It’s tough to stay motivated when you start a new workout routine. Not only do you have to get used to a whole new set of moves, but you might also be moving certain muscles — or your whole body entirely — for the first time in a while. All of the hurdles can make it tempting to just, well, throw in the proverbial towel.
It can also feel discouraging when you’re attempting totally new exercises, especially when you don’t immediately master a boxing combo or that Pilates move. “Sometimes when people start something, they tend to go big, like signing up for a 45-minute HIIT class when they haven't moved in a while,” personal trainer and Pilates instructor Gemma O’Hare tells Bustle. “There is nothing wrong with doing that, but people may feel discouraged or embarrassed if they can't keep up.”
Another reason why it’s tough to keep sweating through that new fitness regimen? Discomfort. Not only will you likely have to contend with soreness and tight muscles, but you’ll also undoubtedly have to push through fatigue. That’s where proper warmups and post-workout stretches come into play.
Most important of all, though, is finding a way to get past the mental block that often comes with starting a new fitness routine. According to certified personal trainer Jess Rose McDowell, your mind makes up 90% of motivation, which is why she suggests giving yourself 60 days to form a new habit and get used to a new workout. If you haven’t gotten used to (or maybe even fallen in love with) your new regimen by then, she says it’ll be time to try something new. Below, trainers share their top tips on how to stay motivated to work out when you’re just starting out.
1. Make Sure You Like Your Workout
While you may not exactly enjoy your workout right away — because it’s hard, tiring, super sweaty, etc. — you should like it enough to want to come back again. In other words, don’t force yourself to run if you hate running. And don’t choose a HIIT workout if burpees make you want to cry.
“Take a step back and dig deep to find what you're truly interested in improving and the type of fitness you're interested in,” McDowell says. “Fitness has a wide range of options because there is space for everyone. Not every fitness class, routine, or trainer has to be for you.”
2. Hire A Trainer
If you still aren’t sure where to start, consider getting a personal trainer, whether that means finding one through an app or signing up to meet with one at your gym. “When you have a personal trainer, you have someone constantly looking over your shoulder, motivating you to keep going, cheering you on, and holding you accountable when you do not do your part,” John Gardner, a certified NASM personal trainer, tells Bustle. “This heavily encourages and motivates you to keep going and reach your fitness goal.”
You could also work with a trainer via an app or through Zoom workouts. Look at the vast range of digital fitness classes you can take from home where you connect with a trainer through your camera — that way, you’ll get guidance on proper form as well as motivation.
3. Find An Accountability Partner
Another way to stay motivated? See if a friend would be willing to work out with you, or, at the very least, text to make sure you actually completed your sweat sesh. “Having someone to remain accountable to is a must,” O’Hare says. Even promising your dog that you’ll walk together every morning could do the trick. “Either way, having someone who you need to show up for is a really good idea.”
4. Take A Group Class
Signing up for a group fitness class — digital or IRL — tends to work wonders, too. According to Michelle Chuang, a certified barre fitness instructor, once you commit both physically and financially to a workout session, you’re more likely to follow through. She says the camaraderie of group classes adds to the fun and will hopefully encourage you to come back. Oh, and another aspect that helps: “Many group fitness classes charge students for a no-show, which adds to the mindset that ‘I really need to show up to class,’” she says.
5. Have A Good Reason Why
It’s so easy to give up on a workout if you don’t have a good reason to do it, which is why certified personal trainer Sarah Mayland recommends coming back to your “why” whenever you feel like canceling your training session or watching Netflix instead of going for a jog.
Is your goal to feel stronger? Run a 5K? Do you want to be able to walk around your city all afternoon without getting winded? “Keeping your focus on the big picture and your ultimate fitness goals makes the hiccups along the way more manageable,” she says.
6. Take It Easy
Even if you feel like pushing yourself right away, it’s a better idea to go slow and steady. Since going too hard too fast can lead to burnout, try to remember that a workout doesn’t have to be high intensity or to go on for a long time to be impactful, says trainer Deja Riley.
Instead of going super hard, try to dial things back — at least in the beginning. If your goal is to run a 5K, that may mean going on 10 minute walks, which can then progress to 10 minute jogs, and so on. As long as you do something, you’re on the right track.
