The Only Cure for Not Wanting to Workout

It’s 5AM. Your alarm is going off. You set it for 5AM the night before in hopes you’d feel rested enough to get to the gym, but then got way into an article dissecting the series finale of Game of Thrones and stayed up another half hour. As your alarm goes off, you convince yourself it’s in your best interest to snooze a bit and skip the gym.

The next day, you plan on going for a run after work. But when the time comes, you’re just not feeling it. It was a long day. You’re leaving work a little later than anticipated. You think of several things you still need to accomplish at home before the end of the day. The run is going to have to wait.

Ever experienced situations like this? These are situations where we rationalize our want to not workout. Your situations may sound subtly different. But I’ll bet you have them.

I used to coach a high school cross country running team. There isn’t a whole lot of variation to how a running team practices. Some days they may do speed drills. Other days its distance running. But the common thread to all of it is that practice means running. It’s all about the running.

So when athletes asked me “Coach, what are doing today?” I got a rye sense of pleasure in simply replying, “running.”

Every now and then, an athlete was bold enough to admit, “Coach, I don’t feel like running today.”

I had a canned response to that line, too: “You know what cures that? Running.” It’s all about the running.

As the seasons wore on, we all felt a diminishing sense of excitement in showing up to run. By the end of a season, it’s likely that nobody looked forward to another day of running at the beginning of practice. BUT, we always felt awesome at the end of practice.

Can you relate? It’s easy to get excited about the idea of working out. But the excitement quickly fades when we are faced with actually working out. The reality is: when faced with actually doing it, we may never actually feel like working out.

The only cure is to do it anyway.

Yeah, that sounds highly idealistic… and slightly demotivating. It’s also the only way to overcome the want to not workout.

And for the days when the want is particularly strong, these steps help to balance out the rationalizations offered for not working out:

Start by showing up

Bodies at rest tend to stay at rest. Your will often follows this rule. The impulse to get in motion comes when you show up to your workout. Some days, that is the victory: just show up for your workout and begin. The more this process is repeated, the easier it becomes to get started. I promise.

Give yourself permission to take it easy

Not every workout has to be an A+ workout. If you hold an expectation that every workout needs to be an earth-shattering physical experience in establishing new personal bests, you’re going to burn out quick. Accept that some days breaking a sweat is the best you have to offer.

Again, getting started is the hardest part. You’ll often find that the days you thought your workout would suck turn out to be huge confidence boosters as you accomplish more than you thought you would.

Provide an ulterior motive to working out

I get into audio books and podcasts… and music. I’ve actually gone to the degree of barring myself from listening to certain playlists unless I’m working out: I can only listen to my “lift” playlist when I’m lifting.

Do you have carrots like that to offer yourself? Like you can only listen to your favorite podcast when you’re within the confines of the gym? Or a particular book only plays when you’re on the trail?

The more we work out, the more we develop a will to do it. I promise.

  • So be OK with accepting small steps, like “today I’m just going to do show up to the gym”
  • Setting a habit comes in degrees after the repetition of small steps
  • So set a habit first of showing up at the gym, or the greenway, or whatever… and doing something, anything, if it’s really an internal fight to get going

Published by RyanDunn

Ryan Dunn has a bunch of certificates on his desk. A few are awards for content production and marketing. Another marks his ordination as a minister. One says he’s earned a BA in English from the University of Iowa. The certificate next to that says he earned an MA in Christian Practice from Duke (with honors!). Ryan is most proud, though, of the things he’s created: The Compass Podcast, some deep content on, a series of practical spiritual advice videos, a long-lasting marriage, and fantastic little boy. (He enjoyed A LOT of help on all of those projects, especially the last two.)

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