Why is it so hard for me to exercise?

Sometimes we have to get out of our own way

"Why is it so hard for me to exercise?"  That's what one client asked one day, admitting that she hadn't done any of her assigned workouts.  The reasons she didn't exercise:  An unexpected snow day ("My house was full of kids and they wouldn't leave me alone!"), email ("I thought I would just do a quick check and, next thing I knew, it was time for lunch") and a brain fart ("I was going to go to that yoga class, but I totally forgot.").

We may tell ourselves we're too busy, too tired, too distracted to exercise, but those excuses are often a cover up for the real issue:  We don't plan or commit to our workout time.  If you're wondering why it's so hard to exercise, the answer may be more obvious than you realize.

1
You think you don't have enough time

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I don't dispute anyone's busyness these days.  We're all putting so much energy into the rest of our lives, it seems we don't have enough left for exercise. However, here's a fact I often annoy my clients with: People who exercise don't have more time than people who don't exercise. The difference is, they carve out that time and set aside that energy, just for that workout. They make it important. 

So, how do you do that?  Start here:

  1. Find some time:  You know you can find some time to exercise.  Maybe that means less TV or staying stuck at level eleventy nine in Candy Crush, but you can find it.  Make it simple, 15 to 20 minutes, 2-3 times a week.  This 4-week jumpstart program is the perfect place to start.
  2. Put it in your calendar:  Block it off just like any appointment.  As you do this, your mind will come up with a bunch of reasons for why you can't exercise.  Just ignore it...it's only afraid of failing, a fear you can overcome with patience and practice.
  3. Pick your workout:  It can be anything - A walk, a few weight training exercises or a mixture of both.  Check out these timesaver workouts for ideas.
  4. Prepare the night before: Get every single thing you need together - shoes, clothes, snack, water bottle, etc. That way you have fewer excuses to skip your workout.
  5. Plan a reward: Each time you finish a workout, give yourself a little something. For example, if you do 15 minutes of strength training, you get 15 minutes to read a book or play Candy Crush Saga or whatever you enjoy doing.
  6. Try this for two weeks and see what happens. Is it getting easier? Are you sticking with your workouts? If not, what could you do to change that? Experiment and you'll become a more consistent exerciser.

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2
You're trying too hard

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If you're a bit of a perfectionist, you might make exercise hard for an entirely different reason:  Doing too much, too soon.  This is the person who shows up on day one ready to do every workout they've missed in the past 6 months....Pushups and burpees and squat jumps and what about a few pullups?

The problem?  1. You won't be able to move the next day. 2. There's a good chance you'll injure yourself. 3. Doing exercise in this manner will eventually lead to hating exercise.  Face it:  You can't exercise if you can't move and you won't want to exercise if you hate it.  Instead, remember these facts:

  • You have to start slow: We want to make up for lost time, but the body doesn't understand or care that you spent the last month eating every single cookie from that cookie exchange. What your body does know is that it has limits and it doesn't want you to push those limits too hard or it will cause you to wince whenever you try to sit, stand or blink the following day. Start slow - like 3 days of moderate cardio for 10 to 30 minutes (like this) and 1 to 2 days of a simple total body strength program Here's a 30 Day Quick Start Program for something more structured.
  • You have to be patient: Your body will build strength and endurance, but it needs time and practice to get into condition. You may have to experiment. If your program feels easy and you're energetic the next day, you can probably ramp it up. Even if you're a little sore, you can still do light exercise. However, if you wake up the next morning and  require a crane to get up, go easier on your workouts. How a workout feels in the moment isn't always a good indicator of how your body will feel later. Should I workout when I'm sore?
  • You have to experiment: Here's the other thing: The first workout program you choose may not be the right one. There are a lot of things you have to get right to create a solid exercise program: The right time of day, the right amount of time, the right intensity, the right activities to keep you engaged, etc. Give yourself time to figure that out. But, the most important thing you can do: If you don't like your workouts, don't give upChange them, try something different or work with a personal trainer to help you find something you'll enjoy...or at least tolerate.

3
You give up too soon

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Getty Images/Alex and Laila

Now, there are those who try so hard, they try themselves right out of exercise. And then there are those of us who give up on exercise as soon as something goes wrong. And, trust me, something will always go wrong.

The kids will get sick, the dog will eat your iPhone, you'll lose a shoe,  break a shoelace...these things will happen, but you still have to keep up some semblance of exercise. Here's how:

  • Schedule your workouts: I've heard my clients say, "Oh, sure, I'll workout tomorrow." And when I ask what time, their eyes glaze over and they say, "Probably after the kids go to school." That translates to: "When I get around to it," which is probably around the same time I'm going to clean out the gooey lint behind my refrigerator. Find a time and commit to it like you're paying for it.  Hire a trainer and you will be paying for it.
  • Be flexible: Of course, there will be days when your child will choose that very moment to see how far a popcorn kernel will fit up his nose and you spend your workout time in the ER.  Other schedule changes are less dramatic - Working late, a doctor's appointment, bad weather...these are the times when you have to figure out how to avoid abandoning your workout. It might mean a shorter workout, something you do at work, or some extra time exercising the following day.
  • Know what to say to yourself when you're tempted to skip your workout: Many of us skip the workout without much thought, mostly because we don't want to feel guilty. But, if you stop and  think about it, you can make an informed decision about whether or not to exercise. Ask yourself these questions before you decide and you'll feel better about it.
  • Examine what's behind your tendency to give up so soon: I've had clients who would cancel an appointment for a hangnail. That tells me this person really wants to be committed to exercise and they've hired me because they believe that will strengthen that commitment. However, if it isn't there from the beginning, I can't conjure it up out of nowhere, even with all of my magic powers. If it's not there, explore why you're not exercising. Are there fears standing in your way? Do you simply not know where to start? Figure out the problem and the solution will probably be right there in front of you.

