6 Thoughts That Stop You From Exercising (and How to Change Them)

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I’m going to start working out on Monday.

Once I get my diet under control, I’ll start exercising.

I joined the gym a month ago and that is the only time I’ve been through its doors.

Do any of these statements sound familiar? No matter what we promise each other over the water cooler or the dinner table, the majority of Americans are not even reaching thirty minutes of exercise three days a week according to the U.S. Department of Health and Humans Service.

So how do we close the gap between intentions and actions when it comes to working out? How do we break through the norms to arrive at the destination we so often talk about wanting — a healthy lifestyle?

Let’s abolish some common thought patterns that are the most likely culprits in preventing us from setting out on a new exercise program.

6 Thoughts That Stop You From Exercising (and How to Change Them)

1. Cleaning Up for the Maid

Do you have any relatives you vacation with who will clean their hotel room before housekeeping arrives? Maybe if they’ve trashed their room, you wouldn’t make fun of them for righting the furniture. But you might giggle, if they are neatly tucking in sheet corners only for someone to come in and strip off the blankets and redo their work.

Well, the same goes for the notion that you need to lose a certain amount of weight or look a certain way before you can go to the gym. You may look through a gym window and perceive everyone to be a perfect specimen — but, in truth, there is no appearance prerequisite for walking into a gym. (And if for some strange reason there is, that gym is unlikely to be your golden ticket to health anyway.)

A gym should be both a playground and a place to do work. Look for a place where people are really moving and go join them.

If you do feel the need to create a little protective force field for yourself, some great noise-canceling headphones, and a brimmed hat can afford you a bit of privacy. Pretend to speak a foreign language if necessary. There is no requirement to interact with any gym strangers. We promise.

6 Thoughts That Stop You From Exercising (and How to Change Them)

2. 10 Years Ago, I Could…

I’m guilty of this one. I get hung up on what my college-aged body could do, and a bit down in my enthusiasm to engage in certain activities when I can still remember how fast or strong I used to be before I even knew what an injury felt like.

A great coach recently told me to limit any self-comparisons to a five-year range. Most of our bodies shift greatly in terms of physiology, diet, and sleep patterns every five years. That means broader comparisons are just not fair or realistic.

If we go into the gym expecting to travel back in time, we set ourselves up for disappointment. Instead, start with small, future-oriented goals, based off your recent health history.

Download the "Beginner's Exercise Plan That Works" E-Book

3. Everyone Is Looking at Me When I Work Out

All right, if you wear some crazy workout outfit — like a pink thong leotard over running shorts — then, yes, everyone is definitely looking at you. (Also, please take a picture and tag WLC’s Instagram.) But, I doubt that’s your go-to gym garb.

Most gym-goers are truly interested in their own activities, or even more ironically, they are worried you’re looking at them.  Imagine that.

Let the notion go that you are the center-stage attraction. You’re pretty awesome, but unless you’re putting on a circus, we are not watching.

4. I’ll Start Next Week…Month…Year

Let’s think of your body as a luxury car driving down a country road, following signs to a local ice creamery. The further you drive down that rough road, the thicker the brush gets, and the harder it is to turn the Maserati around without chipping the paint. Plus, the closer you get to the ice creamery, the more obliged you feel to go inside and partake in some mint chocolate chip.

6 Thoughts That Stop You From Exercising (and How to Change Them)

As your traffic cop here, I vote for protecting the Maserati and going back to the open road. If you keep on picking the ice cream, as delicious as it may be, the car may end up with irreparable or costly damage. This is a real deal, sometimes long-lasting mindset that can truly lead us to places we don’t want to be physically and mentally. Places that can sometimes feel like the land of no return.

The simple mantra, “Today is the day, I’m turning this car around,” is a saying that has led a few of my clients to break a trend. Find a better road, and some premium fuel. You are at the wheel, calling all the shots here, and there is no need to wait any longer.

5. If I Exercise, I’ll Be Too Tired for the Rest of the Day

If you’ve managed seven hours of sleep and can get in even ten minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity, I’d bet my beloved bulldog that you will finish your workout with increased energy. Moderate-intensity exercise is much like a warm bubble bath for the brain, resetting hormone levels, releasing endorphins and serotonin, and ultimately leading most of us to feel more “level” for life activities that follow.

As I tell my yoga students, post-exercise is the best time to learn something new or talk to someone you love. So consider resetting your perspective of exercise to an energy-booster rather than an energy-depleter.

6 Thoughts That Stop You From Exercising (and How to Change Them)

6. I Can’t Breathe When I Start Exercising and I Get So Sore

To this I say, give yourself permission to chill out. You’re doing too much too soon. The initial two to three months of a new exercise routine are all about developing an aerobic base.

Start with interval work that is a one-to-two or one-to-one ratio. One of these, for example:

  • Jog for 1 minute, walk for 2 minutes, and repeat.
  • Hop on a treadmill and walk a “hill” (4-10% incline) for 1 minute, then walk on a 1% incline for 1 minute, and repeat.

The goal during your first two months of exercise is to gradually build up to thirty minutes of any sustained cardiovascular activity (hill walking, biking, circuit training), such that you can maintain a conversation for the duration of your exercise. Do this even three times a week, and you’re turning a major corner.

If you’re breathless, dial down the intensity.

When it comes to building a strength routine, your first couple months should be comprised of primarily bodyweight, endurance-type exercises. This typically would be programmed as 1-2 sets of 15 repetitions of six to eight different exercises. If you find dumbbells and barbells intimidating, try focusing on bodyweight exercises first, and worrying about the accoutrements later.

Being sore for 48-72 hours post-workout is normal. If you find your soreness is lasting for more than three days after your workout, the intensity was probably too much too soon.

Just remember, gradual is good. Work on building routine and habit first, and then let intensity slowly ramp up from there. Remember: you’ve got the rest of your life to get good at this.

6 Thoughts That Stop You From Exercising (and How to Change Them)

What Is Motivating You?

For most of us, the real motivation to start a new routine lies in breaking through these self-defeating thoughts and identifying why we really want change.

Ask yourself where your true, personal motivations lie. Go beyond the physical measurements and appearances to find something or someone to do the work for — goals more rooted in deep emotion and thought will carry you further in the long term.

Today is your day to change trajectory. Exercise like no one is watching. (We aren’t.)

Liz Marmesh
Liz is a NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and 200HR Yoga Instructor. Liz has been in the fitness industry since 2003, working in fitness education, fitness management, personal training, and group fitness in Boston, South Beach, Los Angeles, and the DC area. Liz graduated from the University of Miami with a Masters in Exercise Physiology.

A believer in constant movement, Liz has partnered with clients of all types to achieve various end goals. You can catch her teaching yoga at Ballston CrossFit in Arlington, Virginia.

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