4 ways to make yourself exercise when you hate exercising

Guest post by TheKate
Everything Hurts and I'm Dying Tank Top from Etsy seller WednesdayNite
Everything Hurts and I’m Dying Tank Top from Etsy seller WednesdayNite

I hate exercising. I mean I really, really hate it. I hate sweating, and I hate sore muscles, and I hate feeling out of breath. I also have bonus on-going injuries from a car crash, which means I approach exercise with caution, because one wrong move and I can be dragged back into the super-fun world of chronic pain.

BUT I know that exercise is good for me. So what to do?

Here are some things I have discovered that, in the space of six months, have turned me from a non-exerciser into a person who walks 30-40 minutes per day, and goes to the gym a minimum of twice per week.

1. Have a goal, or don’t have a goal

Some people are very goal-orientated and some aren’t. You might be someone who wants to set yourself a goal, like: “In three months I will complete a fun run” or “In six months I want to be able to do 20 pull ups.”

I am not a goal person. As soon as I set a goal, I feel a rebellious urge to deliberately not do what would be necessary to achieve the goal. If you’re like me, I find it helpful to keep it light and vague. Instead of focusing on a goal, I just tell myself, “I’m going to do this stupid exercise fandango because I’m an able-bodied human, and I should make the most of that.” I remind myself that it’s not for weight management, or because I want to “achieve” anything, it’s just because it’s a healthy thing to do, like eating vegetables.

2. Incidental exercise

Yep, I’m sure everyone has already told you, “just get off the bus one stop earlier and walk the rest of the way!” “Do walking meetings instead of sit down meetings at work!” The exercise hater’s response is pretty much, “Yeah, cool story bro.” But those ideas can really work if you find a way for it to work for you. My annoyance with this strategy is that, if you’re walking the rest of the way to work in the middle of summer, it’s likely you’ll turn up looking sweaty and bedraggled, which isn’t a great motivator for someone who is starting exercise from scratch. To get this to work for me, I started getting off the bus a few stops earlier only on the way home, not the way to work. Turning up at home when you’re sweaty and bedraggled is nowhere near as big a deal because (presumably) you’re pretty close to a shower. Even if this isn’t as much exercise as doing it to and from work, it’s still better than the big old pile of nothing I used to do.

3. Find a way to tolerate the gym (unless you’re an outdoorsy type!)

This was crucial for me. I was raised to believe that gyms were full of scary dudes, pumped full of steroids, grunting a lot and using really crap slogans like “No pain, no gain!” But the great thing about the gym is it’s exactly the same no matter what the weather is outside. I am a great finder of loopholes (“Ooooh slightly chilly outside. Stay in bed.” Or “Oh no — cloud in the sky. Will probably rain. Stay in bed.”) But the gym can close those loopholes pretty easily.

Tolerating the gym for me came down to a few things…

First, I needed to figure out if I was self-motivated or if I needed classes. I need classes. I can turn up and do as I’m told for a bit, and then turn round and go home. But, if I’m left to my own devices, I might turn up and spend less than five minutes on a treadmill, and tell myself that’s enough exercise for that day. If you hate classes, you might be someone who can get an exercise plan online or from a trainer and follow that.

Second, I found instructors that either pissed me off but who I could tolerate, or who I genuinely liked. If you’re like me and cannot stand the instructors who shout abuse at you, then don’t go to those classes. The only exception to this is that I used to go to a class just because I hated the instructor because I used the hate to motive me and spend the whole time thinking things like, “Fuck you, Instructor! Fuck you and your motivational bullshit! I’m going to lift these weights in fury!” I find that liking the instructor and their style makes me more likely to show up and do as I’m told. I especially favour instructors who treat the class like they’re all exercise haters rather than exercise lovers, because I find they tend to be more encouraging and less “Feel the pain! The pain is your friend!”

Third, find your threshold. I find that I want to tap out of any class that goes for more than 45 minutes. I tried going to hour-long classes but found I hated it so much that I didn’t feel inclined to turn up again. I think it’s better to turn up to a 45 minute class than not turn up at all to an hour class. Even if your threshold is 20 minutes, at least you went. Which leads me to…

4. Make sure you aren’t too hard on yourself

I used to have this mentality that if I didn’t exercise for “long enough” (I really don’t even know what that means) then I might as well not have bothered. I’ve since realised that this is a really flawed way of thinking. I think that it’s much better to tell yourself “I am going to do something. No matter what it is, at least it will be something.” I find that if I tell myself that, or tell myself “I’ll just go for one half hour class” then I’m more inclined to stay for a second class while I’m there, or to go for a walk afterwards.

