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How to love exercise when you hate it (yes, really!)

Hate exercise? Rather have a poke in the eye than go to the gym or pump iron? The thought of going for a run, spandex-clad and sprightly, can make us want to be ever-so-slightly sick at the back of our mouths! Or maybe we get excited about starting a new exercise regime, only to chuck it in a week later, blaming dodgy knees or not enough time. Surely, it's supposed to feel good to work out?

For those of us who detest exercising the problem might have extraordinarily little to do with the actual exercise. According to science, the problem runs much deeper. [1]

Often we focus on weight loss or changing our bodies as a goal to exercise. If only I was X stone lighter, if only I had arms as toned as Madonna, or a six-pack like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. It’s easy to focus on perceived flaws to motivate us. But this is a terrible tactic!

A study published in the Journal of Health Psychology showed that body-shaming or appearance focused reasons for exercising are actually a huge part of the problem. The more we focus on our bodies looking “good” or “bad”, the harder it is to be motivated to exercise. It sucks all the joy out!

So how can we stop hating exercise and start loving it?

Change the goals

Let go of the awfully disheartening obsession with looking inhumanly perfect, or like a photoshopped celebrity, and instead prioritise feeling good!

Don’t like the word “exercise”? Then simply call it “movement” instead. Realise that moving more is an act of self-care. Let’s try asking ourselves: How would I like to move, play and have fun?

“When we start exercising for pleasure and fun, exercise can become intrinsically motivating. If it’s not enjoyable, it’s going to be really hard to stay motivated!” Jessi Haggerty, Dietician and Personal Trainer

Want to be able to dance for hours, do epic handstands, have great sex without getting knackered, surf big waves, or have more energy to play with the kids? When we change our focus we start to feel that exercise is serving us, rather than it being a chore. Read the ‘The power of movement on mental health’ for even more reasons.

Discover our groove

Find the idea of going for a run mind-numbingly boring? Don’t do it then. And if we’re not a morning person the chances of getting out of bed half an hour earlier to do yoga are diddly squat!

“If you strongly despise a certain style of working out and don’t want to do it, it doesn’t make you a bad person, or lazy, or a quitter. It might just mean that you don’t like this kind of training! So don’t do it. Ever again. Never ever.” Steve Kamb, Nerd Fitness

Instead of forcing ourselves to do something we don’t enjoy, find ways to move that feel like less of a chore. There are hundreds of ways to get fit and move more. It might be rock climbing, swing dancing, roller-skating, wild swimming, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, geocaching or simply walking that sparks the shift. Or perhaps it’s bouncing on a trampoline, putting on some tunes and having a good dance, or even a spot of drumming.

Little, and often

Nothing is more off-putting than a workout that leaves us feeling broken and puts us off exercise for the next three months, so let’s not push too hard. Little, and often should be our mantra.

“A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules.” Anthony Trollope, Victorian novelist

We don’t need to be spasmodic Hercules (we love this quote)! Having huge ambitions can be very tempting but it’s a sure-fire way of throwing in the towel. For lasting change aim for daily movement, even if it’s just for one minute. Christine Carter, author, speaker, and coach says that minimal effort is better than nothing. Watch her short video ‘Confessions of a bad exerciser’ here.


Keep going: When we miss a day or a workout (because we invariably will), let’s not worry about it. Everyone struggles once in a while. If we feel lost or don’t have time to try new things, that’s okay. Don’t give up! And maybe going for a walk whilst we listen to our favourite audiobook or podcast can help us get our mojo back.


1. Effects of Weight Stigma on Exercise Motivation and Behaviour (2008). Journal of Health Psychology.




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