Let’s face it: While you know hitting the gym is good for you, sometimes your workout motivation plateaus — or downright plummets. Whether you’re new to fitness or have been at it for years, dreaming of six-pack abs won’t power you through your workouts forever. So what’s the magic sauce that will turn you into a five-days-a-week fitness buff?
“The aesthetic benefits of working out no longer have the same appeal for me,” says Shauna Harrison, Under Armour-sponsored athlete and creator of the #SweatADay challenge on Instagram. “…It’s about self-integrity — that is, holding a commitment to myself.”
If you need a little extra motivation to get out the door, we’re here to help. We talked to some of our favorite fitness professionals and bloggers to find out what keeps them amped to do what they do day in and day out. Their answers have little to do with getting the perfect physique. Instead, they focus on the mental replenishment, confidence and joy that workouts provide them. Because as actress Lena Dunham said in her gone-viral #sweatyselfie, “It ain’t about the ass, it’s about the brain.”
19 Ways to Get Real Workout Motivation
1. The Mental Release
Pounding the pavement or retreating to the weight room can work wonders when you’re feeling a little extra anxiety. “It clears my mind of past and future stress and helps me focus more on the here and now,” says Jay Cardiello, strength and conditioning specialist and fitness expert, who’s worked with celebrities such as Jennifer Lopez, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson and Julianne Hough. When the pressure of city life gets to be too much, Casey Schreiner, founder and editor-in-chief of Modern Hiker, hits the trails. “Hiking is a form of walking meditation – a way to focus on the present moment and not waste mental energy worrying about the future or replaying the past.”
“When I walk away from a workout I’m a different person. I call it the ‘joy factor.’”
2. The Ability to Say ‘Yes’ to Adventure
You want to be able to tackle all the cool opportunities life presents you, right? “Go for a hike? YES! Go skydive? YES! Go backpack across Europe? HECK YES!” says Dai Manuel, a CrossFit coach and author of the upcoming book The Whole Life Fitness Manifesto. “Without a strong foundation of health, fitness and wellness, the ability to do the things we want most in life becomes more and more difficult. Don’t miss out, allow yourself the power to choose what you do, rather than letting your health decide for you.” Paige Kumpf, the voice behind Your Trainer Paige, definitely doesn’t want to miss out on the fun in her home also state of Colorado. “There’s so many outdoor activities and adventures, and staying strong and fit allows me to trust that my body will be able to take me through all of them,” she says.
3. The Whole Body Benefits
The quest for better health is the primary reason why Krysten Siba Bishop, the blogger behind The Misadventures of a Darwinian Fail, hits the gym. Bishop lovingly calls herself a “Darwinian fail” because she has both a rare arrhythmia in her heart and the BRCA1 gene, which increases her cancer risk. “I don’t have the luxury of taking my health for granted,” she says, so she’s dedicated to maintaining a healthy diet and exercise. For blogger Katrina Pilkington, certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor, exercise helps keep her blood sugar in check. “Diabetes runs on both sides of my family so I try to be proactive, balancing exercise with a proper diet so my body uses ‘fuel’ properly,” she says.
4. The Joy Factor
Thanks to the flood of endorphins, working out can literally make us giddy. “It doesn’t matter if I’m sad, tired, angry, uninspired. When I walk away from a workout I’m a different person. I call it the ‘joy factor,’” says Holly Rilinger, a personal trainer and FlyWheel instructor. Brian Kelly, the blogger behind Pavement Runner says, “I wouldn’t do this if there wasn’t some sort of joy or happiness that came from it.”
5. The ‘Whoa, Look What I Can Do,’ Feeling
The human body is an amazing machine. “There’s rarely a day that goes by that I’m not in complete awe of what my body is capable of doing,” says Harrison. “It’s continually challenging myself, exploring what my body can do on a given day and playing with those edges [that motivates me].” Over the last four and a half years, Erica Giovinazzo, a Head Coach at Brick CrossFit in West Hollywood, has continued to surprise herself. “I’ve gone from not being able to do a pull-up to being able to do a muscle-up; from doing an overhead squat with an empty barbell to being able to squat my body weight for multiple reps,” she says. “We are limitless. Every day I train and every accomplishment I reach reminds me of that.”
6. The Results, Baby
There’s nothing quite like setting a personal best. For Kumpf, seeing the results of hard work in the gym keeps her coming back for more. “The feeling of empowerment I get from efficiently performing a squat with more weight on the bar than my previous lift is indescribable,” she says. “It’s a rewarding feeling to know your work yields actual, tangible results that have nothing to do with the scale.” Heather Balogh, the author of the blog Just A Colorado Gal agrees. “Knowing that I have the ability to push my body to the absolute max is fulfilling. There’s no greater sense of accomplishment.”
“I train hard, so I can eat that pizza and enjoy it without any guilt.”
7. The Confidence Booster
There’s nothing like serious gains to make you feel great about yourself. That’s one main reason why celebrity fitness trainer Lacey Stone loves fitness. “Working out adds to my confidence levels in my everyday life,” she says. Roni Noone, the author of the book What You Can When You Can: Healthy Living On Your Terms says, “For me it’s all about confidence building, ‘me time’ and getting stronger,” she says. “By setting small goals, I feel accomplished lifting something I couldn’t just a few weeks earlier.”
