Published at 26 April 2021

How to stay motivated and stick to your workout routine

You’ve set your personal fitness goals and have a great workout routine. But some days are tough – and it’s hard to make your workout a priority. Here are some tips on how you can stay motivated.

By Paul Russell

Having fitness goals and a workout routine are great steps to better health. But some days are better than others for actually doing your workout. Motivation can lag – and other life priorities can get in the way.

Which leads to the million-dollar question: how can you stay motivated to stick to your workout routine?

We asked Aaron de Jong for some answers. He’s a certified personal trainer and founder of the fitness app movr. He’s also founder of movement108, a boutique movement studio in Vancouver, Canada.

He says that one of the first things to recognize is that everyone experiences motivation lags.

“In modern society, workouts are not a natural inclination,” says de Jong. “We’re attracted to the path of least resistance. And exercise is a resistant activity. I struggle with it too – even though I know I’ll feel great after doing a workout.”

De Jong thinks some of the negativity about exercise and motivation goes back to public school.

“Physical education in public school catered to the top 5% of athletic kids. Too many people grew up thinking they weren’t good enough. And that in itself is de-motivating. We’re trying to shift that thinking.”

Workout motivation tips

De Jong says that one of the prerequisites to workout motivation is having an attainable fitness goal. And that usually means starting with a smaller goal first. You may want to ultimately run a marathon. But set your sites first on a smaller goal that can lead to that.

He also notes that attaching a functional lifestyle preference to a broader goal can be a huge motivator.

“A lifestyle goal might be playing with your kids without getting winded. Or going for a hike without knee pain. Or being strong enough to lift your bike off the back of your truck. These can be supremely motivating because there’s a practical purpose attached. It provides an answer to the ‘why bother working out’ question.”

Even with an appropriate goal, it’s natural for motivation to lag at times. De Jong says that everyone has different motivation triggers. But he has four tips that he thinks can help almost anyone.

  1. Acknowledge your roadblocks. If lack of time is an issue, block your workouts off in your calendar. If you have low energy in the afternoons and evenings, make a morning workout your priority. If your cramped basement makes working out awkward and depressing, consider outdoor possibilities or a gym membership if you can.“Be honest about what makes you hesitant to workout. Then look for ways you can work around those roadblocks.”
  2. Set up an accountability system. One of the best nudges to get your workout done is to be accountable to someone else. That’s why many people work out with a friend. Whether it’s in-person or virtual, knowing that someone else is expecting you is a huge motivator. Hiring a personal trainer works much the same way – with the added benefit of some expertise to guide you. And some people use money as their motivator. They sign up for a monthly gym membership or online subscription and participate regularly to avoid the feeling of wasting their money.
  3. Stop the critical self-talk. De Jong says this factor is often overlooked, and people don’t realize how hard on themselves they are.“There’s one thing I tell all my clients – any intentional activity does some good,” says de Jong. “People are far too critical of themselves. If you miss your workout, but take a long walk after work, give yourself credit. Even five minutes of activity is worthwhile. So, frame 100% of your self-talk positively, even if you miss some workouts. It brings positive energy to fitness and will fuel you to do more.”
  4. Leverage technology. Fitbits and smart watches are everywhere. But do they help with motivation? De Jong says that some of the preset goals – like walking 10,000 steps – are arbitrary. But he says the devices can still play an important motivational role.
“You can set targets that align with your fitness goals. This makes you more accountable because something else – the watch – is monitoring your progress. And even if the targets on your watch are arbitrary, we all get satisfaction out of reaching them. I’ve certainly gone out for a late evening walk to hit my 10,000 steps target. Anything that gets you moving is a plus in my books.”