I think the biggest take home message is that it’s important not to do what other people say is the “right” way to incorporate exercise into your life. Find what works for you, whatever that may be, and I think you’ll be more likely to succeed.

These are just things that worked for me. You may be completely different! How did you motivate yourself to exercise?

Comments on 4 ways to make yourself exercise when you hate exercising

  1. If I didn’t know better I could have sworn I wrote this. Can’t do goals, something is better than nothing (thank goodness I have a dog I have to walk because we have no yard) and I am also a class person.

    I am a variety of classes person so I don’t get bored out of my skull. While I love a good routine, if I don’t mix things up I won’t show up. Even trying to watch my favorite TV show while doing my own workout bored me to tears and this is a show that I can sit on my ass for hours watching.

    The right classes, especially if you can find a group of people who are awesome, makes all the difference.

  2. The right instructor really does make all the difference! I’ve found that I don’t like the exercise lovers (“Feel the pain! FEEL IT! DO IT!”) OR the exercise haters (“This sucks, right? This hurts!”), though one of those styles generally works for most people. My favorite are simply the exercise doers: the ones that just say what you’re doing and give you an idea of when you’ll do the next thing, but don’t comment on the pain.

    This is especially true in yoga, where I just want the instructor to tell me what to do in a calming voice. My favorite instructor includes frequent breaks in her flows and quietly corrects posture without calling anyone out.

  3. Great advice, you *almost* make me want to join a gym again 😉 I’m an exercise hater & I hate sweating & being out of breath (and having chronic shortness of breath means I’m out of breath all. the. time.)

    But I’d add one thing to this list, and it’s been the ONLY thing that has ever worked for me (going on 9 years strong now): find a physical hobby you love and join a team. I never thought I’d consider myself an athlete, or anything close to it, but the first time I saw roller derby I fell in love, signed up for boot camp & have been skating ever since. It’s kept me more active than I have ever been, because there are always new skills and strategies to learn so you’re always striving to better yourself and your team–it’s not so much “get through this practice & be done.” It’s fun. Plus, my league has practices on a regular schedule so I made that a part of my schedule now. Tuesday night? I’m at the rink. Thursday night? rink. Sunday morning? rink. If you miss a practice you miss valuable time with your coaches & team… so you just do it & don’t have a chance to keep putting it off. Which is what I’d do if it were just an individual venture. If not derby then a rec league or bar league, even if you have a few beers after your game you’re still getting exercise in, so you deserve it! 🙂

    • I agree that if you find a sport you like it’s much easier to keep doing it… It happened to me, if only for a while (i never played any sport or gone to any gym, except from yoga classes). I decided almost jokingly to go with a friend to Capoeira classes. We found an amazing group and a great instructor and for the first time i was happy to sweat and jump and fight – as well as sing. Unfortunately my body is not trained for heavy exercise. So i couldn’t do all of the awesome things the others were doing and often hurt myself. After a forced stop of a couple months (Christmas holidays+ a vacation + lots of overtime at work) I decided not to go back. I really loved it but it required too much energy for me. I later realized that in those brief months they really helped me dispose of a lot of bad energy i had from other life stuff, and gave me a schedule, a place to go, something to do, good company and loads of encouragement. I am forever grateful for that… Even if my weak muscles couldn’t keep up.

  4. Great advice! Thank you!
    Just today I started walking my dogs in the morning in addition to at night. If I walk them 15-20 minutes every morning I think I’ll be more likely to do it, rather than when I get home from work and just want to watch tv so we only walk at night a couple of times a week. Going on five 15-minute throughout the work week is probably better than the one or two 30 minute walks that we normally do. I expect we’ll still do night walks, because the dogs won’t let me ignore their walks for more than two days.

  5. I hated exercise too until I found indoor rock climbing! Now I go 4 times a week and I’m in the best shape of my life. I absolutely fell in love – it’s super fun, challenging, social, a great way to spend time with your belay partner (SO, bestie, sibling), AND it’s physical. I’m not a big outdoorsy person but it’s always the same temperature inside, no bugs or dirt in your sandwiches. It has a easy entry point – most gyms will rent you all the equipment you need and teach an intro class. Highly recommended for other exercise haters!

