Get a good workout when you don’t feel like it
What is working out when you don’t feel like it?
Why it is important to workout when you don’t feel like it
Diversify your workout to prevent boredom
Lifting using manageable weights and sets
The two max set workout approach
Learn how to use new machines
Do what is easy/Play to your strengths
Do what is hard/Learn a new skill
How to basically nap while you work out
Short intervals, longer rest for workout motivation
Keep on working out, no matter what
So you bought a gym membership. Congratulations. Now it’s been 4 months and you’ve gone (maybe) twice. Shame on you. Better cancel that quick — no use paying for something you’re not using. What’s that? You accidentally bought a 1 year commitment? What’s that again? It’s $125 to cancel early? So much for $20 per month.
Now that you’ve incurred a big fat sunk cost, you might as well take advantage of that commercial gym membership. But the main issue still remains — you just don’t feel like going to the gym.
Luckily, getting yourself to the gym is the easy part. It usually involves putting on workout clothes, driving or walking a short distance, swiping a membership card, and maybe putting some stuff away in a locker. If any of these things sound difficult to you, your issue may not be that you don’t feel like working out. That is to say, maybe your life situation is making getting to the gym harder than normal.
Perhaps your car has been repossessed because you’re broke. Or maybe you’re a parent whose life is dominated by children and childish things. I don’t know, you could’ve recently broken a leg. This blog doesn’t address these blockers.
This blog will teach you how to get a good workout when you feel kinda tired or lazy. This post will help people who have the time and resources to work out, but don’t because they think it’ll be hard or something.
Note: This blog will help you get a decent all-around workout if you’re feeling unmotivated. This is not a way for competitive or sport-specific athletes to motivate themselves into a highly-productive workout. If that’s your life, you gotta find motivation somewhere else. For example, the unrelenting need to win at anything and everything, or the satisfaction of knowing every ounce of pain you feel (more than your competitors) will pay off on game day.
That being said…
What is working out when you don’t feel like it?
Working out when you don’t feel like it is going to the gym and working out despite feeling tired, unmotivated, self-conscious, or afraid of physical discomfort. It’s implied that working out when you don’t feel like it includes the premise that you’ll get a pretty good workout, even though you didn’t feel like working out in the first place.
This post contains tips and other sage advice to trick your brain and body into getting your heart rate up and building either aerobic endurance or muscle mass.
Working out when you don’t feel like it doesn’t limit itself to any one type of workout. Maybe you really think you should work out, but the thought of an aerobic workout sounds gross. In that case, you can do a lifting workout.
If lifting is too mentally intensive today, perhaps you can hop on a stationary recumbent bike and listen to a podcast or audiobook for an hour. The secret is: there are many ways to work out. You just gotta find the means of physical movement that sounds least terrible to you today.
Why is it important to work out when you don’t feel like it?
It’s important to work out when you don’t feel like it because, unless you’re a competitive athlete or obsessed with your physical appearance, you probably won’t ever feel super stoked to work out. At least not at first.
Once you start working out — whether you feel like it or not — you’ll eventually start to like it or merely fall into a habit of it. Humans are prone to building habits and traditions. Yes, it’s a dirty trick, but one you’re playing on yourself for your own good.
Anyway, it’s also important to work out when you don’t feel like it because you can’t let mental blockers get in the way of your biological needs. You will feel better after you work out, mentally and physically. You’ll feel like you accomplished something worthwhile, and you’ll be a more physically fit specimen, which might make you more sexually attractive.
The fact that you don’t feel like working out is probably due to poor habits and an evolutionary impulse to conserve energy. These carryover traits from prehistoric times helped our human ancestors survive when life was all about stalking animals for 48 hours straight or collecting a handful of berries to eat for the week. One thing is for sure: these people didn’t trim their pubic hair.
Another thing: they probably weren’t overweight or concerned with things like high cholesterol or diabetes. They didn’t need to worry about balancing the number of calories they ate with how many they burned. Life was just one giant “cut-day” that usually ended in a premature death by accident or by being eaten. Back then, laziness was rewarded with starvation, not its converse.
With that in mind, here’s how you can get a good workout, even if you’re feeling unmotivated.
Diversify your workout like crazy
Unless you’re a real gym rat, using a single piece of workout equipment for 30 minutes at a time sounds more like hell than a place of self-improvement. One common reason people hate going to the gym is it’s monotonous and boring.
If your mental limit for any one physical task is 5 minutes, fine. Do five minutes on 6 different machines and you’ll have done 30 minutes of cardio. All that’s required of you is to not phone it in. Please, if you’re going to spend any amount of time on a cardio machine, make sure your pulse gets above a walking heart rate. You don’t need to be a hero, but keeping it above 120 (plus or minus a few beats) will ensure a decent sweat. This is all we’re asking of you.
If you really feel up to the task, you can do even less time, albeit with more effort. If you do just 4 minutes on 6 machines, that’s 24 minutes of intense cardio. Keep that heart rate above 135 bpm and you’ll be super satisfied with your physical results in 6 months. Do this 4-5 times a week. I don’t even care which machine this is.
