There seems to be a cultural consensus that you have to love fitness. People will tell you that if you don’t like exercising, it’s just because you haven’t found what you like, or you’re not doing it frequently enough to engage a positive feedback loop. As a fitness writer and coach who has been training consistently for over a decade, I can confidently say that I don’t like exercising, and that’s OK.
The idea that everyone should enjoy at least some form of exercise is stupid. It’s fundamentally the equivalent to a philatelist telling you that your disinterest is probably because you have yet to discover the world of self-adhesive envelopes or octagonal stamps. It’s ludicrous. You have no obligation to enjoy everything in the world, and spending your time workout hopping in the hopes of finding some magical workout you love is inefficient and discouraging. There are much better uses for your time than repeated self-inflicted torture.
But that doesn’t mean you should give up. Exercise has undeniable benefits beyond just ‘looking better’ that have been proven with science time and time again. First, it can be great for your mental health. Various meta-analyses have found evidence to suggest that both resistance training and cardio can be just as good as medication in treating mild to moderate depression, and can be immensely helpful for decreasing stress anxiety.
On a deeper level, it helps your body protect itself at its most basic structure: its cells. Exercise is stressful. Not just emotionally stressful if you don’t like it, but also physiologically stressful because it increases the production of free radicals — particles that damage cells. But your body adapts to this. With consistent exposure to exercise, your cells strengthen themselves against damage by increasing its production of antioxidant enzymes (i.e. their cells defence to the free radical’s offence), which continue to protect your body at rest. This may help protect your body from certain cancers, heart disease and various neurodegenerative diseases.
So there are real benefits to exercising that go beyond superficial improvements, but if you know these inside out and it’s still not enough to get you in the gym, here are a few tactics to make it as painless as possible:
- Keep your workouts as short as possible There’s no point in prolonging the suffering. Focus on compound movements that engage multiple parts at a time, work in a high intensity cardio session when you can, and keep your training dense for maximum efficiency. It will make training a far gentler hill to climb, as well as making it easier to work it into your schedule.
- Do it while doing something else you love Extreme discomfort + supreme satisfaction = indifference?? But in all seriousness, if multitasking is possible, take advantage of it as a way to distract yourself. If you love music, focus on a great playlist, or enlist a buddy so you can socialise at the same time. Alternatively, download your favourite show and use it as a timer to let you know when your half hour of exercise is up. Anything that stops you thinking about how much you hate the elliptical.
- Change “should exercise” into “will exercise” It’s only a small change in phrasing, but it can help massively with your mindset. “Should” implies that it’s something you feel obligated to do it out of external pressure, and gives you some leeway to back out (like how I technically should sleep eight hours, but never actually do). “Will”, however, is concrete. You’re cementing it in your mind as a task you need to complete.
- Make it part of your routine Set a time for your workouts, and stick to it. It can be hard if you have a lot of stuff going on, but if you think that leaving yourself the choice to “work it in when you can”, you’re making a mistake. What inevitably happens is that the workout gets pushed into the elusive land of tomorrow, and the cycle repeats again. Making it a part of your daily ritual will help you get it done without over-thinking or delaying.
- Do non-exercise instead It can be easier and far less abhorrent to increase your general daily activity instead of adding in more gym sessions. Replace car trips with a bike-ride or walk, and take the stairs. They’re small choices that can add up to have the same benefit as a full workout.
So if you hate exercise, embrace it and accept it, but do it anyway.