Pt. 2: Working Out When You Don't Want to Work Out

In my last blog post "Working Out When You Don't Want to Work Out: Pt.1" I told you a story about a day in the recent past when I really did not want to work out. The thought of getting off my couch where I was happily drowning in furry fabric made me cringe. Spoiler alert: I went to the gym, and I walked out satisfied. I encourage you to go read it it if you haven't already, as there is more to the story than just sucking it up and doing things you don't want to do.

In today's blog post I give you tangible tactics to take on when those "I don't want to go to the gym" days happen, which they certainly will.

Strategy No. 1 of Working Out When You Don't Want to Work Out: Linking

Why did I specifically mention that this took place on a Sunday? Because for me and others who don’t work on the weekends, the last thing I want to do on a Sunday is work out.

This is counterintuitive to most, as I'm sure Sunday is probably the day of the week that you have the most free time. It's a good day for getting things done. You know what else the weekend brings? A lack of structure. Though that lack of structure can be great for relaxation, it makes choosing to go to the gym difficult.

The psychology research on habits and human behaviour shows that we rarely choose to do things in a bubble. The environment we’re in, the people we're around, and the actions we take play a huge role in subsequent actions. Simply put, actions are triggered by previous actions and events. AKA: building the chain.

I work out Monday through Friday mid morning after I train my clients in the early AM. I train my clients out of two different gyms, and the gym I personally work out at (the same gym I have been going to since high school), are all within 5-10 minutes of my apartment.

The fact that I live so close to my gym makes the experience rather effortless. I don’t have to wait for a bus or drive there, I'm already in my gym attire from training my clients earlier that morning, all I have to do is walk the 10 minutes to the Community Center. Easy.

On the weekends, though, the structure is gone. I don’t get to go seamlessly from one action to the next—there are no previous actions to cue the next action.

On the weekends my boyfriend and I usually go out for brunch, right during the time I normally work out during the week. I don't know about you, but skipping brunch for the gym is what I would call crazy ;) Our lazy Sunday mornings together usually add to the lack of structure.

The feeling of dread that comes alongside not wanting to go to the gym can be overcome (more on that in a second), but if you can, it’s really best to avoid it. Connecting a gym habit to things you already do in your everyday life can resolve these feelings before they even come up. link two actions together to build better habits. I call this “linking,” and it’s a powerful tool to develop habits. Ask yourself: what actions can you link together to help go to the gym more consistently?

Strategy No.2 of Working Out When You Don't Want to Work Out: Small Workouts

If I don't normally work out on the weekend, then why was I working out on a Sunday?

My boyfriend was out of town on a work trip, so out regular Sunday brunch wasn't on the agenda that day. Also, it’s hard to deny that there’s much more time to do stuff on a Sunday, and without my usual companionship, I had even MORE time on my hands. Also, it just so happened that during this week I had an event that interrupted one of my planned workouts and I needed to make it up.

How was I able to go to the gym when I woke up saying “I don’t feel like working out today?”

The answer comes because of a pair of things I know to be true:

1: If I go to the gym, no matter how much I didn’t want to at first, I always feel better afterwards

2: If I convince myself to go to the gym by saying I’ll do a lighter workout, I almost always wind up doing my normal work load

The hardest part of going to the gym is not the workout—it’s actually going to the gym. If you can get yourself there you’re very likely to feel good about yourself when you do get there.

So how do you work out on days where you think “I don’t feel like working out today?”

  • Build a workout habit that links working out to other activities (find a gym that is close to your house or to your office)

  • Allow yourself to do an "easy" workout. If it turns into more, great! If not, that’s ok too.

  • Select workouts that feel good and that you actually enjoy doing

The third point is the final thought I want to leave you with. When I was exasperated on the Stairmaster and my allocated time came to an end, I was happy and proud.

Even once those initial 2 minutes of torture were over, and it got harder and my breathing was laboured and my legs were burning, my expression was still a mix between grin and grimace.

Strategy No. 3 of Working Out When You Don't Want to Work Out: Learning to Love Exercise

I’ve been working out for many years. Even though I don't always love working out and I have my days where it's the last thing I want to do, I do genuinely love the gym.

Step after step while listening to my 90s Hip Hop playlist is all I could have possibly asked for in that moment.

With the right workouts, and with a consistent routine, you will come to love how the gym makes you feel.

The feeling of not wanting to exercise wont last long, especially if you make it a habit. Exercise has an incredible effect on your physical and mental health—and all the research says that exercise can literally make you happy.

You might not be there right now. You might still think “I don’t want to work out today.” You might even think it a lot.

In the meantime, while your loving relationship with exercise develops, use linking and short and easy workouts to build an exercise routine you can stick to.

I still spent a lot of that Sunday on my couch watching Netflix. And I felt so much better about doing that after I had come home and showered and noticed how my body felt lighter, my mind clearer, and my smile bigger.

If you or someone you knows struggles to find the motivation to workout, share this blog post with them, or send me an email at to inquire about personal training sessions.

Chelsea Ellacott

'Commit to be Fit'