10 Top Tips for Health and Fitness Motivation

Discover Ten Methods to Maintaining Motivation

a woman running along a coastal path

In this article we will look at 10 methods that you could use to rekindle the dwindling fires of fitness motivation. Whenever you find yourself opting for the couch instead of the gym, a lie in instead of an early morning run, you will be able to use one of the motivational methods below to get inspired and get active.

Enough gab, let’s get on with it . . .

1) Set long term goals

How long term should our long term goals be? Honestly, I would say three months and beyond. And can I just add there is nothing at all wrong with having multiple long term health/fitness goals, of different durations, running simultaneously. We might be preparing diligently for, say, an Ironman, or marathon, which is due to take place a year hence, whilst also pursuing the perpetual goal of maintaining optimum health. My personal overarching goal is that of being healthy. As nebulous and generic a goal as that undeniably is it should be the one to which we all continuously direct our health and exercise energies. With one eye fixed firmly on this long term goal we will, theoretically, have water enough in the motivational well from which we can draw in times of drought.

So, make your long term goal that of augmented health and, whilst you’re on that journey, continue to set sub-long term goals that will help you on your way. However, we must remember, goals ‘need to be fired with passion’. A ‘goal that is just cerebral, without any energy or emotional empowerment, is usually not achieved’ (Grout & Perrin, 2004). You have to believe in the goals you set and be passionate towards achieving them.

2) Set short term goals

Setting short term goals, typically between one to three months in duration, is an excellent way to keep the fires of motivation well stoked. Now a short term health/fitness related goal could be something as simple as striving to lose a couple of pounds or attempting a personal best in a specific exercise discipline. I tend to focus on a particular exercise and over the course of two months work towards achieving a set time. For example, just recently I wanted to run the 10,000 metres (on an indoor treadmill) in under 30 minutes. Before setting this goal I firstly tested my current 10k performance to see how far off that time I was – so that I could gauge whether or not my aspirations were realistic – then I set about training myself up for the final test day.

I find short term goal setting a remarkably effective method of fuelling motivation. In the above example not only did I achieve my desired goal of 30 minutes but exceeded it by 2:27. However, it must be understood that we are not always going to be successful in achieving our goals and we shouldn’t let this dampen our spirits. After the run, following a similar training formula, I attempted a sub 6:30 2000 metre row but failed to achieve my desired time by a few seconds. That doesn’t really matter though because I know that it is the means and not the end that is most important.

3) Get Competitive

Regular competitions are a terrific way of spicing up our training sessions, which in turn motivates us to keep on keeping fit; especially if there is a pecuniary reward or, better still, a nasty punishment at stake. A good few years ago I used to train with a semi-professional triathlete. I would design a training session that incorporated elements of our strengths and weaknesses. Once we’d come to an agreement on the session, which always resulted in lots of arguing, a punishment would be promulgated along with a competition date. Come competition day we’d both arrive at the gym suited and booted for a gruelling session and, like two fighting cocks, desperately duke it out for a couple of weeks’ bragging rights. But, as low key and, well, petty as this all was, by god did it motivate me to keep fit.

Competitions come in many different shapes and sizes. So if you don’t have a worthy, like-minded training partner who is willing to engage in exercise fisticuffs, you can get competitive in other ways. Besides the obvious, such as entering an organised race, or trying to set a PB, you can compete on online league tables. For example, a colleague of mine cycles to work. The route he takes features on a mobile phone app called Strava, which tracks and records all the times that other cyclists have taken to cover the same distance. I remember him arriving at work one morning, red as a tomato, huffing and puffing, sweat pouring down his face, proudly proclaiming that he was now the new ‘champ’. Anyone would have thought that he’d just won a stage on the Tour de France. It amazed me to see how much motivation he drew from seeing his name at the top of that Strava league table. But that’s the power of competition.

