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What elite athletes do to stay motivated

It’s not always easy to drag ourselves out to get the blood racing and the heart pumping. When it’s cold or wet, or we’ve had a long day, the pull of a cuppa, a duvet and a box-set can prove hard to resist. We might find ourselves standing there, trainers in one hand, telly remote in another, stopwatch in another contemplating whether we should go to the doctor about having three hands! It’s likely we’ve all been there, not with three hands, but wondering whether to stick with our exercise programme or give in to temptation and settle on the sofa.

Which is why, when motivation is nowhere to be found, we can channel our inner Olympian (yes!)

Here are some of the tricks elite athletes use:

Find a reason

Obviously, with elite athletes the reason is perfectly clear but with us, maybe not so much. Often we focus on weight loss or changing our bodies as a goal to exercise. If only I was the same weight I used to be when I was 20! If only I had arms as toned as Ariana Grande 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 [1] 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, what can we do instead? Have a think about all the ways regular exercise can help improve your life (even just a little). For example, do you want to be able to:

  • dance for hours?

  • enjoy more energy?

  • play with the kids/grandkids/friends kids?

  • reduce anxiety and depression?

  • sleep soundly and wake up feeling tip-top?

  • have great sex without getting knackered?

  • Live longer?

Whatever our mojo happens to be, let’s give up the disheartening obsession with looking like photoshopped celebs, and prioritise feeling good.

Set some specific aims

It’s easy to set ourselves impossibly high standards and then feel like we’ve failed. So, let’s look at the tricks elite athletes use to set objectives and, most importantly, stick to them. This article, by former Olympic swimmer Lizzie Simmonds, has some great tips on keeping motivated.

Firstly, we need to let go of vague, wishy-washy, or unspecific aims. It’s far too easy to chuck in the towel after a few minutes if we’ve nothing real to reach for. It's equally as easy to quit when we have ridiculously high aims too. Instead, set realistic and achievable aims that can be ticked off at the end of the day. Things like - swimming for half an hour, walking or running for two miles after work, or legging-it up and down the stairs once before breakfast. That’s why buddyboost, our buddy marvellous activity app, suggests 26-minutes of exercise each day. No idea what buddyboost is? Read all about it here.

Enroll some cheerleaders

Elite athletes don’t go it alone.

“Having people around to support and encourage us towards our aspirations often makes a huge difference as to whether we are able to stay on course.” Lizzie Simmonds, former Olympic swimmer

Start an online family, friends, or work-mates group. Make it a prerequisite of joining that everyone needs to find and share one exercise video to do. Then get moving, take some pics, share the fun, and encourage each other! Exercise becomes much easier to do when we enlist the support of our cheerleaders.

Mix it up!

Former GB athletics coach Tony Lester suggests another key to maintaining enthusiasm is to mix up activities. Doing the same thing day after day can get mind-numbingly boring after a while. Find pockets of movement that are fun or interesting to us. Don’t like skipping? Then don’t do it. How about hula hooping, laughing yoga, or Zumba?

There are tons of activities to try such as:

  • Geocaching

  • Hiking

  • Martial arts

  • Boxing

  • Climbing

  • Yoga

  • Pilates

  • Dancing

  • Cycling

  • Football

  • Jogging

  • Trampolining

  • Weights

  • Roller skating

  • Wild swimming


Channel our inner Olympion! Let’s take a leaf out of the elite athlete's book and set goals, mix up our activities, enlist some friends, and remember the road to fitness is more like a marathon than a sprint! Plus, just think how much more you’ll appreciate a good box-set on the sofa when your mind and body are telling you you’ve earned it.


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




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