“Chris, I really don’t like exercise. In fact, I don’t just dislike exercise, I detest it. I hate it. If there was a pill I could take instead of having to exercise, I would be the first in line.”
That was what a client told me during our initial consultation a number of years ago.
I stood there smiling, a little surprised by his frankness, I remember saying to him, “So you’re not looking forward to this at all, huh?” His answer was a resounding “no.”
He was not alone – I’ve been coaching clients for over 17 years and the ratio of people I’ve encountered who hate exercise far outnumber those who enjoy it. For many, exercise ranks right above getting a route canal on the fun scale.
Enjoyment of exercise is one of the biggest predictors of adherence.
Yes, there are many good reasons to make exercise a consistent part of our lives, but exercise is and always will be a personal choice. Nobody is forcing us to do it. If we don’t workout for a few weeks – the exercise police doesn’t show up at our door and arrest us.
If we find exercise to be a completely miserable experience, we will habitually opt out in favor of doing something less miserable.
Okay, then how can one make exercise less miserable?
The fitness industry, with their infamous saying, “No pain, no gain,” is full of masochistic pollyanna’s who annoyingly say to just “keep at it” and “eventually you’ll love it.”
The truth is that this doesn’t always happen – in fact, it rarely does. Few go from detesting exercise to loving it. The good news, however, is that many do go from detesting exercise to being able to tolerate it enough to make it a regular, sometimes even marginally enjoyable part of their lives.
Fast forward 10 years later and “Mr. I wish I could take a pill” is still a dedicated client of mine. While he will be the first one to tell you he still does not love exercise, he has admitted to me on several occasions that he does not hate it as much as he used to.
I promise, if he can learn to enjoy exercise enough to make it a regular part of his life, you can too. Here are some tips that will help turn this chore into a choice.
#1 Forget the Calories
The first step to finding an exercise you don’t hate, is to make sure it aligns with your goal(s).
Ask yourself – Why do I want to be more physically active?”
For example, if your answer is weight loss, this may be the problem. Viewing exercise as purely a way to burn off Calories is just not motivating, nor will it lead to a healthy relationship with exercise or food. In fact, I feel it’s one of the biggest reasons why people hate exercise to begin with. And contrary to what self-serving gyms and personal trainers may tell you, long-term weight loss has more to do with what you’re eating (or not eating) and less to do with the duration or intensity of your exercise.
Instead of focusing on the Calories you’re burning, focus on all of the good physical activity is doing for your body and mind before, during and after you exercise. I know that you already know it’s good for you – but it’s great to keep reminding yourself of just HOW GOOD it is for you. Exercise is literally the best thing you can do for your health and thinking about it often will lead to a greater appreciation for doing it – even if you don’t love it.
Not focusing on Calories will also have another benefit – it will help you will stop trying to do the “hard exercises” just because you think they’ll burn more Calories and instead, will find exercises you might enjoy more or at least, hate less. For example, walking outside 5 days per week for for 20 minutes, is far better than only mustering up the motivation to run for 20 minutes 1 day per week.
Just because you might dislike a few forms of activity doesn’t mean you hate them all. I challenge you to be open-minded. There are a ton of options- Walking, Dancing, Martial Arts, Biking, Weightlifting, Swimming, Pickleball – be willing to put your adventurous hat on and experiment with different forms of physical activity.
You might also find it helpful to try different physical and social environments – for example, you might find walking on a treadmill at the gym to be dreadful, but you might enjoy walking around your neighborhood park with a friend. Walking and talking is one of the best ways to catch-up while staying healthy!
Perhaps exercising by yourself is boring, but maybe exercising in a group would be it fun and energizing. Incorporating socialization into your exercise can be very powerful.
The key is to find the right mix of exercise type, environment and social setting for you.
#3 Don’t Should On Yourself
Nobody likes to feel forced to do anything – hence why scaring yourself into exercise is likely to lead to avoidance more than adherence. Rather than forcing yourself to engage in exercises you think you “should do,” focus instead on what makes you feel happiest.
If you think you “should” run butt you hate it but you love dancing, then give yourself permission to forget running and incorporate dancing into your exercise plan. My advice is that whatever initial form of physical activity you try, do it because you want to, not just because you think you should.
#4 Start Low and Go Slow
Don’t go overboard with the intensity…you’ll just feel exhausted, sore, and less motivated to do it the next time. If 30 minutes of cardio seems overwhelming, start with 2-3 minutes. If you’re lifting weights, start with lifting weights that are comfortable so you can practice the correct form before you go heavier. And if you’re stretching and it hurts – you’re doing it wrong. Back off on the range of motion and feel a gentle stretch (overstitching can lead to more stiffness and potentially injury).
Exercise is not just something you do, it’s a skill that you can improve with practice. If you start low and slow and with each session, you aim to do a little more or get a little better, you’ll be amazed at your progress and you might find the process of trying to improve something is more interesting than just showing up to get it done.
#5 Pair Exercise With Things You Already Enjoy
Find walking boring? Try listening to music or a podcast. Next time you’re on the elliptical or exercise bike, bring your tablet or phone along and watch a show or movie on Netflix. I’ve had clients who would save watching their favorite TV show or listening to audiobooks for when they were exercising and said it helped them start looking forward to their workouts.
Make it more social! Workout with a friend(s).
Combining exercise with things you really like sets yourself up to begin enjoying the process of being physically active.
If you hate exercise, there are ways to help you hate it less. Start with a positive attitude and remind yourself all of the reasons incorporating more physical activity in your life are is important to you. The process of trial and learning to find a form(s) of physical activity you don’t hate will be totally worth it!