Starting a new workout plan from scratch can be as frustrating as it is exciting. I know because there was a time when I felt like I spent more time getting started than I did making progress. After years of experiencing that struggle, I’m here to tell you that it’s by far the worst part.
Think about it… during the first few days of a new workout plan, you’re probably not used to the new stress you’re putting on your body, you’re tired, you’re hungry and you’re not seeing any progress yet. What’s there to be motivated about?
That’s why your first few weeks of working out need to be treated differently than the rest of your days of staying fit. The following 5 workout motivation tips focus on sticking to a plan, minimizing obstacles and getting yourself in the right mindset to start making progress toward your goals.
Make a realistic plan
When you think about it, most of your small daily wins begin with a plan. When you cook dinner, you probably use a recipe (even if it’s memorized). When you drive somewhere new, you have directions. Why would your fitness plan be any different?
So what should your fitness plan look like? Start to answer this question by first analyzing your current situation. Ask yourself questions like: What does my day look like right now? Where can I squeeze in some free time to reach my fitness goals?
If you’re not a morning person, it’s probably not smart to schedule your workouts for the mornings. Likewise, if you’re rushing around in the evenings, chances are you’ll find a reason to skip your workouts at night.
Can you anticipate days when you already know you won’t be able to get a workout in? If you already know you’re going to struggle, plan a rest day for that day. For example, if on Thursdays you’re running from 8am to 8pm, you’ll just disappoint yourself if you schedule a workout and then miss it. Anticipate this early on and allow yourself some breaks as you need them.
Planning around your schedule is by no means a replacement for the motivation you’ll need to keep the momentum going once you start a plan. However, with some extra planning you’ll be able to remove a few of the obstacles that would usually cause extra problems.
Look backward, not forward
There’s a reason the first few days of a new fitness plan are always the worst. It’s because we tend to look toward the long road ahead instead of back at our accomplishments. That’s why it’s extremely important to set yourself up with small and attainable goals.
Minimize your efforts by rewarding yourself for going to the gym just three days in your first week. That way, if you work out on Day 1, you’re already 33% closer to crushing that first goal. Then continue that pattern. Continue to push yourself just a tiny bit every day and continue to remind yourself how far you’ve come.
What should these rewards look like? They don’t have to be expensive or extravagant. I like to mark the days I’ve worked out on a calendar or in a notebook. The visual marks alone remind me that I’m getting to where I want to be one day at a time. If that’s your approach, be sure to spend a moment thinking about the progress you’ve made every time you make that checkmark. Here are some more ways to reward yourself:
- Treat yourself to your favorite coffee drink after completing all of your workouts for the week
- More interested in wine? My weekly treat used to be a glass of wine and popcorn while watching Scandal on Thursdays. Olivia Pope approved!
- Not all rewards have to be in the form of food. A relaxing bath with good music or your favorite podcast can serve as a great reward.
Measure your progress
The third workout motivation tip is about progress. It’s important to remember that the bathroom scale is not your only measurement for success. In fact, I would argue that it shouldn’t be a measurement at all. Try putting the scale away for a month. Measure your progress by tracking your workouts and your diet. Are you accomplishing the daily goals you’ve set for yourself? If yes, then it probably doesn’t matter what the scale says in the beginning..
I haven’t weighed myself in months for a couple of reasons:
- Because I don’t believe that a number on the scale can accurately tell me how healthy I am.
- Because body weight fluctuates for so many reasons other than a lift or drop in weight from fat.
- It sets the tone for my day… and I don’t want an object that sits on my bathroom floor to have that kind of power over me
If you must weigh yourself, I recommend only doing it once a week and at the same time every week. This will help you avoid small fluctuations in body weight that might not mean anything.
Here are some ways that you can measure success that don’t have anything to do with the bathroom scale:
- Take your measurements weekly (use a soft tape measure… I use one from my sewing kit)
- Let your favorite pair of jeans be your guide. This one is great for avoiding the scale. But, beware. The morning after a night of high sodium foods or alcohol will make you think your jeans have shrunk
- Progress measurement. How many workouts are you completing? What are your calorie and protein counts for the day?
Related: 6 common workout beginner mistakes
plan for mistakes
I hate to break it to you, but your new plan isn’t always going to work. Mistakes happen and sometimes sticking to the plan just isn’t in the cards. But, the real challenge comes with your reaction to those situations. Take some time to write down things that might happen that could pull you off track. What will you do in those situations? Here are some options:
- Workout twice on the following day – This one is probably the most intense. I must admit that I’ve been known to make the ‘workout twice’ claim and then never actually do it. If you’re worried that failing to workout twice the next day will discourage you, I would avoid this contingency plan.
- Turn a rest day into a workout day – This is my favorite contingency plan. It’s because my weeks tend to be a little unpredictable. Sometimes I plan on working out on Tuesday, but my day at work pretty much required me to get home and immediately veg out on the couch for 3 hours. It happens. In those cases I turn my next rest day into a workout day to make up it.
- Cut your losses and move on – If this is your plan, I’m cool with that. The major risk here though is never getting back to the gym. In situations like these, I try to ask myself ‘Is it better for my mental health if I don’t go to the gym today?’ That’s because sometimes I find myself realizing that a trip to the gym will actually make my day feel better.
Get in the right mindset
Motivation is something you have to work on every single day. And man… it sucks.. Motivation is emotionally draining. Think of it as fuel you’re burning throughout the day. If you burn too much of it first thing in the morning, you won’t have much motivation later in the day. That becomes a problem especially when it comes to evening workouts.
So how do you account for that? Know that decision fatigue is a real risk and think ahead to limit the non-fitness related decisions you have to make all day long. Lay out your clothes for the day before you go to bed. Eat the same meal for breakfast every day and don’t waste your time analyzing things that don’t need to be analyzed.
I recommend paying attention to your day tomorrow. What decisions do you struggle with throughout the day? Which little problems are stressing you out? What can you do to minimize the fatigue those issues are causing?
Another way to combat the struggle of finding your workout motivation is to do one healthy thing every morning right when you wake up. Do a few push ups, take a walk or drink a glass of water. As mentioned before, the hardest part of getting healthy is taking that first step. Many times if you’ve already done one healthy thing first thing in the morning, it’s not too difficult to keep the momentum going.
Another workout motivation tip is to make sure you get enough sleep. This goes back to the decision fatigue we talked about earlier. It’s SO important to get enough sleep so that you can stay strong and motivated throughout your day. Decision fatigue happens much more quickly when you’re sleep deprived than it does when you’ve had adequate sleep. That’s why when you don’t get enough sleep you tend to make more bad decisions when it comes to overeating and skipping workouts.
My last recommendation is to keep a hand-written journal that reminds you of the habits and progress you’ve made each day. Keep yourself accountable by noting both your good and bad habits. We tend to stop journaling the minute we go over our calorie count or skip a workout. That’s the MOST IMPORTANT time to keep up with your tracking. Why? Because when you know the patterns and bad habits you face every day, you can take steps to fix them.
By putting these five workout motivation tips in place, you’ll be one step closer to reaching your goals. So what are you waiting for? Download the 5 part workout motivation framework and start developing your plan.