  6. If you’re data/accountability driven, get an activity tracker. If you’re anything like me, you might go from ruthlessly hating all activity to running every morning and averaging 15k steps a day! Goals definitely help me too. Nothing too firm, but I sign up for regular 5K races to give myself some external motivation.

    Other things that helped me:

    1. Treadmill in the house. Obviously not everyone can just go out and buy exercise equipment. But if you can (check Craigslist!), it takes gym anxiety, and the motivation you have to find to leave the house for exercise, out of the equation.

    2. Exercise in the morning. I know, I know, I’m not a morning person either. But I hated exercising after work even more. I find it way easier to get it out of the way first thing, so I don’t have to fit it around other daily activities, or stay motivated after a long day at work.

    3. Do it every day. This varies from person to person, but I have to commit to getting on the treadmill every single day, otherwise it’s too easy to skip. It’s part of my (nearly) non-negotiable daily routine.

    4. Incidental exercise is great, if you can find something you enjoy. On my lunch break, I walk and read. When the weather is nice, I get to enjoy some time outside, which is a bonus working in a windowless office. It’s exercise, but it also adds something enjoyable to my day.

    I’ve also noticed that since I’ve started exercising regularly, I’m finally becoming slightly more tolerant of being sweaty and out of breath. It took a long time, and I still don’t care for it of course, but it feels just a little more okay (normal??) nowadays.

    • Craigslist/Kijiji/your local equivalent is where it’s at for secondhand exercise equipment! Seems like a lot of people buy them with good intentions…but they end up sitting mostly unused and taking up space for so long that the owners get rid of them for cheap. I’ve picked up an elliptical and a recumbent bike for less $100 each – definitely worth it if you can get it home. (Had to put the bike across the backseat of my car with one end slightly out the window, lol.)

  7. Baby wipes! I wipe the kit with them, mop my sweaty brow/face/back/underboob with them and generally use them to feel a bit fresher. Plus I find the wetness of them evaporating helps to cool me down and I can wipe them through my hairline, around piercings and any random places that are annoying me mid treadmill.

  8. I have no good tips for exercising — I just want that T-shirt 🙂

    Actually, the only times I’ve been able to exercise consistently is when I put it in my calendar & make it a regular thing for myself. 20 minutes 3x a week, for starters, for example. Same time each day (morning, evening, whatever works). Have everything lined up — shoes, clothes, exercise DVD or running path or whatever — in advance. Then I only have excuses & no real reason not to do it. If I make it a routine, it’s more likely to happen. Like brushing your teeth. Not the most fun thing in the world, but necessary.

  9. I love this article! I’d add that it helps to find a thing you love. I used to do ballroom dancing, yoga, pilates, and DDR and it was pretty awesome. Nowadays, I really can’t because of body ailments, but I miss those things and look forward to getting back to them – which is much better than being grateful that I can’t work out!

  10. Another thought on gyms: test them out at different times of day, if possible. My local Y is jam packed with seniors and mums on maternity leave during the day. Night time? Dude-bros aplenty, but there’s way more space. Both atmospheres have their pros and cons.

    Another suggestion: forgive yourself when you don’t go or leave early during a workout. It happens. If I miss a long stretch and then am hard on myself (“ugh I’m such a failure”) then I tend to avoid going back, which makes the cycle even worse. My life has ups and downs, everyone’s does. Being chill about it makes it easier to go back to the gym after I’ve been away.

  11. I used to hate exercising, but it’s grown on me somehow.

    I’m a goal-oriented person, but not a CRAZY competitive goal-oriented person: I like having small, reachable goals that make me feel good when I reach them (and I often do), rather than over-the-top goals, which might make me feel awesome (but there’s a 0.1% chance I’d reach them). So instead of signing up for a marathon, let’s do this 5K run ok? And next year we’ll do a harder 5K run, or a very flat and easy 10K… You get the idea.

    You also often get the idea that you have to find an exercise buddy, but it doesn’t work for everyone. I like company once in a while, but if I really want to exercise hard, I have to be able to go at my own pace. Running with friends is good to learn how to run and talk at the same time, but not to run as fast as I can, or how long as I can.

