Put the Fun in Fitness1 of 19
Hiking a mountain for an epic, jaw-dropping view. Climbing over obstacles in your first mud run. Racing your bro across the lake in a bragging-rights-for-life swim. What do they have in common? The people doing these activities define them as fun, not workouts.
Exercisers who are psyched (rather than reluctant) about a new routine spend 63 percent more time moving, research from Brown University shows. Makes sense, right? Enjoyment is a natural motivator, says Sam Zizzi, Ph.D., Professor of Sport and Exercise Psychology at West Virginia University.
If you like an activity, you'll make time to do it again and again. Can't imagine getting psyched about any kind of exercise? Bribery also works. Promising yourself a post-gym treat can give you the incentive to complete a workout, says Steven Bray, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Health and Exercise Psychology at McMaster University.
Take Itty-Bitty Bites2 of 19
"Some mornings, I can't get excited to work out, so I coax myself, promising that, if I bail along the way, it's OK. Putting on my gear, I think, 'Just grab your bag.' Then, 'Hop in the car.' Then, 'Swim one lap.'
At that point, if I'm not in the mood, I go home. But you know what? That rarely happens."
- Chris "Macca" McCormack, IRONMAN world champion
Never Stop Experimenting3 of 19
"To find a workout you love, try everything that comes your way. You can't immediately pass on a routine with a 'Well, that doesn't sound like fun.' You might be surprised by what you enjoy."
- Kimberly Fowler, founder of YAS fitness Centers and creator of Yoga for Athletes
Go to Your Happy Place4 of 19
"To have a fun session, I know I have to take it outdoors. Being in the fresh air and sunshine helps me stay inspired, and it keeps me more focused and alert."
- Maya Gabeira, world record holder in women's big-wave surfing
Make It Personal5 of 19
To get sky-high drive, know exactly why you're working out, and make those reasons true to you, says Michelle Segar, Ph.D., a motivation researcher at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
"For most people, trying to meet someone else's expectations or assuage guilt isn't sustainable," Segar says. Register for a marathon just to one-up your super athletic sister, and you may never cross the finish line. Try to lose weight to please your partner and the scale could tip the wrong way. Homing in solely on better-body goals, like slimming your thighs, is a no-no, too, says Jeremy Adams, Ph.D., a sport and performance psychologist and director of Eclectic Consulting in Melbourne, Australia.
Gym goers who fixate on the physical payoff can lose their motivation in a couple of months, he explains, because it can take awhile to see the results they want. If you focus on why exercise is a positive aspect of your life, both Segar and Adams suggest, you'll be less stressed and more energized—and those sources of immediate, constant and meaningful inspiration will keep you hooked on breaking a sweat.
Put Fuel in the Tank6 of 19
"I think of exercise as my energy. It helps me wake up early, power through a day and juggle a job and a life. It's a cause-and-effect scenario—to do the things I love, I have to work out."
- Mary Ann Browning, CEO of Brownings Fitness in New York City
Strike a Healthy Balance7 of 19
"I work out because it keeps me sane through such a crazy life, running from football field to basketball court."
- Erin Andrews, ESPN reporter and Good Morning America correspondent
Plan to Succeed8 of 19
Without a strategy, goals are just good intentions. Thinking about when and how long you'll sweat makes you move more, a study in the Journal of Consumer Research reports. People who asked themselves each week, "How much will I work out?" increased their activity by 138 percent.
How can posing a question have that big a reward? It yanks you off autopilot (when you constantly and unconsciously choose the couch over the elliptical) and encourages you to actually make your fitness plans happen, explains study author Pierre Chandon, Ph.D., Professor of Marketing at Insead Business School.
Take it one step further and write your aims. Women who jotted down their workout targets, imagined meeting their goals, listed potential obstacles and thought of ways to beat those barriers ended up adding an extra hour of calorie blasting each week, researchers from Columbia University say.
Try It: Create a one-week workout schedule with mini-objectives for each routine, such as "Run without stopping for 30 minutes" and "Use 8-pound dumbbells." Put a satisfying check next to each victory.
Note What Works9 of 19
"I keep a training log, and if I've tried a new workout that gives me that satisfyingly sore feeling, I'll draw a smiley face next to that day, so I know I should do that routine again!"
- Jackie Warner, celebrity trainer
Commit in Public10 of 19
"The night before a super early workout, I tweet my plan to ensure I do it."
- Meaghan B. Murphy, SELF fitness director
Always Think, Onward!11 of 19
"I love giving myself new challenges; I'll sign up for a sprint triathlon or get certified in a group fitness discipline. So far, I've run 12 half-marathons plus dozens of other races, and I have qualifications to teach Spin, Zumba and Turbo Kick."
- Nicole Brewer, contestant on The Biggest Loser, who dropped (and has kept off) more than 100 pounds
Buddy Up12 of 19
To be a workout champ, don't just sweat solo; surround yourself with a team of strong and fast friends who will help you eke out more minutes and reps. Research backs this idea: When people worked out with a virtual video-game partner who was always programmed to be fitter, they stuck it out 24 percent longer than if they were alone, a study from Michigan State University indicates.
"The challenge brings out a competitive side, even if you don't have that streak," says study author Deborah Feltz, Ph.D., chairwoman of the Department of Kinesiology at MSU. "To keep the pace and to measure up, you push beyond what you'd normally do by yourself."
Don't have a pal available to egg you on? You might find a similar boost in a group class, Feltz says. No one wants to be seen as the weak one, she says, so people will try to match the intensity of the strongest member of the class. Game on!
Be a Front-Runner13 of 19
"I sit in the first row at cycling classes, because I feel like everybody behind me is looking forward, and it pushes me to do my best."
- Vanessa Hudgens, actress and former SELF cover girl
Look to Your Fam14 of 19
"My mom, Lucy, and I often team up to work out. At 75, she's a Zumba instructor and a certified trainer, and she's fit enough to push me! I hope I have her energy and mobility in 30 years."
- Ramona Braganza, celebrity trainer
Use Your Head15 of 19
Sure, the way your body moves is key, but you can also use mind tricks to perform your best. Repeat a pump-up phrase like "Let's go!" Confidence-building cues like this help people improve their performance during workouts, reports a Perspectives on Psychological Science review.
What doesn't work? Competitive commands like "Win!" which are dependent on someone else's performance, and negative phrases such as "Too slow," which may make you doubt your abilities. Instead, use positive pep talks to focus on what you want to do. To get through another rep, tell yourself, "I'm strong!" Need to sprint a few more seconds? Say, "Fast, fast, fast!"
Also, picture your biggest fans: Your friends and family. Envisioning yourself through the eyes of others makes you try harder, a study from York University suggests. Why? Having an audience, even an imaginary one, watch you makes succeeding count for more—especially if your spectators are people whose opinions you care about. That could be Mom cheering you on at the 5K finish line or your partner giving you a high five after one last push-up.
Choose a Mental Motivator16 of 19
"During a race, I'll dedicate each mile to an inspirational person in my life. Running that segment for him or her makes the discomfort easier to bear and gives me a leg up."
- Chrissie Wellington, three-time IRONMAN world champion
Envision a Win17 of 19
"Every time I step out on the track, I say this mantra over and over in my head: 'If it's to be, it's up to me. Who can? I can!'"
- Natasha Hastings, 4x4 relay Olympic gold medalist
Let Love Move You18 of 19
"I have these handmade signs hanging on my treadmill: 'Go, Mom!' and 'Run fast, Mom!' My kids made them to help me prep for a marathon. Seeing the words inspires me to crank the pace."
- Larysa DiDio, personal trainer and coauthor of Sneaky Fitness