15 Workout Motivation Tips to Help You Reach Your Goals

Stay motivated to workout with these science-based tips.

Wondering how you can get more workout motivation (or at least maintain it)?

Let’s be honest. With everything that’s going on around in the world (COVID-19, primarily), you may be finding it challenging to keep to your fitness routine. Or, feeling motivated to put on that sports bra at all.  

I feel you. I’ve been there myself. 

Oh, if only you could see the number of times I’ve put off squats to press ‘play’ on yet another Netflix episode. But at the end of the day, I’ve realized that breaking a sweat (even if I didn’t feel like it at first) made me feel good.

Not only that, but it made me feel empowered – like I could achieve anything I set my mind to! And I want you to feel the same. So, to help you get your butt off the couch and into activewear, here are 15 workout motivation tips you can apply right away.

What is motivation?

Before we cover the various ways you can get more workout motivation, let’s first discuss what motivation is in the first place. 

Learning about motivation itself can give you many valuable insights into the understanding of where motivation comes from, why it changes, what increases and decreases it, etc. 

Perhaps more importantly, it’ll help you understand how you can manipulate various factors of your life to stay motivated not just for your workouts, but also to achieve other life goals you have.

Don’t worry; this won’t end up reading like a psychology textbook. I’ll keep it brief. Promise.

Definition of motivation

Motivation is a condition within you that desires a change – either in yourself or the environment. 

When you tap into this energy, motivation gives you the drive and direction needed to engage with the environment in a problem-solving sort of way. 

For example, if you wish to be able to squat your bodyweight (and more), you’ll be compelled to get stronger. And you’ll most likely do that by lifting heavier at the gym (the magic of progressive overload!)

The essence of motivation is, therefore, goal-directed behavior (1). 

Put simply, when you are motivated, you move and take action. 

Summary

Motivation can be defined as the set of psychological forces that compel you to take action.

Motivation model: Internal and external

As to what will nudge you into actually taking action, well, we can look at the motivation model for answers. 

The motivation model talks about how external and internal influences affect the outcome.

Your motivation, when it originates from internal motives is often a more powerful driving force compared to extrinsic motivation.

What do we mean by ‘extrinsic motivation?’ 

Well, it’s simply a desire for change that arises due to external influence (2, 3, 4, 5). For example, maybe a friend remarked that you’ve put on weight, or there’s a dress you desperately want to fit into. The resulting workout motivation is an extrinsic motivation.

That said, since you don’t exist in a vacuum, your inner motivation cannot take place without some degree of environmental influence. 

The alignment of external influences and inner motivation then creates a ripe environment for you to take action.

When your behaviors create more positive emotional states, they can help reinforce the action through a positive feedback loop. And increase the likelihood of repetition (6, 7, 8).

Real-world application of motivation model

Lauren, a 27-year old bride, is getting married in 6 months (external) and wants to look like the best version of herself on the day (internal). 

Also, there’s a dress she wants to fit into (external). Determined to look her best in time for the wedding (internal), she decides to improve her nutrition. 

She weighs herself regularly and finds that she’s losing roughly 4 kg every month. Seeing that her diet is working, Lauren is elated and sticks to the diet (positive feedback loop). 

She ends up stunning everyone on her wedding day.

Hopefully, you can now see that there are various aspects to motivation that you can tweak to suit your own goals. And these are the exact elements we’ll tweak when it comes to how to stay motivated for your workouts.

Summary

  • There are two main types of motivation: external and internal motivation.
  • Our social context and environment will play a significant role in terms of external motivation.
  • Our motivation, when it originates from internal motives, can be categorized into needs, cognition, and emotions.
  • When the combination of external and internal motives align, they create a ripe environment for engagement, which drives us to take action.

#1: Put your gym clothes on

What you’re changing: External

In many ways, putting on a sports bra is even more important than getting off the couch.

Research suggests that our brains are susceptible to ‘enclothed cognition,’ a technical way of saying that dressing for the part can help fuel your ambition to complete a chosen task (9). 

That’s workout motivation to nudge you in the right direction.

When you’re decked out in workout gear – even if you don’t feel like working out, you’re far more likely to get moving.

Summary

Dress like you’re going to work out – doing so can cheat your brain into thinking that you’re going to exercise, even if you don’t currently feel like it.

#2: Get rid of obstacles

What you’re changing: External

Always find yourself getting side-tracked by tasks and meetings? Always delaying your workouts just to send that ‘one last email’ to your boss?

Instead of allowing this to become an excuse for you to skip your workout (again), take action to solve the problem, so you have a clear and unobstructed path toward your goals.