    Since I got a high-energy Samoyed puppy, I have no other choice than to walk him. And it’s fine, since that’s the kind of activity buddy I wanted. I pack a 1-hour (or 2 30-minute) walk almost every day, rain or shine. It’s not intense, but in the long run, I’m convinced that walking that daily hour will do me more good than running 1 hour weekly. Extra bonus: a tired puppy is a happy puppy… and it makes me happy too!

    Other than spending time with your dog, find ways to exercise that make you happy. I love picking up berries, and I’ll gladly walk 2 K to pick some blackberries or sour cherries. If you love having coffee with friends and live in a relatively walkable area, why not enjoy the sun and walk to the café? Or take that bike and ride it to see some friends, with the perspective of a nice chat and cool drinks halfway up the ride? Just some ideas.

    Oh, and I HATE gyms. I bought a yearly pass for the national park nearby instead, so I can do there year-round and walk my dog, cross-country-ski, snowshoe… I also find that seasonal activities are a great way to stay pumped and not bored about exercising.

  12. I really liked your perspective. I’ve been almost turned off to exercise, no matter how important I know it is, because I find so much of what’s written on health/exercise/eating habits to be super preachy and obnoxious. I loved that you recognized different types of people and different motivations. Like I’m realizing that I am very much not into the shared goals/social competitive nature of My Fitness Pal or FitBit or anything that has me comparing myself to other peers for various goals. I already know I’m going to lose, so why bother – that’s my mentality. It worked for a bunch of family members and friends because they were data-driven, goals-oriented, and/or social competitive, but I have to recognize that it isn’t for me. Instead, I realize that there are exercise classes that I would enjoy, like Zumba, belly dancing, pretty much any form of dancing, if only I could fit them into my schedule!

  13. These are some things that have worked for me:
    1. Going at lunchtime (if that’s an option for you). No waking up early, no dealing with post-work exhaustion, still home in time for dinner
    2. Peer pressure. I moved into a work team where the other ladies exercised at lunch, so I started going with them.
    3. All women’s gym. No bros in the weights room, lots of sporty sisterhood.
    4. Exercising with people like me. My work colleagues and fellow gym goers are a diverse group of ladies: multiple ages, body types, cultural and ethnic backgrounds, and ability levels. Modifications and going at a pace that is healthy for you is encouraged.
    5. 30 minute classes. This is ideal for my lunch time as I can leave my desk and be back in an hour including travel/changing time.
    6. the mental health benefits. Its does wonders for my anxiety and depression and I’m just generally a lot less grumpy when I’m going regularly.

  14. The pair of things that’s been best for me (for context, I’m a runner): 1) Have a concrete, hard-to-modify goal. Not “sometime this year I’m going to run a 10k”, but “I have registered and paid for this 10k next January”. Commit to achieving your goals. 2) Have an exercise partner expecting you to show up for workouts. There’s a bunch of people talking about doing team sports in earlier comments, and I think that’s very similar – you can’t let down your partner/team, so you have to go exercise! If you can’t self-motivate enough to get out the door regularly, there’s nothing wrong with some external motivation.

  15. Different people have different reasons for hating or avoiding exercise. For me, and for a number of others, it’s because we’re intuitive-type personalities with a built-in prejudice against anything physical. For me, the cure to that has been to make exercise intuitive/artistic/spiritual. I turned my exercise routine into prayer/meditation/ritual, and made the moves as beautiful as possible. You can do this for any religion, or if you’re atheist, think of it as a celebration of being alive. When I was younger I also danced a lot. Now, though I’m too arthritic to move in the creative ways that I used to, I do take contemplative walks.

    I’m also a geek. Go to any science fiction convention and you will see plenty of geeks who love books, gaming, and movies a whole lot more than moving, and it shows up in their health. Sadly, I’ve had too many friends not reach my age. But you can use your geekery to motivate you, too. When I had a chance, I took up fencing. Whenever I get the opportunity, I also swim–not in a purposeful, laps around the pool way, but swirling around in mermaid fantasies. You can also take up martial arts, parkour or archery. My brothers have become proficient at long-sword. Keep your superhero role models in mind and let them inspire you!

