6 ways to stay motivated to work out and achieve your fitness goals, according to personal trainers

Allison Torres Burtka,Sarah C. McEwen
dancing exercise music working out
Listening to music can be a great way to get yourself motivated to workout. Luis Alvarez/Getty Images
  • To stay motivated to work out, you should set achievable, time-based goals that you can measure, like 'exercise for 20 minutes five days a week.'

  • You can also stay motivated to exercise by varying the types of workouts you do and asking a friend to hold you accountable.

  • If you want to stay motivated to work out, it's essential to start slow and be consistent rather than exercising for multiple hours a day.

  • Visit Insider's Health Reference library for more advice.

Exercise reduces your risk of many health conditions, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer. It also improves mood, boosts energy, and helps with sleep.

Despite the known health benefits, it's hard to find the motivation to work out regularly, whether it's due to fatigue, not enjoying your workouts, or prioritizing other areas of life. If that's the case, here are some tips to help you stay motivated in reaching your fitness goals.

1. Set a goal

Setting goals, specifically "SMART" goals, can help you stay on track, says Adia Callahan, a certified personal trainer, owner, and founder of See Me Wellness.

SMART stands for:

  • Specific

  • Measurable

  • Attainable

  • Relevant

  • Time-based

SMART goals are so effective because they give you a specific time frame. If a goal has no deadline, you can push it off, and it's "almost like a dark cloud over your head, always looming," Callahan says.

Examples of SMART goals include:

  • Run my first 5k in the next three months

  • Exercise for 20 minutes every day

  • Be able to do 20 push-ups by the end of next month

Setting smaller "process" goals, which you can achieve along the way to a larger goal, can also keep you motivated, says Jen Kates, a certified personal trainer, and health coach, and founder of Shift Human Performance. For example, if your goal is to run a 5k, a smaller process goal might be running for five minutes without stopping.

Also, you are more likely to achieve goals that are focused on internal health versus your external image. A 2009 study looked at adults' intrinsic goals for exercise, such as improving health and advancing exercise skills, and extrinsic goals, such as enhancing their image. It found the intrinsic goals were more important than extrinsic goals in motivating participants to exercise.

2. Fit workouts into your schedule

If you respond well to structure, mapping out a weekly workout schedule can be helpful. However, fitting your exercise regimen into your lifestyle is usually easier than trying to force yourself into a regimen that doesn't work for you, Callahan says.

Start with what's doable and enjoyable. For example, if you can only find time for 15 minutes of exercise a day, that's okay. You can then try to slowly increase that over time, says Callahan.

Additionally, "find an ideal time of day to work out," says Kates. Make sure it's a time of day where you have higher energy levels.

3. Try different workouts

If you don't enjoy your workout, you're less likely to stick with it, Callahan says. So it's important to try different options until you find something you like. Some examples of workouts you can mix it up with include:

To meet the recommended levels of aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercise, you may need to incorporate some variety. For example, if you only run, you need to do some kind of strength training as well. If you only lift weights, you need to add cardio.

Variety helps "train the body in different ways, to make it stronger for all the aspects of our lives," Callahan says. Mixing it up can also reduce your risk of injury by avoiding repetitive strain on the same parts of the body.

4. Find a workout partner or join a group

"Having a workout buddy is really helpful," Kates says. "Whether you meet in-person or remotely, it doesn't matter - what matters more is that you are able to hold one another accountable to showing up to the workout and to yourselves."

Similarly, joining an exercise group like a running club or a sports team can boost motivation. Some group exercise options include:

  • Join a running or hiking group

  • Sign up for a club sport, like soccer or tennis

  • Join a fitness studio

  • Take classes at your gym

  • Take virtual classes at home

5. Listen to music

Music can also give you a boost. "Music can motivate you so well, especially if it is a song that really pumps you up and gets you excited to move," Kates says.

A 2006 study found music created a "distraction effect" during low-intensity exercise, so someone who listens to a favorite piece of music while walking might feel less fatigued than someone who didn't.

6. Start slow and be kind to yourself

A common mistake in starting an exercise regimen is going too hard, too fast. "They come out the gates running, so either they hurt themselves or they lose motivation," Callahan says.

If you haven't been working out consistently, "be OK with 15 or 20 minutes a day, or 15 or 20 minutes every other day," Callahan says. "That way, it gives your body a chance to adjust and adapt. But more importantly, it gives you a chance to mentally adapt as well."

If you don't feel like working out, sometimes you just have to start going through the motions, and your motivation will kick in, Kates says. This might mean putting on your workout clothes and warming up for five minutes. By then, chances are you'll feel better, and you'll finish your whole workout.

If you want some guidance, "don't hesitate to contact a professional to help you through your journey," Callahan says. A personal trainer or coach can help you figure out a regimen that works for you.

Insider's takeaway

To stay motivated to work out, try setting SMART goals, switching workouts, or finding a workout buddy or group.

The truth is, we all have 15 or 20 minutes that we can devote to something that's important in our lives. "You have to work with yourself to make working out important," Callahan says.

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