People who go to the gym every day tend to be happy with their habit — that’s why they keep coming back. But plenty of folks aspire to do that, and haven’t quite figured out how. Since I am one of those people (I even work out on holiday, sorry) I’d like to help you learn to love the gym — but it depends what kind of person you are. Go ahead and read whichever sections apply:
I have a really ambitious long-term goal
Do you want to lose 20kg? Qualify for some race or meet or tournament that’s months to years away? If you want that thing bad enough, you could use it as your motivation.
But here’s the thing: Big goals aren’t enough on their own. You’ll make progress if you’re dedicated, but changes will come so achingly slowly that the goal loses its oomph as a motivating factor.
What you really need, then, is a plan that you can focus on. Sure, hang up your goal on a vision board, but then right underneath it put your workout plan, and check off each day as you complete it. (Don’t have a workout plan? Find a coach, or download a plan, or otherwise come up with one.) You need to connect what you do each day to that goal that motivates you. You need to be able to trust the process.
Not you? Keep reading.
I want to get better at a thing
This is probably a better way to approach long-term goals, but it also works even if you don’t have the patience for long-term goals. Here’s what you do: Set small goals. I don’t mean breaking up your big goal into pieces (that’s still a long-term plan) but rather, choosing smaller, self-contained goals that will each be their own little victory when you achieve them.
Let’s say you want to run a marathon, but you’re so far away from being a runner that you aren’t even ready to start a marathon training plan. You might not even be ready to start running. So your small goals might be something like:
Work through the first half of a couch-to-5K program, then reassess
Run/walk a few kilometres next month in less time than it took to run/walk a few kilometres last month
Or maybe you’re a more experienced athlete, but you get still get bored by the idea of just generally improving. So, set some goals:
Run a 5K this spring
Do squats every week at the gym and see if I can get up to X pounds by December
Run a 5K in the spring, and try to beat the time I ran in the fall
One to two months is a good timeframe for these shorter goals. That’s enough time to see improvement, but not so much that you lose sight of how today’s workout connects to the goal.
I don’t know what I want
Good news: that’s ok! You’re actually in an enviable position right now. You don’t have to stick to any specific plan or do any one specific thing. Your job right now: to explore.
Find yourself a structure within which to explore. (Remember, “work out every day” is already a sort of structure, so you just need an easy way to fill in those slots.) If you like fitness classes, join a gym that has a lot of different kinds. Or make it your goal to try out all of the gyms and studios in your area that offer a free trial. Love the outdoors? Make a list of outdoor activities you’d like to try, and figure out where you can get any equipment or help they might require.
Don’t pressure yourself. Feel free to follow your explorations wherever they lead. If it’s too much work to go kayaking and then hiking and then rock climbing every week, give yourself a default activity of, say, walking around your neighbourhood, and swap in a more interesting activity whenever you have the opportunity.
As you’re trying things out, don’t plan too far ahead. Maybe this week you try out a cycling studio, and it turns out you love cycling. Or at least you think you like it. Don’t feel like you have to move on. Go ahead and sign up for a one-month membership and see how that goes. You kind of want this exploratory phase to break down, don’t you? Try things until one of them sucks you in, and you keep coming back because you like it.
I don’t want to think about it, I just want to be healthy
It’s fine if you don’t want your workouts to excite you. Think about all the other things you do every day because you’re on autopilot and they’re just part of your life. You brush your teeth, you feed the cat, you go to work. You don’t hype yourself up to do these things, or post triumphant selfies when you finish — you just do them. They’re fine.
Working out can be like that, too. But it depends what kind of workout.
I recommend something that keeps your body and mind busy, without feeling like a killer, but-did-you-die kind of workout. Don’t worry about whether it’s impressive to describe to your friends, just ask yourself, could I do this every morning and then move on to feeding the cat?
If you like running, there’s no need to compete or to try to run faster or farther every day. Just put on a good podcast and head out for an easy half-hour jog. If you like lifting, you can pick the type you find most pleasant.
If you hate to lift really heavy things rrrgh, do a dumbbell workout that calls for a million reps of a light weight. Or if you’re the opposite, do a workout where you do a heavy barbell lift, then set the weight down for a few minutes before you try again.
Everything is boring
If everything I’ve suggested so far sounds boring to you, it may be that what you need is some friends.
Honestly, it’s rare to luck into finding a gym buddy who likes the same things you do and who isn’t annoying to be around. If you have one such person in your life, cherish them. The rest of us need a different approach.
Here’s what you do: Try out new sports or gyms, much like the exploratory approach I mentioned before, but aim for places with camaraderie. Check out team sports, running groups, or small gyms that cater to a specific sport or type of workout (a Crossfit box, a powerlifting gym, a yoga studio).
Social media can help you find these groups: they’ll have a Facebook group where everybody seems to get along with each other, or they’ll all be tagging each other on Insta. In many cases they’ll be actively looking to make new friends, so look for recruitment nights or new-member discounts. Take advantage and meet some new people.