As a personal trainer and weight-loss coach, I am constantly answering health and fitness questions from my clients, on social media and in our Start TODAY Facebook group. In this column, I address some of the most common questions and roadblocks that trip people up on their journey to establish a health and fitness routine.
I don’t enjoy exercise. How can I make it less painful?
As a personal trainer for almost 15 years, I’ve worked with quite a few clients who began their fitness journey not enjoying exercise at all.
The reason behind the aversion toward exercise differs from person to person. I once had a client who hated working out simply because she didn’t like to sweat. Another client didn’t like the way she felt when she got out of breath. It scared her and reminded her of panic attacks that she’d had as a kid.
For others, it’s the activity itself that is not enjoyable. Perhaps you’re forcing yourself to go out for a jog when you hate running or dragging yourself to the gym, a place you don’t enjoy being. You also may be working out for the wrong reasons. Research shows that if your motivation to exercise is strictly rooted in your desire to look a certain way, you’re less likely to enjoy it and stick with it.
Whatever the reason, there are ways to address your dislike for exercise — and even start loving movement! These fixes take time; shifting your mindset doesn’t happen overnight. If you find yourself dreading your workout, here are some tips I often employ with my clients to make exercise more enjoyable.
Channel your inner child
Kids love to run around and play outdoors. Why does that have to stop just because we get older? Children enjoy exercise because they don’t treat it as exercise; they’re just doing what they love! And you can apply that same concept to your workouts. There are so many options when it comes to being physically active, you don’t have to force yourself to do an activity just because other people use it as their form of exercise. Bike riding, ice skating, playing tag with your kids, dancing to your favorite song … Yes, these fun activities count as exercise!
Make it a game
Another way to channel your inner child is to make fitness a game. Try joining an intramural sports team for adults or organizing your own with friends or family. Playing a game of some sort — whether it’s an organized sport like volleyball, tennis or bowling or a made-up game like an obstacle course in your backyard — makes exercise feel like less of a burden and more like a fun activity. Plus, it’s never too late to pick up a new hobby!
Track your progress in an app
Holding yourself accountable for your health and fitness goals can actually help you enjoy the process. For many, seeing concrete progress toward a goal is enjoyable — even something as simple as checking off your workouts for the week in a calendar can be satisfying. Not only can seeing your progress tracked be self-motivating, but many apps also offer other fun features like digital trophies when you hit milestones and the ability to receive high fives or cheers from the community
Find an in-person or virtual community
Having people around you who are working toward a common goal can make a huge difference in how you view exercise. I recommend trying to find an in-person community that you can enjoy exercise with. Walking your dog with a neighbor, meeting friends for a bike ride at the park, or going to an in-person yoga class every week (and maybe enjoying a smoothie after!) are all great ways to turn fitness into a social activity. If finding an in-person community doesn’t work for you, find that camaraderie online. There are plenty of virtual options, whether it be through social media or a fitness app, that can help foster that sense of community. Share your goals, talk about your progress and setbacks, and bond with others on message boards — the social component will not only make exercising more enjoyable, but it will hold you accountable, too.
Distract yourself while exercising
Couple movement with something you enjoy and you may just start looking forward to your workouts. I’m a big fan of using distraction to make the time pass more quickly. If you love to listen to a certain artist or radio station, use that as a distraction while you walk or jog. If you’re in the middle of binging a show, only allow yourself to watch episodes while you’re logging miles on the treadmill or spin bike. The time will fly by when you’re absorbed in the latest episode or jamming out to a good song. I also love getting sucked into a podcast and only allowing myself to listen while I am moving — sometimes I find myself squeezing in an extra walk just to get to hear the next episode!
If your workout routine requires your full attention, reward yourself afterward with your favorite form of relaxation. Take a bath, do a face mask, or enjoy a cup of tea and an episode of your favorite TV show. A post-workout treat will give you something to look forward to, which will help motivate you during a hard workout. It will also help you start to associate exercise with positive feelings and create a routine that you will come to enjoy.