A personal trainer may be able to whip your muscles into shape, but if you struggle to stay motivated to exercise in the first place, a few sessions with a sports psychologist may offer the most bang for your buck.
Sports psychology is a specialised field that focuses on how to improve athletes’ well-being, training, and performance from an emotional and mental standpoint.
But even sports psychologists sometimes struggle to lace up their trainers. So here are some of their best tips for sticking with an exercise routine despite feeling tired or strapped for time.
Move it to the top of your to-do list
“I always exercise first thing in the morning so that nothing else in my day will interfere with my ability to get the workout in,” says Dr Jennifer Farrell, a school counselor and sport psychology consultant at Shattuck-St. Mary’s School in Faribault, Minnesota.
Find a friend
“I think about my dog’s need for physical activity, too, and that helps me stick to my running schedule,” says Dr Amanda J. Visek, an associate professor in the department of exercise and nutrition sciences at The George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health.
No dog? Find a gym buddy or a running partner; you’re less likely to bail if someone is waiting for you.
Schedule it in
Partner or not, treat exercise like any other appointment, says Visek.
“Having it already blocked off in your calendar will make it seem less optional,” she says.
Don't like something? Don't do it
Just because everyone is obsessed with group cycling or CrossFit doesn’t mean it’s for you—and that’s okay, says Dr Brandonn S. Harris, an associate professor and program director of Sport and Exercise Psychology at Georgia Southern University School of Health and Kinesiology, College of Health and Human Sciences.
Instead, find something you really enjoy.
“You’re more likely to remain active when you are doing so under your own volition, as opposed to something or someone else influencing or dictating that decision,” he says.
Harness the power of positive thinking
If you’re struggling to stay active, you’ve probably been telling yourself that you should work out.
It might sound silly, but just telling yourself that you want to exercise can make a big difference, says Stephanie Pearl, a psychotherapist in New York City and an instructor at SoulCycle.
She adds that if the thought of the activity itself isn’t getting you sufficiently amped, try focusing on an aspect of it like the music you play during your workout.
Accept that it won't always be perfect
Let’s face it: Some days it’s hard to muster the energy to give it your all.
You could do nothing—or you could acknowledge that you’re not feeling your best and still try to do something, like going on a slow run instead of lingering in front of the TV, says Pearl.
Break it up
No time to hit the gym or go for a long run?
Research suggests that you may get the same health benefits from engaging in physical activity during three 10-minute segments as you do from 30 minutes at once.
Take three 10-minute brisk walks throughout the day, or try doing a 20-minute session in the morning and 10 minutes of strength work in the evening.
“Every little bit counts,” says Farrell. “Instead of saying, ‘Well, I don’t have 30 minutes so I’m not going to bother,’ try to see it as ‘10 to 15 minutes is better than nothing!’”
Get your priorities straight
Why do you want to work out?
The answer should never be “because I’m supposed to” or “because it’s the right thing to do,” says Pearl. “You have to really want to and really know why you want to—the more clear and personal your goal, the better.”
Farrell suggests taking it a step further and literally taking pen to paper: Write down why you’re exercising and what you hope to achieve, whether it’s more energy to play with your kids or a reduced risk of heart disease.
Focus on the end game
Sure, you may feel half-dead when your alarm goes off for an early morning workout, but remind yourself of how great and energised you’ll feel afterward, suggests Harris.
And if you’re mid-workout and considering quitting, remember that each step brings you closer to your goal and that mild discomfort is simply a sign that your body is getting stronger and faster.