In a perfect world, you would feel engaged with and motivated by your workout routine 100 percent of the time. But the truth is, we don’t live in a perfect world—and no matter how much you love fitness, chances are you’ll find yourself in a workout rut at some point or another.
If you’re currently stuck in a workout rut (or you’ve stopped working out altogether!), we’ve got good news for you. With a few small changes, you can pull yourself out of your workout rut, find your motivation, and get your fitness back on track. So how, exactly, do you do that?
If you’ve completely fallen off the exercise wagon, you might be tempted to jump right back in. But going from no exercise to a lot of exercise can cause you to burnout quickly—and will land you right back where you started.
Instead, “start small and simple [when] getting back into your routine,” says Dr. Matt Tanneberg, sports chiropractor, certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS), and owner of Body Check Chiropractic & Sports Rehabilitation in Scottsdale, AZ.
For example, let’s say you used to kick off every morning with a 5k jog around your neighborhood—but now it’s been months since you’ve laced up your running shoes and hit the pavement. Instead of trying to jump back into running 3.1 miles, try starting off your morning with a 15-minute walk. Then, as you get into the habit of walking every day, you can slowly increase your active time and speed until you’re back into your regular running habit.
Switch things up
A rut is literally defined as “a fixed or established mode of procedure or course of life, usually dull or unpromising.” In other words, you get stuck in a rut when you continue doing the same thing over and over, even though you’re bored and not seeing results.
“If you’ve been sticking with a certain program or routine for a long time, you can easily get into a rut and see motivation drop,” says personal trainer and coach Chris Cooper.
If you feel like you’re stuck in a “same old, same old” mindset towards your exercise routine—and it’s making it hard to stay motivated and engaged with fitness—one of the best things you can do is switch things up.
For example, do you feel like all you do is run? Switch things up by focusing on strength training or hitting a boxing class. Are you bored with your gym routine? Challenge yourself with an outdoor workout, like a hike or a circuit workout in the park. Introduce some novelty into your fitness routine; trying new things can make your workouts feel fresh and exciting again—and can help you shake that “I’m stuck in a rut” feeling.
Give yourself a goal
Exercising on a regular basis is a worthy goal in and of itself. But if exercise for the sake of exercise isn’t motivating you to get up, get out, and workout—and you feel like you’re in a fitness rut because of it—a great way to find the drive to exercise? Giving yourself a fitness goal to work toward. “Having goals can be a critical factor for motivation,” says certified strength and conditioning specialist Korey Van Wyk.
For example, do you love cycling, but lately have been finding excuses to skip your bike rides? Consider signing up for a road race to give yourself something to train for. Or do you feel like you’re in a rut because you’re bored with at-home workouts? Set a goal to check out at least one new fitness class a week.
When setting fitness goals, “find something that you’re interested in and that will get you out of your comfort zone,” says Van Wyk. “Doing this will give you clear goals and objectives for your workouts”—which can make it easier to get out of your run and back into a regular fitness groove.
Find a workout community
When you’re in a workout rut, it can be hard to pull yourself out of it. So why not enlist the help of other people? Finding a workout community, whether by joining a local workout class or enlisting a few friends to work out with you, not only creates external accountability (which can help you be consistent with your workouts, even when you don’t feel like it), but it can also make working out feel fun and motivating again. This can help you get out of your rut and get back to feeling excited by and engaged with your fitness routine.
“Whether virtually or in person, find a group of people that are doing the same thing you are,” says Van Wyk. “It’s amazing how surrounding yourself with people doing the same workout at the same time will boost your energy and motivation.”
Cut yourself some slack
If you’re beating yourself up because you’re stuck in a workout rut, cut yourself some slack. “The first thing to realize and accept is that ruts are normal!,” says Van Wyk. “Even the most ardent fitness enthusiast will get in a rut from time to time.”
Instead of berating yourself about why you’re stuck in a rut or how you got there, show yourself a little compassion. Feeling guilt or shame around letting your fitness habits slide isn’t going to help you motivate yourself. Instead, recognize that everyone struggles with fitness from time-to-time—and it’s just a normal part of being human.
And interestingly, cutting yourself that slack? It might be exactly what you need to move forward. “Understanding that [finding yourself in a workout rut is] completely normal can take the pressure and guilt off,” says Van Wyk. When you release the pressure and guilt, it can make it easier to get motivated and start working out again.
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