4) Remind yourself of the benefits

What are the benefits of keeping fit? Well, according to hundreds of scientific research articles, the benefits of keeping fit include improved health and enhanced longevity. They are the ultimate benefits exercise bestows on those who regularly practice it. As we’re probably all aware, there are many, many more benefits besides. When motivation starts to flag, when we’re struggling to motivate ourselves to hit the tarmac for an hour, or attend that circuits class, we would do well to remember that this training session will (statistically) reduce our chances of succumbing to many horrible diseases associated with a sedentary lifestyle, whilst enhancing our vitality and possibly extending our life. If any one of those three benefits alone is not enough to get you active then think of all three – they could be called the three line whip of motivation that you can lash yourself with whenever you want to quit.

5) Make measurements

a woman weighing herself as means of health and fitness testing

If your exercise objective is to shed a few pounds and trim-up for beach season (or that dreaded social event that looms large on the temporal horizon), it might be a good idea to periodically hop on the scales or wrap a tape measure around your waist so as to monitor and track progress. But, before embarking on an exercise regime, it is wise to make measurements of your current physiological state so that you have a starting point. After all, as trite and cliché as the saying has now undeniably become, we don’t know how far we’ve travelled if we don’t know from where we started.

Of course, one’s gut is not the only part of the human anatomy subject to the tape measure. Your training aspiration may dwell in the desire to one day stand in front of that faded poster of Arnold Schwarzenegger (or female equivalent) as though it were a mirror, reflecting back your imagined awesomeness. Now before you begin pumping that iron or wearing out that cross-trainer take measurements of the girth of you biceps, chest, quads, calves and, most importantly, your ego.

Again, whatever measurements you make be sure to make them before undertaking that transformative training programme. Once you are on the road to achieving your idealised body composition, track and record progress by taking formative measurements. You can then use these measurements as motivational carrots that keep you chasing that slimmer/more muscular you. (One word of advice on this method: be careful not to become over obsessed with weight loss or gains; jumping on the scales after every training session or expecting an additional inch of bicep growth after every eccentric contraction of a barbell curl is a sign that you have spun-off you psychological centre. Remember: this method of motivation has an expiration date, and that date has arrived when you can no longer naturally lose any more weight or pack on any more mass – the tale of the tape (or scales) can only take us so far on the journey of health and fitness.)

6) Get your kit on!

I owe thanks to a friend for this one. He said to me once, when I was lamenting over my lack of motivational willpower, ‘If ever you don’t feel like exercising here’s some advice that never fails. On those days when you’d rather face the firing squad than the treadmill just slip into your training kit and sit around the house. I give you ten minutes before you’re out the door and on the way to the gym.’

I must confess, when he told me this I could not hide the incredulous expression on my face. But by god it works – and every damn time too. Now I don’t profess to understand the complex science behind this technique, yet it somehow seems to exert a mysterious motivational force that just makes you want to exercise.

So here’s what you do. When you don’t feel like getting a sweat-on, get your kit-on instead and then merrily go about your business as normal; whether that’s doing the dishes, the dusting, or some other type of menial housework. Soon, very soon, the motivational monster will strike and you’ll find yourself itching to get active.

7) Motivation Idols

‘Everyone,’ it is true to say, from time to time ‘needs a source of inspiration.’ Even our heroes had their heroes. But it is the ‘acts of others that inspire us to try new things, undertake challenges or simply do better than we thought possible.’

(Grout & Perrin, 2004)

If I were asked to identify the one individual who has provided me with the greatest source of exercise motivational inspiration I would without pause proudly vociferate the name: Bruce Lee. From my earliest memories his immense physicality, blinding athleticism and indomitable pertinacity have never failed to fire my ambition to strive for physical self-betterment. Even now, nearly twenty years on, when motivation starts to dwindle, watching a YouTube video of Bruce Lee competing at a martial arts tournament or a quick glance at a photo of his super chiselled physique are certain to top-up my diminishing stock of motivational fuel.

Now I’m not suggesting that we should subscribe to some perverse idol worshipping mentality where we carry around on our person a picture of our hero, pulling it out to gaze upon when motivation deserts us. Nor should they become a crutch against which we lean in times of despondency. Motivational idols are there to give us that little kick up the backside when we find ourselves reaching for the TV remote instead of the kettlebell.

8) Re-assess pro