Don’t let these reasons rob you of your workout motivation.

Block your time on Google Calendar if you have to. Do it even if you’re working from home. So, if you’re going to work out during lunch break, make sure all your colleagues know!

Or are you always feeling too hungry or drained to workout? A simple and nutritious meal prep could be an excellent way for you to get in a light meal before sweating it out.

This way, you’ll never miss out on a good workout because someone forwarded you a hilarious cat video on Facebook.

Summary

Don’t give yourself the opportunities to make excuses; remove all obstacles that are in your way to getting a good workout in.

#3: Make plans with a friend

Make plans to exercise with your friends so you're able to keep each other going.

What you’re changing: External

When you have a friend waiting on you to work out together, you’re much less likely to cancel on a workout. 

Just think of the guilt you’d feel if you texted your friend, ‘Hey, sorry I can’t make it today. I need to watch the latest episode of (insert the name of your favorite show).’

Well, unless you’re a terrible, unfeeling friend who doesn’t care about canceling on others, of course.

In addition to the increased level of accountability, there’s another benefit of making plans with a friend: exercising becomes more fun (10)! 

As you’ve probably experienced, going through 3 sets of squats alone isn’t exactly the most exciting thing. 

But with your friend around, he or she can provide you with just the right amount of encouragement for you both to get through the workout. How’s that for some additional workout motivation?

Summary

Not only can a friend help give a sense of additional accountability, but he or she can also inject some much-needed fun into your sessions!

#4: Join a fitness-oriented community

What you’re changing: External

Admittedly, there’s a catch to the third tip. You’d need a friend who’s committed to the fitness life, and who wouldn’t cancel on you.

If you don’t have anyone who fits the bill, don’t fret. 

That’s what the Internet and social media are for. Join one of the many Facebook fitness groups, for example.

These groups offer one of the best ways for you to get advice and support from fellow fitness enthusiasts. Better yet, you can reach out and join in on a video conference call, where all of you workout together!

Seeing how others are crushing their workout sessions can really ignite the fire in you (11, 12, 13). Let the greater workout motivation help you stay on track for your fitness goals.

Don’t be surprised if you find yourself doing a few more reps than you thought you could in front of these people!

Summary

Fitness-oriented online communities can help you build an invaluable support network of people who want you to succeed in your fitness goals.

#5: Consider a personal trainer 

What you’re changing: External

Even though hiring a personal trainer can significantly add to the cost of your workout, they can provide a lot of tangible value. 

A certified personal trainer can design a program suited to your fitness goals and help you improve your exercise technique.

Another often overlooked benefit of having a personal trainer is the careful management of training volume for maximizing results. Here’s an article exploring how reps, sets and training volume matters for your fitness goals.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to hire a personal trainer for long – as soon as you have your basics down, you can start working out on your own. 

That said, you may find that having a personal trainer can help you stick to your fitness regimen and give your best during each session (14, 15).

Summary

Having a personal trainer there to teach you form, technique, and following through on each rep can encourage you to work harder and keep you dedicated to your fitness goals. Even if you’re working with an online personal trainer.

#6: Remember what you can accomplish right now

Reminding yourself of what you have managed to achieve so far would keep you motivated.

What you’re changing: Internal

You might have a larger goal in mind – doing your first pull-up, training for a marathon – that can seem intimidating or even unattainable at this moment.

The moment you catch yourself feeling this way, instead of giving up, remind yourself of everything you’re able to do – right this instance. That’s your source of workout motivation!

Remember all the progress you’ve made (16). 

Maybe you weren’t even able to do a full push-up last week, but now you can. All things take time; be patient with yourself. 

Little steps lead to big changes. 

Summary

Instead of getting discouraged at how much more you still need to accomplish, remind yourself of how far you’ve come already.

#7: Visualize your success

What you’re changing: Internal

This tip, ‘visualize success,’ might sound like a scam – but it’s not! Visualization is a powerful tool that’s been used for decades (17).

As we’ve established, your mind is an incredibly powerful tool that can help you achieve what you’ve set out to do. 

The next time you wake up in the morning, dedicate 5 short minutes to a ‘visualization exercise.’ Close your eyes and imagine yourself working out later in the day.

See yourself successfully ticking off every single exercise set there is on your workout plan.

Or simply think of how amazing your butt would look, especially in jeans, after you have committed to training your glutes three times a week. And if you’re working on your glutes, here’s a science-based guide on getting a bigger butt.

Just carving out a few minutes in the morning for this simple mental exercise can help better prepare you – both physically and psychologically – for the upcoming workout session.

