, before embarking on an exercise regime, it is wise to make measurements of your current physiological state. This way you will have a starting point. After all, as trite and cliché as the saying is, we don’t know how far we’ve travelled if we don’t know where we started.
If you're unsure how to take measurements or which method is best, this article will teach you everything you need to know: 5 Home Health Screening Tests.
The final word on fitness motivation
This concludes 5 fitness motivation methods. Of course, these fitness motivation techniques and strategies only yield results if they are put into action. Also, to get the best results, you should really only try one fitness motivation method at a time.
If you have a go at multiple methods simultaneously you could become overwhelmed. This may well result in failure to maintain the fitness motivation method.
It's for this reason why should settle on just one method at a time. Test drive it for a couple of weeks and, if it works, stick with it, if not, try another.
But whatever the outcome, don't give up!
(As we are very interested in user feedback at Hungry4Fitness, I would be very grateful if you could take a few seconds out of your day to leave a comment. Thanks in advance!)
Adam Priest, former Royal Marines Commando, is a professional personal trainer, lecturer, boxing and Thai boxing enthusiast.
Grout. J, Perrin. S (2004): Mind Games. West Sussex. Capstone.
Schwarzenegger. A (1985): The Encyclopaedia of Modern Bodybuilding. USA. Simon & Schuster.