Do you ever have days when you just don’t feel like working out? Maybe that’s once a week for you, or once a month; maybe it’s every day. One of the trainers I work with, who is also one of the strongest guys I know, walked into the gym one morning and told me he just wanted to sit on the couch for a week and watch TV. He was having one of those “I don’t feel like working out” days. Everyone has these days, even people who love working out.
When I was rowing with an elite training group at Potomac Boat Club, there was a point when we were doing three workouts a day to prepare for National Team Selection Races. We would row from 6:00-8:30 a.m. out on the Potomac River working on technique, doing long aerobic “steady state” or anaerobic race pieces. Half the year it would be pitch black and bitingly cold out as we launched our boats. We’d return from the row, toes numb and ice frozen on our backs from the splash of our oars entering the water. Then, the other half of the year it would either be a gorgeous DC spring day with views of colorful sunrises, bald eagles nesting, and cherry blossoms blooming all along the river out towards the tidal basin, or it would be blazing hot and humid. Even at 6 a.m. we’d have to cover ourselves in sunscreen and a hat. Inevitably, halfway through the row, a mixture of sweat and sunscreen would make its way into our eyes and sting like all bloody hell. The minimal clothing we wore would be soaked through, and the salt from our bodies would cause our hands to slip and slide all over our handles causing heat sores and bleeding blisters from which there was no relief until we returned to the dock. We’d weigh in 8 pounds lighter after these rows, and hopefully, our shoulders wouldn’t be burnt to a crisp.
This was just the first workout. The second workout was a jog we childishly called a “yog” from the movie Anchorman. We often renamed workouts to make them appear less daunting. We would have to motivate each other to get off the floor of the boathouse, covered in the sweat from the first workout, out the door and fall into the “yogging” motion. Our legs were too fried to go fast or even try and be competitive with each other, so it was more of an elephant trot with some entertaining chit chat about what to make for dinner or poop. I swear the boys always wanted to talk about their poop.
In the evening we would return to the boathouse after our jobs for the final workout. Three days a week it was a lifting routine, and on the others it was another “short” 8-10k row on the erg (ergometer or rowing machine) or the water. This second row was on our own so we could work on the technical coaching given to us that morning. It was our chance to slow down and think about what we were doing while getting in some extra aerobic strokes. Some people hated the second row. We were already tired from the previous two workouts as well as a day at work (as if it hadn’t been tough enough motivating ourselves to get out of bed and to the boathouse the first time). To do it again took a whole other level of mental strength. Personally, I loved these rows. I liked being able to go out on my own and row at my own pace. Do what I needed to do and just enjoy being on the water.
So why am I telling you all of this? Because even the group of us, obsessed with trying to make the Olympic rowing team had our “I don’t feel like working out” days. Don’t get me wrong; we loved what we did! It was hard for us to take an “off day.” Usually our coach would give us a few days off after a big race or at the end of the racing season only to find us all back at the boathouse the next day, and he would have to kick us out and force us to rest. But there were also so many mornings at 4:45 a.m. when I’d wake up and stare at myself in the mirror while brushing my teeth and think, “Why are you awake right now? Are you nuts? Why are you doing this? Your head hurts, your body hurts, you can barely hold a toothbrush with your blistered hands. How are you ever going to hold the oars for another two hours? It’s going to be freezing! It’s snowing outside already, and the dock is definitely going to be covered in ice. Your toes are going to go numb again. You’ll probably lose them to frostbite. Just go back to bed!” So what did I do with all of these negative thoughts going through my head? I set the toothbrush down and said, “Okay Maria, let’s go.” That was it. I think I got the talking to myself gene from my mom, “Let’s go Pat, you can do it!” She’d give herself her own little pep talk even if it was just to start making dinner. It works! Try it. Sometimes all you need is that split second and a few words to keep yourself moving forward instead of backwards into that bed. ”Let’s go! Set that toothbrush down, and start layering your workout clothes on!” and before your brain knows what’s going on, you’re out the door on the way to getting stronger, healthier and happier. Hopefully you can do it while avoiding blisters and freezing your toes.
Tips to get yourself moving when you just don’t want to:
1. Motivating self-talk i.e. “Let’s go!” “I can do this!” “I’ll feel better after I do it.”
2. Schedule it into your day ahead of time.
3. Find a workout partner, accountability group, trainer or coach.
4. Reward yourself with something, i.e. a manicure if you workout 5x/week or a new piece of workout clothing.
5. Do something you enjoy, and this may change depending on the day. One day you may feel like yoga while another day you need a good sweaty run.
6. Put your workout clothes out where you’ll see them. This is a good visual reminder that you have good intentions that you want to follow through with.
7. Keep a motivational phrase or picture on your bathroom mirror. It may simply say, “Go sweat, you’ll feel better.”
8. Get sleep! Sometimes you don’t want to workout because you stayed up too late watching Game of Thrones instead of getting your 8 hours of sleep!
9. Hydrate. If you’re dehydrated you’ll feel gross and lethargic. Hydration keeps your body feeling closer to its optimal condition.
10. Think about how you want to feel and what you want to be able to do when you’re 40, 50, 60, 70 etc. Do you want everything to hurt and be on a million pills, or do you want to be able to spend fun times with your family and friends? Get up and move; your 80-year-old self will thank you for it!