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Struggling With Exercise Motivation? 5 Factors You Might Want To Consider

I’ve just come out the other side of a long period of motivation struggles - a couple of years long. This is frustrating at the best of times, especially when you’re someone who’s always been active, but even more so when it’s a crucial part of what you’re all about.

After ongoing injuries, shoulder issues, and surgeries, I had to quit martial arts about 2 years ago. Injuries aside, I was just starting to go full time into my business there was no way I could continue spending 14 hours a week at the club.

I gained fat, lost muscle and grew really unhappy with how I looked. I missed the endorphins and all the other positive mental benefits that martial arts had given me.

In the search to fill that void, I felt lost. What did I actually love doing and why? I was in desperate need of motivation and that meant going back to the drawing board to consider what I needed to get from my workouts. It led me to consider the following:

1. Looks

Let’s be honest. How we look can be a huge trigger for most of us to start working out, or to take it up a gear. But just how much importance do you give your aesthetic, and how much do you even think about it when you’re training?

Negative feelings can kick in for all of us if we catch sight of an unflattering reflection in the middle of a workout. Personally, the times when I have been in my best shape, and felt happiest and most confident in my body, have been when looks have been the furthest thought from my mind!

If your goals are shape or weight orientated, then of course, this will factor into your motivations. But is that enough to get you off the sofa, out into the cold, or push through those last few reps? Or do you need to focus on other factors too?

2. Social Life

Knowing whether you’re an introvert or extrovert can help you determine how important socialising is to you when you exercise. In simple terms, an extrovert charges their energy by being with people. For strong extroverts, exercise classes or team sports can be ideal. An introvert recharges by spending time alone, and so strong introverts may prefer more solitary activities such as running, swimming or cycling.

As an extrovert I craved the socialisation that martial arts gave me. Every evening I’d look forward to having a laugh with my friends. Even if I felt tired, the FOMO (fear of missing out) always got me out the house!

However, as I grew my business, I found more and more of my energy was channelled into classes, consultations and personal training. This meant that I started to prefer solo workouts, which is when I discovered running.

Previously the mere idea of running bored me senseless; but as I discovered beautiful trail runs near me, it has since become my escape, as well as an exhilarating physical challenge as I set myself tougher routes. If ever I start to feel the social pull once more, then there are plenty of running clubs to choose from.

Where do you fit in on the extrovert/introvert scale? Do your current activities reflect that?

3. New Skills

Learning and practising a skill or sport can help give a sense of purpose to your training as well as helping to keep exercise fun. Think back to when you were a child. What activities and sports did you love doing?

There are so many different options now for adults: gymnastics, dance classes, amateur football and netball teams etc. When you were trying to master a new ball trick, gymnastic or dance move, how many times did you practice it until you were absolutely exhausted? Thinking about the skills aspect can also help to motivate you with other conditioning. For example, time in the gym can become much more productive when you think about how strength training can support your sport, or how intervals can help get you competition fit.

For me, yoga helped to fill some of the skill gap left from martial arts. Learning different poses, and creating transitions in different flows lead me to my mat just as much as a physical need to move does.

And as I’ve progressed in my running, I’ve managed to use that as a focus for my resistance training, giving me a much clearer sense of purpose.

Are you learning anything from your training? If not, could it be something for you to explore, and would it inspire you more than your current programme?

4. Challenges

If you feel like you’re stagnating in a particular activity, then why not take it up a gear and sign yourself up for a race or competition?

The idea can be daunting at first, particularly if it’s something new, but I always think you should go for at least one event in your activity. I was lucky enough to participate in a few martial arts competitions. They were totally nerve wracking, but I mostly enjoyed them! Preparation for these took a lot out of me, in both time and energy; but had I not taken part I would have kicked myself forever wondering if I could have held my own…

As I‘ve started to race, it’s still very much a learning curve in terms of pacing and pushing myself; but it’s given me an extra push to stick with my running schedule.

Are there any challenges you could sign yourself up for? Why not try to raise some money at the same time? Charity events can also give you an extra layer of accountability through sponsorship, give you an additional push.

5. Scheduling Time

It’s easy to procrastinate with exercise, especially as the days grow colder and the nights draw in. After a day at work, the sofa starts to feel more and more comfortable…

As I diarise the week ahead, I schedule in my classes, clients and then block off my times to workout. Everything else can then fit in around these times.

If you don’t have much flexibility, and are prone to procrastination, then a class or personal trainer can help to get rid of that. Likewise, if you train with someone else, you’re less likely to flake out and let them down.

How do you currently schedule in your training? Do you have a class or training slot at a set time, or do you need to rely on your own self-discipline?

Final Thoughts

Of course, this is based on my experience and there are several other factors that might influence your training motivation.  I'll come back to some of these at a later date...

If you find yourself in a rut, then maybe you need to look beyond the physical aspects, and accept that sometimes you might need different things out of your workouts.  Hopefully this has given you some areas to consider.  Happy training!

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