If your gym doesn’t have 6 types of cardio machine, choose three and add more rotations. If keeping up a heart rate of 120 bpm sounds too hard, that’s okay. Build up to it. Even if you have to start a little over your walking heart rate, movement is the first goal. You’ll feel better and more accomplished afterwards.
Lift using manageable weights and sets
Lifting weights can be stressful. Serious powerlifters and olympic lifters have to get themselves super amped to hit massive weights. This, in itself, has an interesting effect on the central nervous system, something to do with adrenaline and the production of testosterone.
But if getting stronger and more toned (in a less obsessive way) is part of your ideal level of fitness, you don’t have to worry about things like herniated discs or snorting ammonia when approaching the barbell.
The prospect of doing maximal sets or weights is daunting and exhausting, especially after a long day. When approaching a lifting session, first focus on the warmup. This includes doing lighter weights with perfect form. Do high-rep sets of 10 or more, and do at least three. Try to build up in weight with each set.
After your warmup, take stock of how you feel. Do you want to do 5 sets of 3 with heavier weights? Three sets of 5 with slightly lighter weights? Do you want to just do a few more sets of 10 at your highest warmup weight? Some days you’ll feel great after this warmup to get after it for your “working sets.” Other days, your body might feel like wet hay. Get the exercise out of the way, and if you decide to continue at your warmup weight, just take a little less rest between sets, 1–2 minutes instead of 2–4 for heavier sets.
And repeat for a few different muscle groups. Unless you’re a serious bodybuilder, exhausting related muscle groups on the same day isn’t necessary. Adequately fit and decently sexually attractive people regularly do squats the same day as deltoid raises.
Big, super important NOTE here: Watch a few youtube videos on how to do whatever lifts you’re going to attempt before jumping into it. Proper form and manageable (even easy) weights will get you more results than if you do too much and hurt yourself.
Do two maximal sets in a row on 10 different cable machines
Commercial gyms are lousy with individual, cable-and-pin machines. Let extension machines. Shoulder press machines. Even ab crunch machines. These machines are designed to make lifting weights with correct form as simple as possible. It’s almost impossible to hurt yourself on one of these things. I said almost impossible. Set the machines to your correct measurements, and don’t try to cheat just to move more weight — you’ll be fine.
A good way for unmotivated and otherwise lazy normal folks to get a good workout at a commercial gym is to leverage the insane amount of individual cable machines available. Here’s all you need to do.
- Sit down at a random machine.
- Experiment with weights until you find one you think you could do for 25 reps if you had a gun to your head.
- Do as many sets with that weight as possible. If you can only do 11, fine. If you can do 56, fine.
- Wait 1.5 minutes after finishing your first set.
- Adjust the weight based on the number of reps in your first set to a weight where you think you can maximally do 25 reps.
- Again, do as many reps as possible at that weight. If you can only do 11, fine. If you can do 56, fine.
- Switch to another machine and repeat. Do this on 8-10 different cable weight machines.
Notice how the type of cable machine or muscle group isn’t specified. That’s the beauty of this system. If you accidentally choose all leg machines, you’ll have awesomely sore legs tomorrow. If you choose a different muscle group for each machine, great — we call that a full-body workout.
You can limit this workout in whatever way you’d like. 10 machines or 60 minutes of on-the-gym-floor exercise. Leave at the stroke of 60 minutes if you’d like. Repeat a few days a week with somewhere around 25 minutes of cardio thrown in there, and you’ll be beach ready in a few months.
Learn how to use a new machine
If you do the exact same workout every time you go to the gym, you’ll eventually want to vomit whenever exercise is mentioned. Burnout happens faster when physical activity is the subject. Not only will you need to overcome a mental lack of motivation, but using the same muscles over and over will deplete your strength.
The good news is, commercial gyms have plenty of strange (maybe even redundant) workout mechanisms. It’s like a candy shop for excessive fitness stuff. Plus, all commercial gyms seem to be competing with each other to fill their spaces with the greatest variety of awkward cardio machines or single-movement cable weights.
Honestly, more squat racks would be great, but the business heads at these corporations know those are extra intimidating to people (maybe) like you who buy gym memberships, then quickly lose steam.
Back to the point, somebody designed these wonky machines, presumably because they thought it would provide a more impactful workout in a new and fun way. You don’t need to trust or believe them, but experimenting with something that looks like a stair stepper combined with an elliptical could help you get through a 25 minute cardio session.
Have you ever seen that bicycle looking thing for people who can’t use their legs? Try it out. What the hell? About 1-in-20 gymgoes know how to use the rowing machine. Watch this video to learn correct form and give its fan-based resistance a (literal) whirl. Ditto the ski erg.
Have you ever tried the elliptical? If you have, try doing it backwards — it’s an actual thing.
Just remember, hardly anybody uses cardio machines correctly. Never be embarrassed to hop on something new.
Do what’s easiest for you/Play to your strengths
Maybe you’re self conscious about your physical appearance or movement patterns. Does cardio scare you? Do you think you’re a shrimpy weakling? Your fitness is your own damn business, but it’s understandable if you feel insecure about working on your weaknesses in a public setting.
If this is the case, start slowly on the hard stuff, and hammer down on what you know (or think) you’re good at.
