Being active has many benefits for heart health, sleep quality, brain function, and much more—but knowing exercise it’s good for you doesn’t always mean it’s easy to go to the gym. If you’ve been having trouble getting into a workout routine, take a look at a few proven methods for getting off the couch. You’ll thank us later.
1. Dress for a workout, even if you’re not feeling up to it.
In many ways, pulling on a sweatshirt or a pair of yoga pants is even more important than heading out the door to go to the gym. Research has suggested that our brains are susceptible to “enclothed cognition,” a technical way of saying that dressing for the part can help fuel your ambition to complete a chosen task. If you’re in full workout gear, you’re far more likely to head out the door.
2. Make a workout commitment with a friend.
It can be helpful to have an accountability partner, so make plans to have a joint workout with a friend. Feeling that someone else is counting on you to attend will make it less likely you’ll skip the session. Even better, seeing your friend perform—like running a longer distance or lifting heavier weights—may also give you the motivation to push yourself, and you can share tips and celebrate each other’s progress.
3. Make a gym plan.
If you’re just looking to get active, there’s nothing wrong with going to a gym and investing time in whatever equipment or activity strikes your fancy. But the downside of those aimless visits is that skipping them doesn’t feel like you’re impeding progress toward a goal. After a break-in period, it’s best to imagine a finish line—losing weight, increasing endurance, adding muscle, or a mix of each—and focus your energy on working toward it.
4. Go to the gym early in the day.
By getting up early in the morning and heading to the gym before you start your day, you’ve successfully avoided the eight to 10 hours you’d be able to talk yourself out of going. Exercising can be energizing, making it an ideal morning routine—but if you wait, you might feel too tired to go. Getting out of bed may be tough those first few mornings, but once you’ve established a rhythm, you’ll be glad you did.
5. Change your routine.
Even if you’re a creature of habit, repeating the same exercises over and over can become monotonous. To avoid boredom, try re-arranging their order or substituting alternatives—an incline bench press, for example, instead of a flat bench. By switching things up, you’ll keep both your body and mind invested in the activity. (And you can always return to your regular routine later.)
6. Visualize success.
Visualization is an athletic tool that’s been used for decades. By closing your eyes and imagining what it would look and feel like to achieve a goal or to complete an exercise, we can prepare ourselves physically and psychologically for the task at hand. If you’re dragging your feet or considering skipping a workout, try sitting down for a few minutes to visualize how you’d feel if you went to the gym and how it would bring you one step closer to your goal.
7. Don’t over-promise.
Having goals, even lofty ones, is key to anything you want to achieve in life. But if you decide you want to have the proportions of a fitness model by August or jump from a 5K to a three-hour marathon time, you may be setting yourself up for disappointment. Make sure the bar is reachable—even if it means aiming for just 15 minutes on a bike—so you’re not overwhelmed. Don’t forget to celebrate the smaller milestones along the way.
8. Eliminate obstacles.
Maybe something is impeding your gym trip. Is the coffee maker not working, sapping you of the crucial caffeine jolt you like before a workout? Do you not like your gym’s location or their fitness class instructors? Don’t wait until you can use roadblocks to excuse a missed session. Take action to resolve the problem so you have a clear and unobstructed path toward your goals.
9. Consider working with a trainer.
Certified fitness instructors add to the cost of your workout, but they can also add a lot of tangible value. An expert can design a program based on your goals, show you how to use equipment, and provide tips on nutrition. You may find you don’t need their assistance for long, but having them present while you start out could compel you to stick with it.
10. Log your workouts.
By recording distances, weights, and other objective milestones in your fitness journey, you’ll be able to see progress on paper. That record can come in handy when you’re feeling uninspired or lethargic. Referencing a time when you could run only a half-mile, for example, might motivate you to stick with it because you’re now accustomed to running two or three.
11. Take time to recover.
You may think that hitting the gym every day leaves no room for laziness. Eventually, you’re going to discover that your body’s desire for rest will trump your iron will, and you may find yourself going days or weeks without breaking a sweat. It’s better to build in some recovery time, whether that means doing nothing or just temporarily turning your activity level down. That way, you’ll avoid being too tired to tackle your next session.
A version of this story was published in 2015; it has been updated for 2023.