How To Train When You Just Don’t Like Exercise

I have a confession.

I have owned my personal training facility for nearly ten years.

I have been lifting weights in some capacity for nearly twenty years.

And at no point can I confidently tell you that I have loved exercise.

“But Jason…How can I expect you to inspire me to improve myself if you don’t even enjoy exercise??!!??”

I know it seems counter to a lot of what you hear from our industry.

You might hear things like: “Find what you love to do!”, “Fall in love with the process!”, “Wait til you try CrossFit!” (okay, that’s kind of snarky…I digress.)

I won’t tell you those statements don’t have merit. They do. And I believe for a certain individual, those philosophies can be helpful reminders.

For me, exercise has never been about loving what I do or falling in love with a process. Exercise has always been something I’ve considered a non-negotiable.

For frame of reference, I started lifting weights when I was 23. I had no sincere athletic background and no one to show me the ropes. What I learned was from magazines (at the time.)

I was thinner than I am today (shocker, I know) and I was three years into my ten year addiction to drugs. Exercise was just a way to get me feeling and looking better because I was not psychologically ready to give up drugs.

Throughout the last twenty years of lifting, I have found portions of my training that I do enjoy. I like seeing weights go up over time. I like adding an extra rep or an extra set when I have a regimented program.

And, by and large, I like what I see when I step out of the shower.

Mind you, I don’t LOVE what I see…but that’s another conversation entirely.

I treat exercise the way I treat things like: brushing my teeth, doing the dishes, and doing laundry. It HAS to be done. There is no out. And just like those tasks, I don’t approach them with any level of resentment. Just like exercise, they are non-negotiable.

And in the years that RevFit has been open, I’ve come across more and more clients who, like me, really don’t LOVE exercise. But they do like how we approach it, so they stick with us, follow the plans we make and get to see the results despite not being married to the gym.

So, if this has resonated with you thus far, here’s a list of eight things you’ll want to consider to keep training in your life even if you’re a recalcitrant athlete like me.

  1. Show Up. I know it seems a foregone conclusion but you have to make a commitment to show up for yourself. No one else is going to lift the weights for you so you can’t look good by osmosis. I will say there is a fair amount of truth to the statement “But you’ll feel so much better AFTER you workout!” I find this occurs more often than not. Even my clients who drag in after a long day’s work or after not having a great night’s sleep generally feel better and more accomplished once they show up and put the work in.
  2. Never Use Exercise For Punishment. Did you have more slices of pizza than you intended to? No problem! Since you’re likely not going to “un-eat” those slices, don’t chain yourself to the treadmill in efforts to burn off those extra calories. I don’t know a soul who benefited psychologically from that approach. Treat exercise as the buddy who puts his arm around you and says “You’ll do better at the next meal, let’s just get some reps in at the gym and call it a day.” No guilt, no shame, no drama.
  3. Embrace The Exercises You Hate The Least. If you’re with us, we keep a dialogue going of what our clients like to keep in or subtract out from their training regimen. Sure, there may be some beneficial exercises that not everyone falls in love with but if you know it’s only a small percentage of your training and training time, it’s easy to overcome the mental barrier of having to do it. Even the clients of mine who proclaim to dislike exercise the most, can tell me their favorite things to do with us and the exercises they look forward to each week.
  4. Find Data Points That Feed Your Motivation. I am one of the least competitive people I know. So the thought of competing against others is usually a turn off for me. However, when I started posting up the Top 5 best lifters in our studio across the big lifts (Traplift/Deadlift, Squat and Bench Press) it sparked a lot of great conversation. Now, there isn’t a week that goes by where one of my clients doesn’t talk to me about where they are on the board OR what it will take for them to get there. So many people thrive on competition! For instance, if you’re someone who is only going to the gym for weight loss, having a scale in your life can be a love/hate relationship (despite it giving you feedback about what’s happening with your diet.) I find that many of our weight loss clients find a new kind of peace and motivation in seeing how strong they can get. It then fosters a different behavioral pattern: If I eat well, I lift well so if I can focus on both, the scale weight drops too! WIN-WIN-WIN.
  5. Be Forgiving Of Imperfection. It happens to all of us. Some days you have great workouts, some days you have awful ones. Some days you have limitless energy and some days you just want to stay in bed. This is normal! Referring back to point number 1, the best thing you can do is just “Show Up.” However, there will be times when you have a legitimate reason not to: like being sick or having a family emergency. If you’re sick, my advice is to rest up, hydrate and eat to the best of your ability. If you have to miss your training session for any other reason, use that time away for a short at-home workout (squats and push-ups work just fine) or take the ample time for recovery or meal prep. When you can treat missed sessions as quality time to focus on another area of your health, it’s still a victory. And believe me, the more we focus on our victories, the better the mental and physical outcome.
  6. Learn To Work Around The Pain, Not Through It. It’s probably going to happen at some point in your days of lifting weights: an injury. Granted, some are sustained in the gym and some outside of the gym. Either way, you would be best served to learn how to train around the pain source instead of fighting your way valiantly through it. It can be easy to give up on yourself if you have a nagging lower back, wonky shoulder or a knee injury. Look to your training session and determine what can be done that doesn’t utilize or at least minimizes the use of that area of your body. This keeps the needle of progress moving forward until the aggravated area can recover.
  7. Find Your People. Weight Watchers (WW) has support groups, those in 12-step recovery programs do as well. There’s a reason. We thrive with a like-minded community. My clients have access to an online community with each other so we can talk about our struggles and ways we overcome them. They are my people and I am theirs. We are in it together. When you know you have other people in the same boat heading to the same destination, it makes the “journey of health and wellness” much easier to endure.
  8. Own Your Time. What’s the one obstacle I hear about keeping people from exercise? Not enough time. That’s why most of our workouts can be done in 30-40 minutes. There is no magic number of exercises, sets or reps that HAVE to be done if you’re just trying to make improvements for your health. Granted, if you are training for an event, there are systems in place to keep you from spinning your wheels but the smartest thing I ever did for my business was get my clients in and out in a shorter time frame so they could get back to their busy lives and know that the training portion was solved. Contrary to old advice, you don’t need to train for an hour to get a great workout and there are even highly effective workouts you can do in twenty minutes if that’s all the time you have.

Below is Laura. This will be her fifth year training with me. At no point in that time has she come into her workouts doing cartwheels and somersaults and telling me how much she loves to exercise. That aside, like me, she realizes that having it in her life is a non-negotiable. She has every reason in the world to not show up. She wakes up every day at 3am to get ready for work, works at least 12 hours a day and is on her feet from bell-to-bell. That’s a prime recipe for someone who could easily just say “I don’t want to exercise!” However, she knows what life was like when she weighed something she could not live with and she refuses to go back to that place. It’s also some added motivation that she’s getting married this summer so we’re fully committed to giving her an awesome body for her special day. She’s down 22 pounds as of the writing of this article. Can I get a “Hell Yeah!” for Laura?

“We Make Great People Greater”