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What should I do if I'm not motivated to exercise?

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Updated July 23, 2014

Man sitting on sofa playing video games and drinking beer
Kathleen Finlay/Image Source/Getty Images

Question: What should I do if I'm not motivated to exercise?

Answer: We all have days when we don't feel like exercising and some days it's worse than others. There may not even be a particular reason - you feel okay and your energy level is good. It's just that the thought of doing the same old thing holds about the same appeal as getting your gums scraped.

When you're in this situation, what do you do? Do you force yourself to workout anyway and risk being miserable or do you take a day off and risk feeling guilty or worse, getting off track with your routine? There's no right answer here, but you do have some options for getting through those days when motivation is hard to come by.

1. Do Something Fun. Sometimes a workout seems like one more obligation on top of all the other responsibilities we have. When it starts to feel like drudgery, breaking the routine can be just what you need to remember the simple joy of moving your body for no other purpose than to have fun. Rather than do the same old workout, make it into a game. Play Twister or dance around the house to your favorite music. Grab your kids and play tag or hide and seek. Have an arm-wrestling contest with the family or play fetch with the dog. Doing something fun may be just what you need to break the monotony.

2. Do Something Easy. Easy exercise is one thing many veteran exercisers simply don't allow. We know we have to work hard if we want to maintain our weight and stay strong and fit. But, if you're having one of those ho-hum kind of days, an easy workout may be just what the doctor ordered. Instead of worrying about burning muscles or getting your heart rate up, take a slow walk or get on the stationary bike for a long, easy pedal. Easy days are great recovery for the mind and body.

3. Do Something Soothing. When I don't feel like exercising, I find that stretching almost always makes me feel better. I feel like I'm doing something productive without working too hard. Try an easy routine like this Gentle Yoga Workout or this workout to Strengthen & Stretch the Back. You could even go to the gym and use your workout time to sit in the hot tub before doing some light stretching.

4. Do Something Simple. When you're low on motivation, even the idea of changing your clothes sounds like a lot of work. Instead of doing something complicated, try a simple workout that doesn't even require you to change your clothes. This Ball Workout requires only a ball and includes simple moves that feel good and work your body in different ways. You could also try an ab workout or even a simple cardio workout like this Low Impact Cardio Blast which requires no equipment other than a decent pair of shoes.

5. Take a Fitness Test. Another interesting thing to do when you don't feel like the same old workout is to take yourself through a little fitness test. You'll get in a workout while seeing just how strong and fast you really are. Here's a sample:

  • Run or walk 1 mile as fast as you can
  • Do as many as you can of the following exercises for one minute each:
    • Squats
    • Lunges
    • Pushups
    • Dips
    • Crunches
    • Jumping jacks
Keep track of how you did and keep it handy for the next time so you can see how far you've come. End the workout with a relaxing stretch.

5. Play Hookey. This is probably my favorite thing to do when I don't feel like exercising and I think too many veteran exercisers don't play hookey enough. Is there anything more delicious than taking an unplanned day off from exercise? If you're worried about getting off track with your routine, you may want to do some type of exercise...but if you know you can get right back to it tomorrow, why not savor an extra day off? Use your workout time to do something you never have time for - read a book, take a bath, take a nap, pet your cat or, if you're feeling crazy, visit with your spouse. Taking an extra day off can energize you for your next workout.

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