I started working out in my late teens. I’d just gotten my first real job as a Starbucks barista, and the free drinks and pastries coupled with the inactivity of college life began to catch up to me. Sick of having to buy larger and larger clothing sizes, I figured I should do the “adult” thing and join a gym.
Although I had grown up playing team sports, I was never particularly athletic, and deep down I believed that someone like me could never really enjoy exercise. I also thought working out would always feel like torture — that you were supposed to dread your workout and be grateful the second it was over.
Which is why, each time I forced myself to go to the gym, I thought the only goal was to stay on the elliptical machine or the treadmill as long as I could stand it. And boy, did I hate those workouts.
It took years of experimenting before I finally discovered varieties of exercise that I actually enjoyed. Slowly, I began to feel the countless physical, mental, and emotional benefits that daily exercise added to my life. After a while, I even started to look forward to my workouts.
My journey of going from a person who dreads all forms of exercise to someone who considers fitness an integral part of their identity has convinced me that everyone can do the same.
You shouldn’t hate your workout
Whenever someone tells me they hate to exercise, my first response is: have you tried doing something other than the most boring gym workouts?
There are so many ways to exercise, like HIIT workouts, weight lifting, yoga, and being active in nature. You can even join a club sports team or get your whole family involved in fun, movement-based activities. We are also lucky to live in a time where you can find classes or teachers — both online and locally — for everything from aerial silks, to surfing, to every type of martial arts you’ve ever dreamed of learning.
If you find yourself dreading your workout, you probably just haven’t found your “thing” yet. For example, running might not be your thing, but you might love dancing. Slogging it out on the elliptical machine may bore you to pieces (I can relate), but going for a hike might leave you feeling energized and in awe of the planet we live on.
Everybody can find a way of moving their body that they enjoy. If you haven’t yet, keep experimenting.
Embrace being uncomfortable
Of course, not every part of your workout should be enjoyable or comfortable.
Your daily movement should feel enjoyable and hopefully even fun, but there should also be a certain percentage of the time where you feel out of your comfort zone. This includes activites that don’t feel great in the moment, but leave you feeling accomplished afterward and slowly push you to higher fitness levels.
For me, these are things like sprints, plyometrics, deadlifts, and hard interval workouts. I don’t look forward to any of these movements, but I’m always glad to have done them once they’re over. I also know that these types of challenging activities will help me work toward my long-term goal of becoming a better athlete.
When things are difficult, it can help to remember that a little pain is often good for us. Simply put, without struggle, there is no growth. Struggle is part of the growth process. The sooner we learn to accept and embrace that, the sooner we can start making progress. And there’s no better way to learn this than by pushing ourselves physically.
Although always dreading your workouts is a sign that you need to find some other type of exercise, some less enjoyable parts are necessary for long-term success and growth. Learn to reframe these parts as strategies to help you grow and become more comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Reframe your most difficult workouts
Another helpful strategy is to reframe your most difficult workouts as ways to support your active lifestyle and the activities you love.
For example, start thinking of leg days as your best strategy to get strong for ski season. Run sprints so that you don’t get as winded playing basketball. And do your flexibility training to maximize your skills in gymnastics or martial arts.
You may not ever look forward to these activities themselves, but this reframe can help you make them a priority and help you feel like they’re helping you achieve your biggest long-term goals.
And remember, there is no “one size fits all” type of exercise. The best type of exercise is the one you will do consistently over a lifetime. Keep experimenting and find something that adds joy to your life.