If you’re overweight and have no stamina during cardio activities, use free weights or cable machines until your fitness improves bit-by-bit. You can use 5 minute cardio windows as “warmups” or “cooldowns” after your main workout session. Increase these intervals little by little each week. Fitness is never over, so there are no time limits on your improvement.
Play to your weaknesses and focus on improvement
If physical activity at the gym sounds awful but you love a good project, don’t think about it in terms of exercise, but rather you’re building a wooden chair. You are the wooden chair. You are a project.
Do something you’re god-awful at and focus on improvement. It’s a fact, pure beginners are the biggest gainers at the gym. You’ll never see as much improvement so quickly as when you first start.
Using this strategy, pick a skill or exercise you’re terrible at. The rowing machine, power lifts, and running are all good options, whether you’re looking for strange movements, strength, or endurance, respectively. The trick is, once you become passively competent at one skill, move on to the next. You’ll be surprised how over time, you won’t lose as much of your earlier skills as you think. In a few weeks or months, you’ll be a bonafide gym rat. And if that doesn’t sound fun, you’ll probably be healthier and better looking with your clothes off too.
Use exercise machines you can operate with your eyes closed
Sometimes, you just feel damn tired and the thought of a nap sounds so much more appealing than vigorous movement. Well, why not do both?
Some cardio machines and cable weights at commercial gyms are so foolproof, so easy to use that you can literally close your eyes and do them, no problem. Sure, you’ll look silly, but maybe you can go to the gym really early or really late. Here’s an epistemological quandary: If nobody is around to see you looking stupid at the gym, did it really happen?
For cardio, the easiest option is the recumbent bike. It’s basically the reclining chair of fitness. Anybody can go to the gym, set the resistance passively high, and pedal at 65-70 rpm for 30 minutes on this thing. Will it prepare you for category 5 climbs on the Tour de France? I won’t even bother answering that question, but it will provide you with more fitness benefits than if you had stayed in your actual reclining chair and not pedaled at all. The elliptical and rowing machine can also — after sufficient practice — be operated while half-asleep. Generally speaking, you won’t be able to do any of these machines intensely with the blinds down, but if the only thing that’ll get you to the gym is the thought of yet another nap, movement is your main goal.
Once you’re decently sweaty, you can head over to the cable weight areas and do a series of bench-press, ab crunches, and hamstring curls, once again, without opening your eyelids. (Please open your eyes when walking from one area to another.)
To top it all off, grab an ab mat and lie on the floor. Before you actually fall asleep, try to do 50 crunches and some stretches. Reward yourself with a tall glass of water.
Do shorter intervals with longer rest
Interval workouts are a proven way to build stamina and strength. Oftentimes, the thought of hard efforts, broken up by periods of rest, sounds more achievable than one long sustained effort.
If merely breaking up intense workouts sounds like something you can do, go for it. Do 5 minutes on, 1 minute off. Three minutes on, 2 minutes off. One minute on, 1 minute off.
But even if a 1:1 workout to rest ratio sounds too much for you tonight, here’s an idea: One minute on, 2 minutes off. Hell, try 30 seconds on, 2 minutes off. The secret is to go really hard for those shorter intervals. By your third or fourth set, those longer rests will feel excruciatingly long. You’ll naturally want to shorten the rest and increase the work to rest ratio of your exercise.
If you own a decently reliable heart rate monitor, or if you find it comfortable to use the grip heart rate monitors on a cardio machine, you can use this as a tool to begin your work and rest periods.
An example of a good heart-rate based, shorter interval workout would be:
- Warm up slowly for 4-5 minutes
- Exercise intensely until your heart rate reaches 145 bpm (or whatever you want it to be)
- Return to your resting level of movement and wait for your heart rate to drop below 100 bpm.
- Stay there for another minute
- Work back up to your goal heart rate and repeat the process 8-10 times
By the end of this workout, you’ll have spiked your heart rate 8 to 10 times over the course of approximately 25-35 minutes. For someone who didn’t feel like working out, you’ll have sweated up quite a puddle before you know it. Pro tip: don’t stop moving during your rest intervals. If you’re on a treadmill, walk. If you’re on a bike, bike slowly with low resistance. When you don’t stand completely still, it’ll be easier to get going again on the next interval.
Just keep working out, even if you don’t feel like it
Staying fit, in many ways, has never been easier. There are so many options nowadays in terms of cheap gym memberships, at-home exercise equipment, activity trackers, subscription workout apps, and healthy meal planning. However, if you lack the simplest level of motivation to use any of these things, you won’t reach your goals.
Belonging to a commercial gym — even the cheapest ones — is an excellent way to get out of your house or apartment and minimally get some movement in on the day. While you may not feel like it now, there’s a secret us insanely fit people know that you may not: It gets much, much easier.
You’ve been duped by processed foods, online streaming services, and late capitalism to stay exactly where you are and consume. Movement begets movement, stillness begets stillness. Once you start working out when you don’t feel like it, you’ll find it less and less unenjoyable. Within two-to-three weeks, movement will be the norm, and you’ll be sexy as hell. I don’t guarantee it, but I think it. Really, really hard.