When I was in college, I thought the only way to get fit was to get on the elliptical or treadmill, and I absolutely hated it. Meanwhile I’d be watching World’s Strongest Man competitions and pining for the ability to just be strong.
While you may not want to learn how to pick up 300 pounds someday like me, I bet we have a lot on common: You were probably convinced that the only way to exercise was by spending hours in the Cardio Theater or by signing up for a marathon. Running and cardio machines are great options if that’s what you’re into, but what if those don’t appeal to you, or you don’t know how to exercise without it feeling like a chore? Whether you’re just getting started with an exercise regimen, or you’ve been at it for a while, try some of these tips to help you figure out how to enjoy working out.
Why do you even want to exercise? Is it because your doctor recommended it, or because you think you’re just supposed to exercise? Obviously there are tons of benefits to regularly exercising like improved immunity, improved cardiovascular health and improved mood, etc. (1, 2). But something that helped me was to think about the exact “why” for working out. So try the 5 Whys technique: Keep asking yourself “why” for every statement you make. For me it looks like:
Another tip: Write down your “why” on a sticky note and place it somewhere that you’ll see regularly, like on your bathroom mirror or on your car steering wheel.
I repeat: You do not have to go for a run in order to net the benefits of exercise. (Though it’s great if that is your workout of choice!) Find ways to move your body that feel good rather than doing something that you dread. Perhaps you like to dance (in public or in private!), or you want to ride your bike to get ice cream. Don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone to find an activity that you would like, or to change your workout routine to suit your actual tastes.
There are plenty of online resources for free, at-home bodyweight exercises as well as protocols that you can take to the gym, but twerking to your favorite Lizzo song at home can do wonders for your physical and mental health too.
There is legit nothing worse than going hard on your first day back in the gym or at dance class then being sore for the next week and a half. If I could tell my past self one thing, it’d be to EASE INTO IT. If you’ve been sedentary for a while—your whole life or a few years or a few months—you won’t want to jump into a super strenuous exercise routine right away.
If you’re literally starting from scratch, try to do just two minutes of exercise, whether that’s Zumba or walking, or even just doing one air squat. Slowly you can increase your activity over days or weeks. You have to walk before you can run, and you have to be able to squat your own body before you can squat 20 pounds.
If one of the main reasons you want to work out is to lose weight, you may end up feeling discouraged if you don’t see immediate results, or worse, you could begin developing some bad habits (over-exercising, undereating and more).
Working out should be a way to celebrate what your body can do rather than a method to punish your body for what you ate or what you look like. Yes, added energy expenditure can lead to fat loss when coupled with healthful eating habits, but try focusing on the non-scale and non-appearance victories when you are exercising. Is it now easier for you to climb up three flights of stairs? Have you mastered that martial arts move? Maybe you can now carry in all your groceries in one trip. I love reflecting on how much my strength has improved over time. The changes in body composition can be an added bonus, if that’s what you’re looking for.
If you need to know how to enjoy exercise, you should learn how to celebrate your achievements. Building a new habit isn’t easy—after all, some say it takes three weeks to build that habit, others say 10,000 hours. Big and small victories are worth celebrating. Here are some ways you can honor yourself for moving your body in a beneficial way:
If you can find a friend who is trying to get started in their own workout habits, someone who has a lot of experience or just someone who will help hold you accountable, you’re likely to succeed in following through. One study showed that exercising with a partner can improve performance on aerobic activities (3), so you could end up getting even more out of your workout than if you were to go by yourself.
Try making friends as part of your exercise activity. I was able to really succeed in my lifting endeavors once I found a group of other powerlifters to train with.
The saying, “Done is better than perfect,” is a great mantra for learning to enjoy exercise and for getting started with working out. If you begin your workout routine and decide you’re not feeling it that day, or if you decide to skip a day, don’t beat yourself up. Sometimes it’s necessary to recalibrate your daily goal, so maybe you need to drop down from 10 minutes of cycling to five—and that’s totally okay! Complete those five minutes and thank your body for being willing to do that much.
Not everyone is trying to be an elite athlete. Of course, keep the promises to yourself to continue exercising and reach your goals, but the ideas of “no days off” and “train like a beast” don’t work for everyone. Maybe someday you’ll work your way up to the gym rat lifestyle, or you’ll develop a full-on dedication to rock climbing. Until then, be patient with yourself while you continue to navigate exercising as an enjoyable activity.