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7 ways to trick yourself into working out when it's the last thing you want to do

Is working out the last thing you feel like doing? Try one of these mental tricks to get yourself moving.
Young woman shoes, close-up, workingout
Jonathan Storey / Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY Contributor

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Even if you’re completely dedicated to your fitness plan, sometimes the motivation to workout is hard to find. And if you've let fitness fall by the wayside over the last year (and maybe even put on a couple pounds), then it is definitely the last thing you want to do. After all, the dishes in the sink are piling up and you're behind on your favorite show — excuses are easy to find.

For those times when you could use a little push, we tapped our favorite trainers to share their secrets when it comes to how they convince themselves to work out when they really don't feel like it.

1. Keep scrolling

As a personal trainer, when I’m looking for an extra reason “why” I should work out, I often find inspiration from Instagram accounts. I start by typing in hashtags like #cleaneats or #healthyeating to see how others are fueling and taking care of their bodies. Then, I’ll switch over to exercise and fitness accounts, and look for inspiration for a new move to incorporate into my workout to get me excited about it. It's funny how just one new exercise will get me off of the couch.

Peter Cirolia, trainer and owner of Ballet Muscle in New York, takes this a step further. “I bring up a shirtless guy on Instagram who’s in great shape, and then I stand in front of the mirror and compare bodies. I’m competitive in a good way, so this always works for me," he said. He’s using a similar rationale to mine: If this person on Instagram can do it, so can I!

2. Rewind then fast forward

Sometimes when you remind yourself of where you’ve been, you’ll feel more motivated to look ahead to the future. Personal trainer and founder of the wellness brand Caliente Fitness, Jason Rosell said he looks at old photos of himself when he was overweight and knows he doesn’t want to go back there. So after flipping through a few old pictures, he envisions himself now and knows he wants to maintain his current body.

3. Start by showing up

Getting yourself to just show up at the gym is a logical way to form a habit. Cirolia tells himself he’s only going to walk to the gym, put on gym clothes and step on the treadmill. He tells himself that’s all he has time for because he left the stove on in his house and has to leave before he even starts walking on the treadmill. More often than not, he forgets about that fake stove being on and stays for a workout. In our current situation, where many of us are getting creative and working out at home, this trick is as simple as putting on your exercise clothes and opening up your workout app or walking out the front door. Force yourself to get dressed and put yourself in the spot you need to be to just start your workout. Once you are there, there's a good chance you will push play on that workout video or start walking around the block.

4. Make short workouts harder

Procrastinating your workout or putting yourself on a time crunch can be an advantage. The less time you have, the faster you have to hustle to get it done. So, the more you delay your workout, the harder it will be. In fact, many high intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts are based on this “less is more” philosophy.

This may inspire you to give yourself more time to work out to avoid the intense HIIT-style session, or it could serve as a reminder that no matter how much time you have — you can always fit in a solid workout.

5. Bribe yourself with new workouts or post-gym activities

If you’re having a lazy weekend and just want to relax, that’s fine! But there’s still a way to squeeze in a workout, even if it’s a slower yoga class. On the weekends when you may be less strapped for time, try out a new class or gym that looks fun.

Yoga instructor Claire Fountain, founder of Trill Yoga in New York City, plans her workouts near restaurants she enjoys and makes plans with friends for afterward. “Knowing I’m going to have a great meal with a few friends after my workout keeps me going because it feels like I have a full morning or afternoon plan to stick to,” she said.

6. Reward yourself in other ways, too

Nikki Walter, a trainer in South Dakota, gives herself an end goal during her workouts: “Will work for dinner. Will work for sauna,” she repeats to herself.

If shopping is more your style, encourage yourself with a new workout top or a new pair of running shoes, but only after you accomplish multiple workouts in a week or a month. Give yourself a bigger reward for more long-term goals.

Boston-based personal trainer Jessica Diaz said she uses “the bank it” method. “I always have a mental list running of a pair of shoes or a dress I want. Then I divide the price by my goal number of days I want to work out that week. So if it’s a $100 item and my goal is four workouts that week, I ‘pay’ myself $25 for each workout,” she said. If she misses a workout, she has to wait until the next week and start all over.

7. Speak your own language

One trick I use with my clients is to have them create their own personal mantra. It's written in the present tense so that you trick your subconscious to believe that you’ve already reached your goal. If your goal is to lose 20 pounds and you want to feel happy, proud of yourself and confident in your body, we put this into a mantra. It reads, “I lost the weight! I feel proud of myself and I am so confident in my body!”

You know yourself and you know what motivates you best, but keep these tricks in your back pocked next time you’re looking for extra motivation.