“You’ll see very soon just how quickly these small, consistent decisions add up to big results,” Riley says. “Just know that the feelings of exhaustion and being overwhelmed will pass. Take it one step at a time.”
7. Do What You Can To Prevent Soreness
Don’t let a little stiffness have you swearing off exercise forever. As fitness trainer Sarah Pelc Graca says, "Soreness is to be expected in the beginning because you're pushing your muscles and doing movements that you might not necessarily be used to.” It’s part of the process of getting stronger.
Since you know muscle aches will happen, simply make small changes to combat them. “When you have soreness, drink a lot of water, and don't be afraid to take some Ibuprofen,” Pelc Graca says. Gardner also recommends getting a solid eight hours of sleep at night (as you should be, anyway) and doing a post-workout stretch routine to get a headstart on tight muscles.
8. Plan Ahead
If you’re a big fan of planning, here’s the perfect chance to add workouts to your calendar, schedule exercise reminders on your phone, and maybe even bullet journal your entire fitness routine. Do any of the above, McDowell says, so that you can see the week ahead and know precisely what you should be doing each day. She suggests respecting these workout plans just like you would any other important commitment.
It may also help to make life easier for your future sweaty self by doing things like laying out your exercise clothes, setting your sneakers by the door, and having your water bottle ready. “This eliminates the stress of rushing or having to make last-minute decisions,” McDowell says, which in turn makes it easier to follow through with your routine.
Another trick is to choose a new workout that fits as seamlessly as possible into your current schedule so that you can avoid drastic (and potentially overwhelming) changes. Mayland suggests attaching it to something you already do — think along the lines of signing up for a gym that you pass every day on your way home from work. If you don’t have to go out of your way to exercise, you’ll be less likely to give up.
9. Rest & Take Breaks
“Listen to your body and start moderately,” Pelc Graca says. “You want to make sure that what you're doing is safe for your current fitness level. If you're experiencing fatigue, take rest days to make sure you're getting the rest and replenishment your body needs.”
If you still feel tired and unable to exercise, let your doctor know. “Fatigue could be caused by a number of medical conditions,” McDowell says. “Please always get checked by a doctor if it continues.”
10. Share Wins On Social Media
You could also turn to Instagram as an accountability tool. “One of my favorite hacks for staying motivated, accountable, and on track is to post your new routine on social media,” Tami Smith, an ACE-certified personal trainer, tells Bustle. “Even if no one cares about your fitness journey, it'll be out there and you'll be less likely to quit.”
Only post what you feel comfortable posting, but for inspiration, consider sharing a pic of you workin’ it with a pair of dumbbells. Or a sweaty post-run selfie. As Smith says, “It's a lot easier to quit on yourself than it is to quit on others, so having this accountability is huge when getting started.”
11. Start With 5 Minutes
Still not feeling it? Get up, pull on your leggings, and try doing your new exercise routine for five minutes... with the secret goal of continuing for longer. This is a nifty (and science-backed) mental trick that tends to get folks up and moving. Once your blood starts pumping, chances are you’ll push through the lack of motivation — and before you know it, you’ll be finishing up your workout.
Hepler, J., Wang, W., & Albarracin, D. (2011). Motivating exercise: The interactive effect of general action goals and past behavior on physical activity. PsycEXTRA Dataset. https://doi.org/10.1037/e527772014-020
Kaushal, N., & Rhodes, R. E. (2015). Exercise habit formation in new gym members: A longitudinal study. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 38(4), 652–663. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10865-015-9640-7
Stewart, Riley, D.; Duhamel, Todd, A.; Rich, Sharon; Tupling, Russell, A.; & Green, Howard, J. (2008). Effects of consecutive days of exercise and recovery on muscle mechanical function. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 40(2), 316–325. https://doi.org/10.1249/mss.0b013e31815adf02
Gemma O’Hare, personal trainer and Pilates instructor
Jess Rose McDowell, certified personal trainer
John Gardner, certified NASM personal trainer
Michelle Chuang, certified barre fitness instructor
Sarah Mayland, MS, CPT, FNS, certified personal trainer
Deja Riley, trainer
Sarah Pelc Graca, NASM-certified personal trainer
Tami Smith, ACE-certified personal trainer