Exercising when you don’t feel like it. Worth persevering with… probably? Definitely.
Sunday morning is my long run day, usually one I look forward to as there’s less time pressure, I can sleep in a bit get up and run and don’t have to worry about being back at a certain time*. Last weekend I got up and was ready to go but, in contrast to most of the runs I’ve been doing lately, just not feeling any excitement or enthusiasm to go and do it (a Saturday evening cider may have had something to do with this). I wanted to do the run but at that moment staying in and resting felt very appealing. But, with a mix of commitment to the training plan I’m following and the power of habit I managed to get out the door and start moving.
The first few miles were ok and easy enough but muscle soreness, the feeling that it was more hard work than joyful and then frustration crept in and followed me around the rest of the way. I thought about stopping and cutting short of how far I’d planned to go which is dark moment as that just makes the remaining distance seem twice as far. All the reasons why ‘I don’t really need to be doing this’ start circling like vultures waiting for all hope to die. I kept going. Focused on the road in front of me, distracting myself with the podcast I was half listening to, and calculating which roads and turns I would take to complete the full planned distance which, eventually, I did.
What helped me keep going this time? Three things. My current training plan is working towards a specific event in July and although that’s far enough out that missing or cutting short one run wouldn’t hurt I have been making really good progress so far and wanted to keep that going. The urge to stop was fatigue based rather than pain based, so I wasn’t suffering in a way that felt like it could be causing an injury, the run was more uncomfortable for the pace than usual but still manageable. Finally, the belief that being able to keep going through that discomfort on a training run might help give me extra strength to draw on at the event when I’m out in the middle of ‘nowhere’ (Peak District trails) and covering over twice as far with multiple times the elevation gain. There’s just no way to predict exactly what will happen on that day but having a reminder that I can still do hard things even when enthusiasm is low is bound to help.
What about when there isn’t a specific goal or event ahead to help pull you through low motivation? Perhaps you exercise for general fitness and are generally consistent about getting your chosen workouts in but the sofa or the pub is a more appealing option at the moment. The first thing to check is where that feeling might be coming from. Is it straightforward tiredness from an evening drink or late night? Could it be more generalised fatigue from life stress such as busyness at work or at home or a bug going around? Is it full blown exhaustion from all of the above plus exercising most days? Perhaps the type of exercise you’ve been doing isn’t ‘sparking joy’ for you at the moment? Is it birthday party, holiday, other commitment that means you physically can’t be in two places at once? Depending on the nature of the de-motivator you’re facing the way you deal with it will vary.
First up, if you’re full blown exhausted then rest absolutely has to be the priority and focus put into getting a consistent sleep routine of at least 7-9 hours a night. The conflicting commitment is usually fairly straightforward to sort out, depending on your values, I personally would prioritise special occasions such as birthdays with family and friends above a workout or would rearrange the workout to fit in at another time. Holidays and even bank holidays when gyms often change opening hours and class timetables can just be enjoyed as down time, especially if you tend to have a regular and consistent routine, as the body needs quality relaxation as much as exercise to stay strong. The trickier issues to address are more general fatigue or lack of interest. Again, if you typically have a regular and consistent routine and aren’t training for a specific goal but just not feeling like it on a particular day then giving yourself a day off is probably a good idea. Go back to it on the next day in your routine and hopefully the motivation will meet you there. However, if you notice the low motivation days happening more often, or if there is a goal you’re working towards, perhaps break it down a bit and, instead of committing to the full session, just get yourself started perhaps at a lower intensity than usual and give yourself permission to stop if after 20-30 minutes you really want to stop. Often the energy boost that comes from moving our bodies creates enough momentum and enjoyment to get you through. Another way to keep on track is finding exercise buddies or getting chatty with other participants in a class so turning up involves a social commitment as well. This one really helped me at a time when I’d joined a new gym, starting with a ‘hello’ and ‘that was hard’ to the other participants eventually ended up with a group of us going straight for coffee after class and gave an extra reason to show up. Lastly, if you’re finding that what you do is seeming more like a chore than a joy perhaps it’s time to try out something new. That might be a different class, a trial at a different gym, looking into an ‘on demand’ online workout that could give you fresh ideas, or just playing your favourite music and having a dance session (this could be a social one too!). You may find that by trying out different things you rediscover the love for what you were doing to start with. Or what about signing up for a event like a 10k run, a charity bike ride, or swimathon and go deeper into training. Commit yourself to the structure and discipline of following a training plan.
As I said on the way out the door on Sunday, “I don’t have to want to do it. I just have to do it.” because I have decided I believe the effort is worth it. It was. In the week since that long run I had another day where I thought about not going out. This time I’d had a really relaxing day in, saving my run for later on, when it was time to get moving it had started to drizzle and I was so cosy I started to persuade myself that a rest day would be really beneficial. I ran. It was one of the most joyful runs I’ve had in such a long time. My legs felt free and easy and the pace was picking up throughout so by the end it felt like I was flying. And I really believe that if I hadn’t put the work in on the Sunday the midweek run wouldn’t have been quite so enjoyable. The payoff for your work or workouts might not show up in a direct way like that but it is there somewhere. Especially if you can embrace the effort as its own reward.