Summary

Set aside time before your workout (no matter how busy you are) for a visualization exercise; this can better motivate and prepare you for your workouts.

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#8: Give yourself a pep talk

What you’re changing: Internal

Have you ever stared at yourself in the mirror right before an important meeting, telling yourself, ‘You got this, woman,’ and immediately feeling a million times better?

That’s because self-talk is one of the best motivational tools you can use – especially since you don’t need anything (or anyone) other than yourself.

You want to make sure you’re talking to yourself right, though. 

Research suggests that talking to yourself in the second person is more effective than chatting yourself up in the first (18). 

So, the next time you feel like skipping out working out, tell yourself, “You’re going to crush this session!” And you will.

Summary

Practicing motivational self-talk (more specifically, in the second person) can help get you to crush your workout plan.

#9: Set clear goals

What you’re changing: Internal

If you’re just looking to get more physically active, there’s nothing wrong with doing whatever workout routine strikes your fancy.

But there’s a downside to this. Skipping out on a session or two won’t feel like you’re impeding progress toward a goal.

It’s always easier to stay motivated when you’re more specific about what you want to achieve (19, 20, 21, 22) — losing 5 kg by the end of 3 months? Or – being able to do at least 5 pull-ups by next month?

Be sure to remember the acronym ‘SMART’ when you’re setting your goals:

S for ‘Specific’

Your goal should be clear and specific. 

Whatever it is, try your best to define it. Use clear and unambiguous language to describe your goal. 

For example, instead of saying, “I want to look better,” say, “I want to fit into my favorite pair of jeans back in college.”

M for ‘Measurable’

It’s important to have measurable goals so that you can track your progress. 

Assessing progress then helps you stay focused and motivated. Just imagine the excitement you’ll feel as you get closer and closer to achieving your goal!

So, define specific criteria for measuring progress. If you’re going to fit back into your favorite pair of jeans, it might help to settle on a particular measurement – are you going to lose 5 kg, or are you going to lose 7.5 kg?

A for ‘Attainable’

Your goal also needs to be achievable and realistic to be successful. 

In other words, while it should stretch your abilities, it should remain possible.

An example of an unrealistic and impossible goal would be to drop 20 kg within a month. That will only happen if you’re going to chop a part of your body off, unfortunately.

R for ‘Relevant’

This part is about ensuring that your goal matters to you and that it aligns with other relevant goals. An important question to ask yourself here is: “Is this the right time?”

So – is this the right time, physically or emotionally, for you to implement lifestyle changes?

Are you going through a difficult time in life right now? Consider all other aspects of your life and adjust your goals if needed. 

T for ‘Time-bound’

Every goal needs a target date – this includes a starting date and a completion date. 

Because let’s be honest, if you don’t set a time limit for yourself, you won’t feel the sense of urgency in taking actual steps to achieve your goals.

More likely than not, you’ll most probably find yourself looking the same as you are, three full years later. 

But you’re not that kind of person, are you? 

You’re someone who takes life by the balls and takes actions to make your dreams come true. You go, girl!

Even better, this is one of those workout motivation tips you can easily apply to other goals in life as it provides you with a structured approach.

And if you want to improve your goal setting, start by learning how to cultivate greater self-awareness. It may not sound like much, but it can really make a difference in how you understand yourself.

Summary

Always set goals; being clear about what you’re working for can give you the stimulus to stay on course. Be sure to remember the acronym, ‘SMART’, when setting your goals.

#10: Give yourself micro-challenges

What you’re changing: Internal

You don’t just have to focus on long-term goals, either. Try creating small goals for yourself, like doing just one more box jump or push-up than you did the day before. 

This way, you’ll feel accomplished every time you workout. No better way to keep the workout motivation high every time.

These baby steps will help you stay on track with your bigger-picture goals (23). 

Summary

Regular small wins can help you stay on track for your bigger fitness goals.

#11: Focus on how working out will make you feel

What you’re changing: Internal

On days where working out seems like a massive chore, think about how you always feel after.

More likely than not, when you actually break out a sweat, exercise becomes a form of therapy and release for you.

Exercise provides lasting mental health benefits well after you complete a workout. 

Physical activity (even a brisk walk around the neighborhood) is said to reduce stress, boost your mood, and improve self-esteem (24, 25, 26, 27). 

So – really envision the outcome of your workout: remind yourself of just how much more energized, relaxed, and accomplished you feel. The mental health benefits are definitely a great source of workout motivation.

Summary

Whenever you dread working out, remember how good you felt after the last time you went!

