Sometimes, exercise feels like the best thing ever. You’re eager to open up the Aaptiv app and hit the treadmill, learn how to use the elliptical, stretch tight hamstrings at yoga, or schedule workouts for the week.
Other times, not so much. Your all-or-nothing approach has somehow morphed into half-assed workouts with zero motivation. You find yourself taking extra long breaks in between sets, staring at your phone, or skipping the gym altogether.
Here’s how to reset a negative workout attitude, plus some expert strategies to help you figure out when you need to relax versus rev it up.
Use the “10-minute” rule.
“We all can feel unmotivated, tired, or have low energy,” says Aaptiv trainer Kelly Chase. “At these times, if you decide to show up for your workout, I believe it can go one of two ways. Within a matter of minutes, you regain energy, become super motivated, and are ready to crush it or your low energy continues, and that’s when you feel like ‘half-assing’ the workout. In this case, your form can then be compromised, which could result in injury.”
Chase says the “not into it” feeling is super normal for most people, and that’s why she uses something called the “ten-minute rule.” It works like this: If within ten minutes after beginning a workout, you still don’t feel more engaged, stop. You can go home and give your body a rest day, advises Chase, or eat a nice, well-balanced meal and start over tomorrow.
Lauren Lobert, a physical therapist specializing in sports rehabilitation, takes the same approach. “If after working out for ten minutes, I don’t start to feel better, I leave. This doesn’t happen 95 percent of the time. Usually I start getting into it, and am happy I went,” she says.
“This helps with the mental part of ‘forcing’ yourself to go to the gym. There’s no sense in stressing your body, your mind, and especially your adrenals past what you’re capable of. Your body can only handle so much stress, and it cannot distinguish between different types of stress. Getting divorced, getting fired, job stress, injury, workout, sickness—it’s all the same to your body. So if you’re past that threshold, listen to your body,” she says.
Rest, rest, and rest.
When you consistently feel blah about your workouts, chances are high you’re simply doing too much. “There is always a benefit to moving your body, even if it’s not your 100 percent effort” says Kasia Galica, a trainer and yoga teacher at DC-based Cut Seven.
“In fact, it’s more effective for weight loss to include days of low-intensity, steady-state cardio in addition to high-intensity exercises. l don’t recommend going hard six days of the week. Balance is important. Some people stop seeing results because they are overworking themselves and they don’t know it. The body knows.”
On the days that you’re tired, says Kasia, cut yourself some slack—and go to bed early to catch up on sleep. And, if you’re not feeling well, don’t attempt to sweat it out with a tough workout, Lobert says, as this will make your recovery process last longer than if you had just taken a few days off to get better.
“It’s important to note that half-assing your workout is not the same as phoning it in, not paying attention, and being unsafe in a workout,” adds Pilates Instructor Lesley Logan. “Half-assing it may mean walking instead of running, or half the reps, or [using] lighter weights than you usually would. Check in with yourself. If your mind cannot focus on what you are doing, rest is best. But, if you’re just struggling to get moving, then [just] get moving. You may find [that] you three-fourths-ass it.”
Skip the “all-or-nothing” mindset.
Not every workout needs to be balls to the wall, either. “Sometimes it’s just hard to bring it,” says Logan. “Some workout regimens market themselves as a hardcore, bring your all, and push [it to] the limits mentality. But, if you’re distracted with glass-half-empty energy, don’t throw out the workout; start moving. Skip the crossfit or 75-minute spin class and get on a treadmill, or get outside and start walking. As your brain gets the endorphins going, you’ll find [that] you had more energy than you thought,” she adds.
Energy levels also depend on the time of day that you’re working out. For example, there’s a big difference between running in the morning or at night.
If you’re a morning person, then you might love starting your day with a jog, but if you’re sleepy, your legs might feel heavy and lead to low motivation. You may have more energy midday over your lunch break, or prefer to do a quick HIIT workout at home after your kids go to bed. Logan says to figure out what works best for you, and then take advantage.
Consider setting new goals or switching it up.
“If you consistently feel like you are not excited about working out, it’s time for a self-evaluation,” says Logan. “Are you doing workouts that feel good to you afterward? Do you like what workouts you are doing? Are you working out at the times [that] you feel your most energetic self? Maybe you’re working out too much? Are you taking care of yourself outside of the gym? Do you have specific goals around your workouts or just to ‘workout more’? When your workouts have a purpose that is unique to your goals and needs, even when you’re not ‘feeling it,’ you’ll be more likely to do the workout.”
Your body may have also adapted to your usual routine, leading to fewer results, so now could be a good time to switch things up. A great way is with the Aaptiv app. There’s different workout categories you can move along to.
Other things that might help you kickstart your workout routine: Try a new type of workout, pick a class with a new instructor, target a part of your body that you don’t normally focus on, change the intensity or duration of your favorite workout, explore different cardio machines at the gym, head outside, or even shop for some new workout clothes.