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8. The Mental Strength
When you work out, you flex more than just your physical muscles. “When I hit a wall in my workout and feel like I can’t possibly keep going, but then I force myself to push past it, there’s a radical shift in my mentality,” says Adam Rosante, celebrity trainer, wellness expert and author of The 30-Second Body. “I start to question what else I’m capable of in other areas of my life. It’s a game changer.” That empowerment can translate to success outside of the gym, too. “You learn so much about yourself, about discipline, about pushing your limits and about your capabilities when you train,” says Dan Trink, strength coach, nutritional consultant and personal trainer at Peak Performance in New York City. “And these traits are very easily carried over to your job, your relationships, your abilities as a parent and so many of life’s daily challenges.”
9. The Post-Workout Fuel
Even fitness buffs like their post-workout munchies. “I’d be lying if I didn’t say that food wasn’t a motivating factor,” says Kelly. “If I’m in the middle of a run and I need something, anything to get me to keep going, I might choose a reward meal. Sounds funny, but the thought of a burger with cheese, avocado, bacon and some sweet potato fries can get you to run that extra three miles.” Katie Uhran, founder of She Rocks Fitness, admits that her love of food keeps her going. “I train hard, so I can eat that pizza and enjoy it without any guilt.”
10. The Power to Inspire Others
Sometimes, actions really do speak louder than words. “One of the key reasons I started this adventure was to lead by example,” says Bishop, of her Darwinian Fail blog. “…My goal was to show that small changes add up to big changes over time.” Whether you’re hitting up a class or run club, if everyone shows up ready to work out, everyone benefits. “We are who we surround ourselves with,” says Rilinger. “I know people look up to me and watch what I do. I want to inspire others to change and when I show up every day — they follow.” For Stone, she knows that it inspires her clients and students to work hard when they see her do the same.
“I work out now so I can continue to climb mountains when I’m in my 70s.”
11. The Kids
While your fitness habits may influence your friends and peers, they also have a direct impact on the next generation. “As a father, I see my daily fitness regimen as having a positive impact on my son,” says Cardiello. “Knowing that his father cares about his health, my son will also will develop a deep respect for his body.”
12. The Connections
Sometimes working out isn’t just about the exercise. It’s about the company you keep. “If it wasn’t for the community, I most likely would have stopped running a long time ago,” says Kelly. “It’s feeling like you belong.” Working out makes even the big city of LA feel a little smaller, for Southern California-based Schreiner. “I pass the same people every time I’m running the trails. It’s a nice way to get some real, human interaction in a city where most people spend too much time by themselves, enclosed in metal boxes on clogged roads.”
13. The Anti-Aging Effect
Want to feel younger than your years? Rilinger says that people can’t believe that she’s 40. “I can attribute this to working out and being happy. It’s never too late to stop that clock.” Research shows that staying fit can help improve bone density as you age, too. “I plan on continually adding bone and muscle density by training heavy and consistently,” says Jessi Kneeland, founder of Remodel Fitness. “Eventually, Mother Nature will try to break down both, and I want to have as much as possible to start with.” As for Balogh, she wants to keep up her mountain adventures. “I work out now so I can continue to climb mountains when I’m in my 70s.”
14. The Love of Sweat
Admit it: Sometimes there’s nothing better than working hard and getting sweaty. “Sweat is such a tangible product of hard work and that’s why I love it,” says Harrison.
15. The Pressure of Achieving Your Goals
“I trained for a marathon through Boston’s worst winter in history,” says Jonathan Levitt, blogger at Real Fit Social. “If I didn’t have a goal, I would have been much more likely to bail when it was below zero or a 21-mile run on an indoor track.” Having specific goals can keep you honest — but long-term aims are important, too. “What gets me out the door is my motivation to create a better life for myself,” says Kimberley Brown, founder and editor of Manifest Yourself. “Each day that I dedicate time to working out keeps me closer to my goals.”
16. The Momentum
Remember how painful it was the first time you tried to run more than a mile? “Starting anything is the hardest part, especially when it comes to physical activity,” says Kneeland. “Sometimes I train just to keep the motion going.”
17. The Habit
After a month or so it will feel weird not to go to the gym. Trust us. “We get better by focusing on habits, by doing the work day in and day out,” says Giovinazzo. “I can’t necessarily control the outcome, but I can control being consistent, persistent, focused every single day I train and never missing a rep. If I focus on my day-to-day ‘work’ in the gym, then results are inevitable,” she says.
18. The Me Time
Sometimes it’s not a bad thing to be selfish. “That time slot is entirely devoted to me and no one else,” says Balogh. When you take care of yourself, you can handle the challenges that your day throws at you. “My workout before I start the day is a great way to clear my mind. Sweat it out and take care of me before I have to take care of everyone else,” says Uhran.
19. Because You Can
“One thing that really drives me to push past boundaries and sometimes just to shake off laziness is to think about all the people who would give absolutely anything to be able to move their bodies in a dynamic way, but can’t for any number of reasons,” says Rosante. “That gratitude gets my ass moving in a flash.”
Originally published June 2015. Updated January 11, 2017.