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How to trick yourself into exercising when you hate it

Words/Image Alyce Greer

Laughing all the way to the gym.

They say summer bodies are made in winter, which is unfortunate, because so are pies and mulled wine and casseroles with mashed potato on the bottom.

Like most Melburnians, I really struggle to wake up for exercise when it’s so cold I have to count down from three to get out from under the doona, and it’s so dark that I can’t find my runners.

But as a seasoned morning exercise-canceller, I’ve had to develop my own series of tricks that get my ass out of bed and onto the treadmill. Take it from me – these will, at the very least, get you out of the door (even if it’s just to go and get a hot chocolate and crawl back inside).

Buy yourself an obscenely expensive pair of leggings

Before you even think about the exercise part, you’ll need something to convince you to get out of that warm, toasty cinnamon bun of a bed. My favourite trick is to buy very expensive workout clothes or shoes that make me excited when I think about wearing them. Position these as close to your bed as possible, or wear them to bed the night before.

Subject yourself to other, fitter people

When I’m in need of a dose of motivation, I head to Instagram to watch fit people (personal trainers, Instagram fitness stars) doing their thing. It’s a good idea to have a few of their videos saved on your ‘gram to turn to when you really can’t be bothered getting up and dusting the Cheezels remnants from your shirt. After about five minutes of watching these fit people jump on boxes, lift heavy things and run around in fast-forward, you’ll be feeling motivated (or guilty) enough to get changed.

Take baby steps

If you’re like me, chances are you eat yourself into such a state on Sunday, that you vow to get your sh*t together Monday morning. No more wine. Salads for lunch. Gym every day, even if you can’t sit on the toilet seat because your butt is so sore. This usually results in failure by Wednesday, because you’ve put so many goddamn rules and restrictions on yourself. Instead, be realistic: start by signing up to just a couple of classes in the first week, and try drinking less wine, instead of none.

Trick yourself into a 10-minute walk

Brains are so gullible. You can literally tell it exactly what it wants to hear and it will believe you. Sometimes, I like to tell my brain that if I work out for one hour, I can buy myself an ice cream on the way home. Of course, by the time I’ve finished working out, I don’t feel like one anymore. When I’m lying on the couch and really can’t be bothered going to the gym, I tell my brain to just go for a 10-minute walk; if I’m still not feeling it when the timer goes off, I can go home, and if I’ve got a burst of energy, I keep going. Works every time.

Put your activewear on and see where it takes you

It’s no surprise that when you’re wearing your flannelette pyjamas and fluffy bed socks, the last thing you’re going to feel like doing is running in the cold Melbourne air. Next time you’re feeling like this, just get dressed. Put on your workout clothes and runners and just wait and see what happens. Often, this will lead you into the 10-minute walk trick, which will lead you into a run around the park, which may lead you to an ice cream on the way home.

Make a pact with a friend 

Friends are perfect for guilting you into exercise, and they should be used often. To choose your workout buddy, figure out which of your friends is the meanest – your kind, lovely friends that let you get away with everything are no good here. Schedule in a bunch of walks, gym classes and other activities for the week. You won’t be able to cancel, because your friend will either get very mad and yell at you, or come over and drag you out of bed.

Experiment with all sorts of exercise

If you can’t seem to keep on track with your workout routine for more than three days, you might be doing this whole exercise thing wrong. We’re all different, and we respond to all different kinds of workouts. So, if you’ve been signing up for intense gym classes that leave you needing to spew, maybe try long walks and pilates instead? Experiment with things like boxing, group fitness, yoga and running to see what sticks.

Always plan brunch for directly afterwards

Here we have the classic bribery technique, a tried and true method for tricking even the smartest of people into exercise. There are lots of different forms of bribery, from new shoes to chocolate bars, but one of my personal favourites is brunch. It’s very straightforward: just book brunch with your workout buddy for immediately after your session so you have something to run towards while you’re on the treadmill.

Try the reverse bribing technique

While you’re probably very familiar with bribing, you might be less familiar with reverse bribing – a much more advanced and conniving version of the bribe. Here, we don’t so much reward good behaviour, but punish bad behaviour instead. There are no prizes for going to the gym, because that’s expected, but if you don’t go to the gym, it means you have to do something you really, really don’t want to do, like deleting your Netflix account for an entire week or doing your housemate’s laundry.

If you’re really on a mission to get in shape ASAP, think about combining bribery with reverse bribery. You’ll be far less likely to fail, and there’ll be lots of tasty treats along the way.

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