#12: Don’t be afraid to mix it up

What you’re changing: Internal

Even if you’re a creature of habit, repeating the same exercises over and over can become monotonous – fast. 

Keep yourself excited by your workouts by occasionally re-arranging your exercise orders or substituting alternatives.

Do elevated push-ups instead of regular push-ups, for example. Do frog pumps instead of glute bridges.

And if you’re bored of staring at the same old views for hours on end while you’re working out, consider signing up for new fitness classes!

Yoga, hip-hop, pilates – these are all great activities for adding another dimension to your workouts. 

Make sure you only sign up if you genuinely enjoy and look forward to doing them, though. And not just because it’s the ‘trendy’ thing to do nowadays. Otherwise, you’ll quickly get bored (again).

This is one of the most important workout motivation tips for me as I once believed that being rigid (i.e. zero deviation from training plan) in my fitness approach was the only way forward. I was so wrong.

Summary

When it comes to increasing workout motivation, here’s a secret. You don’t have to stick to the same exercises or workouts day-in-and-out. Switch it up, so you don’t get bored and quit.

#13: Turn up the tunes

What you’re changing: Internal

Ever noticed how you’re always able to run a little faster, jump a little higher, and push a little harder whenever you’re listening to some bad-ass tunes?

Well, that’s because music can be an incredibly powerful mood booster (28, 29, 30)! 

Studies show that listening to happy or sad music can directly impact the way you perceive the world – amazing, right?

When it comes to the question of increasing workout motivation, be sure to blast your favorite, upbeat tunes! One song that always works for me? “Work B*tch” by Britney.

Gets me fired up every time. Try it. It’s really the answer to how to stay motivated for your workouts!

Summary

Play your favorite tunes when you’re feeling too tired to workout. More likely than not, you’ll perk up and feel ready to crush your goals once again.

#14: Build a rewards system

Build a positive feedback loop for helpful workout motivation every time.

What you’re changing: Feedback loop

Ah yes, this is a trick everyone likes: rewarding yourself after hard work is always pleasant (and never fails to feel well-deserved). And it works!

No better way to keep your workout motivation high, right?

Research shows that rewards are responsible for a large part of why you do things (31, 32). 

So, treat yourself whenever you workout after a period of not, for example. 

Here’s a tip: try not to make your reward about food, e.g. cake after exercise. This could lead to a pretty unhealthy relationship with food (and even training).

There are other reward options worth considering:

  • Buying new workout gear 
  • Getting yourself a new book
  • Checking-out those items in your Amazon cart

Amongst others, of course. 

Summary

The more you reward yourself, the more motivated you’ll feel about working hard to reach new milestones – thus helping you accomplish your goals over time.

#15: Snap progress pictures

What you’re changing: Feedback loop

Many fall off the fitness bandwagon the moment they see that the numbers on the bathroom scale have inched up, rather than down, after a few weeks of regular exercise.

And I have to admit; I used to be the same too. I mean, what’s the point of doing all that work if I’m going to gain an additional 0.5 kg, right?

But thankfully, I’ve now realized that the scale doesn’t tell the whole story.

All your weight tells you is that: how heavy you are. It doesn’t give you any information on your muscle mass or fat mass. 

Even though 5 kg of muscle and 5 kg of fat both weigh the same, muscle is a lot denser than fat (33). It takes up far less room. 

Someone who’s at 60 kg and 20% body fat is going to look a lot ‘tighter’ than someone who only weighs 50 kg but at 30% body fat. 

I think we can all agree that we’d all like to be the first, instead of the second person.

Instead of obsessing over how your weight is fluctuating, get a more objective view of how your body is transforming by taking progress pictures. The sight of your body changing, week by week, is bound to light that fire within you.

That’s key when it comes to keeping your workout motivation high.

If you’re trying to lose weight, here are some science-based weight loss tips that actually work – so you can focus on what really matters.

Summary

Instead of fixating over numbers, track your progress by taking progress pictures. They help tell a (more) complete picture of how your body is changing.

Set yourself up for success by creating more workout motivation

Hopefully, you’re now able to see that motivation is not something that strikes you out of the blue.

It is highly unlikely that the thought, ‘I should really workout today,’ will come to you when you’re glued to the couch, watching ‘just one more episode’ on Netflix. Instead, you need to put in the work to change your environment and thought process to stay motivated.

The moment where you don’t feel like working out?

That moment is a part of your life, just like any other moment. Be sure to spend it in a way that’ll make you proud! Just remember: you’ll never regret a workout once it’s done.

And that’s it: you now know how to stay motivated for your workouts! Now, go!

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