5 tips for long-term training motivation.
“I know it feels great afterwards, so why can’t I just get out the door?”
The struggle of “getting out the door” to exercise is real. Even top athletes and the trained neighbor struggle with motivation at times. The difference is that some people begin to believe in the many excuses one comes up with for not exercising, while others discard the excuses. Do you exercise a lot in periods, then little in other periods? Do you attend group exercise classes, but avoid solo training? Is the easy run the one you always make time for, while intervals the ones you avoid? Whether you are a top athlete, everyday athlete, group class enthusiast or sofa lover (who isn’t?), we have put together five tips on how to stop letting the struggle of “getting out the door” determine your training outcome that day. We all agree that the worst training is the one that did not happen.
We tend to hope that thoughts like “I am too tired” or “I don´t have time to exercise” don´t appear. If they come, we try pushing them away. While it may work at times, what do we do when getting out the door feels more like an ultra-run? What do we do when the children are “hangry”, the dinner is not made, and the job was more stressful that day than usual? We always find excuses for not exercising, and we know that asking for 2.1% of the day (a 30-minute workout) is worth prioritizing no matter how busy you are. Therefore, the first step is to have self-insight. Know yourself and your typical excuses. Know that the excuses are just that; excuses.
Bring out a pen and paper, your phone or something else to write with. Write down every excuse that comes to mind for not exercising. Imagine everything that can go wrong during the day that causes exercise to be downgraded. Reflect on these excuses – know that they are not “real” excuses. It is your limbic system in the brain that tries to trick you into dropping the session, not your frontal cortex that uses facts and logic to make choices. Go through each excuse and win it over by having options.
Is time constraint the problem? Ask yourself, what can be downgraded that day? Can I train as a means of transport or even better – train with a friend? Do not forget that you know exercise is one of the things to prioritize and that there are other things you should downplay.
Did you sleep badly or are you exhausted? In order to get the optimal benefit from training, it is beneficial to vary the intensity and type of training sessions. Within cardio training, there is a lot of research that suggests that most people train too hard too often. A basic rule of thumb is that 80 percent of your training volume (measured in minutes) should be low intensity (you can have a good conversation while exercising), and only 20 percent should be moderate or hard (intervals). When you are tired, low intensity is what you get the most training effect from. Exercising at low-intensity (low heart rate) will also abolish the excuse “I do not have the energy to exercise” as low-intensity training should not be tiring. If you have planned strength training, make sure to put together exercises that are less strenuous (drop burpees and HIIT sessions), do favorite exercises and do not try new exercises if it seems tiring. Change the goal of the session – do not increase the number of repetitions or the weight of the weights, rather focus on completing the session. If you feel that implementing is not good enough, then remind yourself that consistency is key. In order to be consistent with your training day after day, week after week and year after year, it is important that you enjoy the process and not always focus solely on improving results. Goals that are performance-based can of course be motivating, but it should not be the only motivational basis. During periods when motivation is low, the goal must be changed to keep the training consistent.
There lies solid truth to the saying “Failing to plan, is planning to fail”? Although planning can seem tiring and unnecessary, we know that it is especially important when temptations or excuses for not to exercise appears. When you know you have a hectic workday, have to drive the kids to activities, make dinner, have to attend a wine club with friends and you have this sleep you know is important in order for you to repeat the same program the next day – yes, then your training must be planned well. Otherwise, we all know that both exercise and sleep will be downgraded.
Can you make large dinner portions and freeze so you have microwavable dinner ready fast? Can you set aside time to cook some longer and favorite meals on the weekends, and introduce a cooking day where the children make dinner themselves (if they are old enough)? How about biking to work one day you are extra busy or making it a habit if possible? Or suggest group workouts with friends before a dinner? Can the children have bootcamp workout outside with you and your partner?
How about making a motivational playlist that puts you in the right modus to work out after the kids have gone to bed? If wearing fashionable gym gear motivates you, make the investment! Pack your bag with comforting clothes and necessary equipment the day before and write down your workout so everything is ready. When the excuses that you are too tired to exercise appear, tell yourself: “I knew you would come, but I have heaps of counter-arguments that weigh heavier.”
Training for you does not have to be the same as training for a top athlete. Create your own definition and find activities that suit your everyday life. You can take a walk during the lunch break or have a conference call while you walk in the morning – it’s up to you how you set it up. Maybe a little squat, plank and sit-ups while dinner is in the oven? When motivation is low, turn on the forehead flap and push all the excuses away. Sit on the couch at the end of the day with the good “I have trained” feeling. And think, that feeling is even better on a day when there is extra energy to exercise.
Exercise should be fun. Remember, what is fun for you is not necessarily fun for someone else and vice versa. Do you like speed or low-intensity sessions that last longer? Do you like strength or endurance best? Or do you miss the gym class from junior high and should consider ball sports training? Reflect on what you like and plan sessions that is within what you like.
Motivation comes and goes. It is natural and nothing to fear. Focus on what you can control, not what you cannot control. We have given tips on what to do when you are lacking training motivation, but what about when your motivation is strong? It is easy to think of that as a best-case scenario that you must exploit. With this mindset you have to be aware that it may lead to too much and too “hard” training, which is followed by little or no training. To train consistently, it is important to aim for the long run and hold back when motivation is high. What does this mean in practicality? Analyze your training – number of sessions per week, length and intensity. Increase gradually – no more than 10 percent per week is a rule of thumb – and only on one of the elements at a time. If you usually train twice a week for 35 minutes each time, then train 40 minutes one day and 35 another day. When you are up for 50 minutes, split the sessions into three sessions. You understand the logic. Gradual increase and not too much intensity every day. If this sound like little, remember that this way you can keep up your motivation. You can arrive at your desired volume and manage to sustain it forever. Isn´t that your goal?
Variety is also important to keep life and excitement in your training. It is important to aim for the long run and not look at each session in isolation. Think of exercise as an elephant you want to eat throughout your life. You do not eat the whole elephant in one day, but you take a bite every other or third day. Or maybe you take small bites almost every day? It is up to you, as long as you choose a way that is consistent and works well according to your everyday life and your realistic goals.
All in all, reflect on your relationship with exercise and plan the week so that exercise – by your own definition – becomes part of everyday life. Be aware of your excuses, crack them, free up time, make your own definition of exercise and aim for the long run. This is a sustainable approach to keep your workouts consistent over time. If you have the opportunity, buy comfortable and motivating training clothes, pack your backpack the day before, plan your workout so you know exactly what to do, listen to music that puts you in the right training mode and remember to enjoy your workout. “Exercise increases the general energy level in the body and gives you an endorphin boost that can be associated with a long-lasting feeling of happiness”, and that is why we want to keep exercise consistent and why we hate the workouts that never happened.