How to Get Motivated to Work Out When You Don’t Feel Like It

When your vacation days are spent, daylight is at a premium, and the weather’s anything but uplifting, you need an extra bit of workout motivation to get you through the colder, darker months.

“There’s definitely a different tenor,” says Pete McCall, adjunct faculty in Exercise Science at Mesa College. “We’re back in the grind. We don’t have the freewheeling carefree schedule of summer. We’ve got to get the kids to school on time.’”

Besides the weight of routine and responsibility, a dip in serotonin—one of the body’s neurotransmitters—may be to blame for post-summer funk.

“High serotonin levels are associated with positive moods, while low levels are associated with depressed mood,” says Jonathan Fader, sports psychologist and author of Life as Sport: What Top Athletes Can Teach You About How to Win in Life. Physical activity and the vitamin D from sunlight, both of which are believed to keep serotonin on the up and up, can be the first thing to go when the weather changes and a weekend on the couch seems more inviting than a jog in the park.

So how do you get back on track when it feels like the weather channel and your brain are plotting against you?

We’ve come up with a few different strategies for guys who like to work out alone and those who are motivated by a more social environment.

If You Prefer to Work Out Alone

1. Do Anything
Seriously. Don’t overthink reps, sets, tempo, or complicated plyometrics. Just get moving and stay in motion for at least 30 minutes. A simple bike ride or a quick run through the neighborhood works. “Any physical activity is good (as long as the person enjoys it), but exercises that raise your heart rate are best,” Fader says.

2. Work Out in the A.M.
If the waning daylight hours have you skipping the gym after work, McCall recommends trying a morning workout. “There’s something to the circadian rhythm of that,” he says. “You naturally have higher levels of cortisol in the morning, and cortisol is one of those hormones that helps your body release energy.” If you’re stuck inside, find a treadmill by a window and soak up some natural sunlight.

3. Forget Your Plan
Part of what we love about the summer is its sense of spontaneity. Sure, it’s smart to schedule your workout times, but you can still be spontaneous with how you exercise. Instead of your regular five-mile run, try fartlek, or “speed play,” training. Throughout your run, randomly pick up the pace between light posts or every few blocks. Or, whenever you feel like it, stop and do 10 pushups or five alternating lunges. Sprint up and down every other staircase you come across. The point is to keep it loose, unstructured, and, hopefully, fun.

4. Bust Out a Bodyweight Circuit
When you’re feeling crummy, the smallest obstacles, like packing your gym bag or even lacing up your sneakers, can feel insurmountable. Having a few go-to bodyweight HIIT circuits you can grind out in your backyard or your living room will help you cut through your excuses and just get it done. Here’s one you can do in 10 minutes with no equipment and minimal space.

In 10 minutes, finish as many rounds as possible of:

  • 5 Burpees
  • 10 Alternating lateral lunges
  • 15 V-Ups
  • 10 Push-ups
  • 5 Jumping air squats

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