  16. I find the fact gyms are the same all year round creepy. Like, same light level, same temperature, same noise level… Makes the back of my neck prickle. I think living in a country where only gyms and hotels have aircon makes me associate that recycled air noise/smelling/feeling with insomnia and eczema. Non-motivating! I’m a big fan of classes, but luckily I’ve found a yoga class at a studio in an old Victorian house nearby. No aircon, no buzzy lights, no noise. Lovely! And the yoga teacher is super smiley, which is good: it’s hard to be motivated by a miserable teacher, because if they hate it why are they making you do it?

    I get most of my exercise walking to and from work each day. I can’t drive, and I dislike buses only marginally less than I dislike gyms. It’s about 1.5 miles each way. When we were house hunting, I had a limit of roughly 2 miles from work, since I thought more than that I might wuss out (there is a train option for getting to work which still involved about twenty minutes of walking). Something has to be, realistically, more than an hour’s walk for me to start considering other options.

    The other thing I’ve started doing recently is leg lifts while waiting for the kettle to boil. I don’t like changing routine much, and I don’t like getting up early or staying up late (or getting sweaty at lunch!) so I’m finding gaps in my current routine where I can throw a bit of exercise in. It’s not as healthy as a raised heart level for twenty minutes, or whatever the current recommendation is, but it’s healthier than leaning on the counter watching the kettle, so there’s that.

    I’m quite data driven, so I’ve got a fitbit (well, a Garmin, but same difference). It’s got an incremental auto-goal on it, which is fine right now because it hasn’t caught up with my daily exercise level, but I’m worried when it does I’m going to sulk at it. We’ll see. That it’s an older model that runs on a watch battery is good, because I don’t have to charge it, and it’s waterproof too. Not taking it off means not thinking about it, which makes it easier.

  17. I love this! I am also an excercise hater, and rebel against my own rules. This is what I have done (slightly differently to you) to overcome my resistance to exercise.

    1. I choose not to exercise first thing in the morning.
    Previously I had all these great ideas about getting up early and going to the swimming pool before work, or cycling to work. Ive realised this doesn’t work! I just turn the alarm off and go back to sleep. So to stop this happening, I don’t do exercise before 9:30am.

    2. I try not to get overly excited about changes to my lifestyle.
    Before my current incarnation of someone who runs(!!!) twice a week, goes walking often and does Pilates regularly, I used to get really excited about changing things. I’d be over ambitious about the different things I could do and I’d last a week before quitting. Now I start one thing at a time and then add when I feel like I can.

    Example: My physio suggested that I should do Pilates. I started a class, and challenged myself to stick at it for a year. I succeeded! So to celebrate this, I decided to add running to my repertoire. Which brings me onto my next point:

    3. If you think you are going to try to wriggle out of it, make yourself accountable!
    I have always been rubbish at running, it is even on my school report! However, I decided it was the only sport that I could easily fit in around freelancing (you just put your shoes on and go!), plus it is outside, and I really hate gyms. To make sure I would actually do it, I hired a running coach.

    Before I started with the running coach, I met him to find out if he was a horrible PE twat (he wasn’t), and I explained that I hate running and needed someone to make me do it, and he was really understanding.

    We are currently working up to me running a mile without stopping (which would be a huge personal achievement for me). I run with him twice a week, and apart from making me run, he also plans how I train, and this has helped with my motivation, as I am actually improving!

    I’m now looking to add another sport to my fitness regime. I’m looking at either Thai Boxing, or Triathlon training. I know both of these are very different, but I tried Thai boxing when I was 19 and loved it, and I love swimming and have been wanting to develop my technique for a while. I also quite like cycling (more than running, but not as much as swimming).

    My partner and I are moving to a house with a swimming pool and a really good cycle track within 5 mins walk from us. I’m also not that far from the National Cycling Centre, and the triathlon club train there. I’ve been inspired by the GB Olympic cycling team who train at the NCC so triathlon is a definite possibility!

    However before I start getting too carried away, I am going to try both options out and see which I think I am more likely to stick to.

    Perhaps the offbeat community can help hold me accountable!

    • Haha! I knew you had to be from the UK when you said “horrible PE twat” – this is such an accurate description of some of the gym staff / trainers I’ve met! Go you for all the exercise wins! And I’m totally with you on the excitement over lifestyle changes – “ooh look, if I do *insert new shiny thing here* then my life will be amazing!!! Ooh look, another shiny thing too!”

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