How To Stay Motivated To Workout: 5 Science-Backed Techniques

January 19th. That’s the day, according to a 2019 study of 800 million user-logged activities on the Strava fitness app, when most people lose motivation and give up on their New Year’s fitness resolutions. Just 19 days after setting their goals for the year, they’ve already quit. The fact is, many of us struggle to get motivated to workout. So what are some real, tangible, science-backed methods to remain on track?

Here are five science-backed ways to help you stay motivated to workout.

1. Set realistic, actionable goals

You might think that “I want to lose weight” is a reasonable-enough goal, but the reality is that it’s far too vague. Even “I want to lose 8 pounds ” isn’t enough. You want your goal to be descriptive, realistic and with a deadline that holds you accountable. Something like: “My goal is to lose 8 pounds by June 23rd because I’m going on vacation with a group of friends and want to look my best in the photoshoot we have planned.” 

By being more specific, your goal becomes actionable. You can imagine what it will be like on June 23rd, feeling and looking your best, and the thought of not hitting that goal, well, it sucks! You’re far more likely to stay motivated if you have a definitive goal with a deadline you can work towards, with numerous ‘check-in’ points along the way to help it feel more manageable. 

Maybe you want to compete in a triathlon; that’s a great goal, too, but be specific: decide which triathlon and on what date, determine how many hours per week you will train and track those hours each week, and set a specific event goal you want to achieve (“I want to finish in under two hours”, for example, or “I want to run the entire time without walking”).

The specificity of your goals, as well as developing regular check-ins to ensure you’re on track, is perhaps the most important part of staying motivated.

A study on the effect of setting goals for working out found that a group of people who set specific goals exercised on average 3.5 days per week, versus 2.5 days for the group who set no goals. Furthermore, the group that did set goals increased their weekly exercise duration time by 18 minutes, while the group who did not set goals, on average, decreased their workout time by nearly 35 minutes. 

2. Use visualization techniques to get motivated to workout

When Olympic athletes are preparing for the pursuit of gold, they often spend time visualizing their performance — imagining what it will be like to enter the arena and see their country’s flag, how their body will feel during the event, what it will be like to cross the finish line knowing that they’ve executed to the best of their ability — and, even, what it will be like to step onto that podium.

Visualization is an important aspect of how athletes stay motivated to workout day-after-day. 

While you may not be an Olympic athlete, you can still implement your own visualization strategy to help you achieve your own goals. That June 23 vacation we talked about earlier: you can visualize how good it will feel to see yourself looking your best in those pictures, or how you’ll get compliments from all your friends, or maybe how well your new bathing suit will fit. By consistently visualizing how you expect to feel when you’ve accomplished your goals, you’re far more likely to stay motivated. 

But don’t just visualize what it will be like to complete your journey. Imagine the challenges you’ll face and overcome along the way. One study of 51 female students who wanted to eat less junk food found that they were far more likely to achieve their goals when visualizing difficult scenarios, like being in the grocery store and feeling the temptation to head to the candy aisle. They’d imagine reaching for that chocolate bar but resisting the urge and picking up a piece of fruit instead. 

By visualizing the challenges you might face — like working late or feeling tired and not wanting to workout — you’ll be better equipped to tackle the obstacles that will inevitably come your way.

how to get motivated to workout | how to stay motivated to workout

3. Be consistent and build habits

According to research from 2009, it takes 66 days for a habit to stick. That might explain why people who make working out their New Year’s resolution typically only last 19 days before they quit. Being consistent for 66 days is tough in and of itself, but once you’ve made working out a habit, it’s far easier to then stay on track. 

What tends to happen is that we go through a consistent patch where we’re feeling great and motivated to workout, but then life happens — maybe we travel, or work gets busy, or we come down with a sickness — and then a few days go by where we don’t workout. And let’s be clear — that’s okay. But you may notice how hard it is to get that motivation back after a few days away from the gym.

Whenever possible, stay consistent. Even if it’s just a quick 15 minute power walk around the block, or a few ab exercises in front of the TV at night. By building that habit, eventually, it’ll stick and you’ll remain far more consistently motivated to workout.

4. Buddy up and don’t shy away from competition

Researchers at the University of Aberdeen conducted a study into whether having a companion would help or hinder time in the gym. Half of the participants carried on as normal (working out alone), and the other half began working out with a new gym partner. The results indicated that those who worked out alone put in less time and less effort than those who were exercising in pairs.

Furthermore, the study discovered that the type of support a workout buddy offered made a difference. Those who offered emotional support and encouragement made more of a difference than those who just provided a practical presence. There’s little doubt that the accountability of another person being there is valuable, but it’s even better if that person can push and motivate you too.

This brings us to some friendly competition, which is another great way to increase motivation. Whether it’s a little bet as to how many burpees you can do in a minute, or how many miles you can run in a week, competition does wonders when trying to get motivated to workout. If you wear an Apple Watch, consider challenging a friend to compete on the fitness app. Trust us, you’ll be far less likely to skip a workout if you know you’re competing against your friend.

5. Use technology to track your progress

Speaking of technology, let’s move on to our final piece of advice: use technology to track your fitness progress over time and to encourage you to push harder in your workouts. 

One in three Americans have used wearable health technology — such as Fitbit, Whoop, or an Oura ring — and of those who currently use either health apps or wearables to manage their health and fitness, around 75% deem them helpful in reaching their goals. 

By gamifying exercise and providing data you can track and monitor, these devices help you stay motivated to workout. The Strava app for cyclists, for instance, lets you see your segment times on specific stretches of road, so that you can track your improvements week over week, as well as where you stack up against other Strava users and even your friends. You can also monitor your fitness curve, fatigue levels, and a myriad of other metrics over time, which helps track your progress toward your workout goals.

Health apps and wearables are becoming increasingly prevalent, and research proves that these technologies are helping people stay motivated to workout — increasing the likelihood of meeting or even exceeding their goals. At January AI, we also see this every day with our users, who are tracking their blood glucose levels in the app and seeing the effect different foods have on their glucose curve, or how their body reacts when they’re fasting, exercising more, or sleeping better. These insights can help users drastically improve their metabolic health, and help them achieve goals like losing weight or reducing blood sugar spikes. 

By following these science-backed tips to stay motivated to workout, you can be well on your way to hitting your goals. And to see how our CGM technology can help with your health and wellness goals, click here to learn more.

Related Articles

Get insights
in your
inbox too.

Sign up for our newsletter to read
the latest in metabolic health.

Decode your metabolic health through personalized data

January’s virtual CGM analyzes your blood sugar to help you learn which foods to eat and avoid.