How to work out when you don’t want to

I haven’t been feeling great this week. Nothing physical, it’s all in my head; although knowing that rarely makes it any easier. I’ve just ended a bad cycle (menstrual, not bike) and my mental health was in the toilet on Monday. I skipped the gym, I avoided responsibilities, I ate my weight in chocolate and carbs and went to bed early crying. With my next workout scheduled for yesterday, and still very little motivation to do it, how did I manage to drag my butt to the gym?

Step 1: just get dressed

I got out of bed, and I pulled on my gym stuff. I wasn’t 100% sure I’d make it to the gym, but if I dressed like I was I knew it’d make it easier to work with any tiny flame of interest that happened to come my way. I knew that if I had to get undressed out of regular clothes and then dressed again, the effort required would extinguish any short-lived burst of inspiration for sure!

Step 2: hold yourself accountable

I got in the habit of weighing myself on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays while cutting the first time because I wanted to monitor the results to make sure I was going in more or less the right direction. I have kept a once weekly (minimum) weigh in since then just to keep an eye on maintenance progression. I don’t work out to offset food, or “reward” myself for exercising, but it’s undeniable science that our food (calories in) and exercise (calories out) shape our weight.

I knew, having gorged myself on chocolates and carbs on Monday, that a weigh-in would hold me accountable for my gluttony and would remind me of the effects of pigging out. Unsurprisingly, I’d put on 3lbs. This allowed me to make an informed choice about how to move forward. I still ate chocolate cake yesterday.

(Please don’t use weigh ins to hold yourself accountable if you show any signs of experiencing disordered eating. I made this choice based on my own personal motivations and knowledge that I would use it as a single indicator in an overall picture of well-being. You are more than a number on a scale, always.)

Step 3: focus on the positive

I reminded myself why I workout. Rather than talk negatively about how much working out was going to suck, how I couldn’t be bothered etc (although these were all at the back of my mind) I repeated positive affirmations:

  • working out makes me stronger, physically and mentally
  • working out will give me space from my thoughts to focus on something good
  • working out will make me feel like I’ve achieved something
  • working out will get me out of the house
  • I’ve never regretted working out

This helped me focus on why I workout, rather than why I don’t want to, which meant…

Step 4: go to the gym (track, swimming pool, whatever)

I just turned up. I dragged my butt to the gym. I set myself no expectations, I didn’t plan on attempting any personal bests or super hard lifts, I just turned up. I told myself to get through my warm-up and see how I felt. I then took each set of lifts as an achievement in its own right and carried on until I felt I was done.

Step 5: do what you can, not what you should

Because I’d set no expectations and knew that I’d achieved something just turning up, I wasn’t afraid to stop when I felt done rather than at the end of my typical workout. If I’d pushed myself too hard, having felt restless and under-fuelled, I would have probably missed reps or failed to meet my “usual standard” which would have made me feel worse, so I cut my workout down.

Giving myself this shorter workout made each next step feel more achievable. In the end, I completed my main lift (squats) and two lots of accessories. I was ok with that.

If all else fails? Try again tomorrow. Sometimes it just wasn’t meant to be. Accept it and move on rather than dwelling on it, otherwise you risk dragging yourself further down which will make it harder to motivate yourself next time. Good luck, fit folk.

Lead photo by Masaaki Komori

Jem Turner hello@strongmum.com +44(0)7521056376

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