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4
You keep doing workouts you hate

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We often do workouts because we've heard, read or simply absorbed the idea that it's the best way to lose weight.

Yes, if you want to burn fat and lose weight, you have burn calories and there are activities that burn calories faster than others. Running a mile burns more calories than walking a mile. 20 minutes of high intensity interval training burns more calories than, say 20 minutes of aerobics. But if you don't like HIIT, it doesn't matter how many calories it burns because you won't do it

Zero workouts equal zero calories burned. 

Too many of us think that enjoying exercise is about as likely as enjoying a visit to the dentist...hey, at least the dentist numbs you up first. Yes, exercise is work, but it doesn't have to be torture and if it is?  You're doing it wrong.  Start here:

  • Stop doing what you hate - Admit you hate certain activities. Maybe high impact workouts don't feel good or  trying to keep up with an aerobics class makes you feel like a clumsy idiot. Whatever it is, allow yourself to not do it and not feel guilty about it.
  • Find what you like - If you don't know what you like, now is a great time to find out. What's your fitness personality? If you're social, think of taking a class at the local Y.  If you're a homebody, maybe a workout video or an exergame is more your speed.  Start with what you enjoy and try to build a program around that.
  • Open your mind - We often have rigid definitions of what exercise is supposed to be - sweaty, long and miserable. Break the rules a little and think of exercise as movement.  How can you move your body more on a regular basis?
  • Count everything - I find that the clients who hate exercise  find that small, simple goals work best.  For example, one client walks on her treadmill while she plays on her iPad and we count that as her workout.  Is she walking fast and sweating?  No.  But she wasn't doing anything before. Just start somewhere...there's always room to grow.

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5
You keep waiting for motivation to magically appear

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Getty Images/Holly Harris

If you're waiting to exercise until you feel like it, you'll probably be waiting a very long time.  Guess how many times I feel like exercising when my alarm goes off at 5:45 a.m.?  Mostly, I just feel like going back to sleep, but I get up and do my workout anyway because I've found something to motivate me.

The thing is, in the beginning of an exercise program, finding motivation takes almost as much energy as actually doing the workout.  It's almost like trying to please a screaming baby - Do you need a diaper change?  Food?  Are you teething?  Tell me what you need

We're often like that with ourselves, trying to find that one thing that will get us up and moving.  Don't you want to lose weight?  Don't you want to look good at the beach in 6 months?  Don't you want lower cholesterol? 

Unfortunately, your tired mind doesn't care about those things in that moment.  It cares about staying safe and comfortable and warm.  So, what can you do to get past your stubborn mind?

  • Don't expect to feel motivated - It's easy to feel motivated when planning a workout but, when it comes time to do it, it's nowhere to be found.  This is normal.  And here's an important fact:  You don't have to feel like exercising to actually do it.  When your mind starts to refuse, remind yourself, "This is what my mind always does."  Then put on your workout clothes and get started before you get lost in that endless argument.
  • Learn how to generate your own motivation - Think about your goals, your health, your desire to lose weight.  Think about what's important to you, whether it's feeling good about yourself for finishing a workout or being able to brag at the office about it.  Use that to take that first step.
  • Rely on other tools - Motivation is just one tool in your toolbox and, often, it can't work all by itself.  It also needs things like discipline and consistency,  routine and commitment...things that grow stronger the more you exercise.  Use fitness buddies or fitness trackers, group forums or Facebook friends...use whatever help is out there to shore up your reasons for exercising.

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6
You don't fully commit to your workout time

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I hate to throw my husband under the bus here, but this is his MO.  He travels a lot, so I give him that as being a difficult obstacle to exercise. His approach is to bring his workout clothes, planning to workout, but without actually scheduling the workout.  Then when he gets busy and tired, he skips it because he wasn't committed to a specific time or workout.

The point is, getting out your workout clothes and saying, "I'm working out tomorrow," often isn't enough to get our butts in gear.  We need specifics:

  • How...can you fit exercise into your schedule?  Look at your calendar and go to the next step.
  • When...are you going to exercise?  Even if you only have 10 minutes, that's enough for some kind of workout.  10 Minute Bodyweight circuit.
  • Where...will you exercise?  Gym?  Home?  Hotel room?  If you're driving somewhere, you'll need more time for travel, for example.
  • What...are you going to do? Make sure you know exactly what you're going to do. More about how to set up a complete program.
  • How...can you follow through with your workout?  What equipment will you need, what time will you need to get up?  Will you need a snack beforehand?  Plan the logistics while your fresh and energetic so that, when you're tired from all those meetings and tempted to skip your workout, all you have to do is get started.

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Bottom Line

If you've ever asked yourself: "Why is exercise so hard?" You may need to dig a little deeper into what's stopping you from working out. Look for ways to make exercise easier to do, for ways to motivate yourself to do it. Don't wait to feel like exercising...just get up and get moving.

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