Outsmart the “oh, I’ll do it later!” feels.

By Marisa Cohen
Updated September 17, 2019
Kentaroo Tryman/Getty Images

If you're having trouble getting yourself to the gym because you're so. damn. tired.—or, you make it there, just to fight the urge to fall asleep on the decline bench—you're far from alone. There are days when workout motivation and energy is totally MIA. What's a lady to do??

Turns out, talk isn’t cheap. Mantras, rewards, and other little tricks of the mind can be the perfect way to jump-start your motivation on days your energy is lagging and you’re seeking solutions for how to get energy to work out, says sports psychologist JoAnn Dahlkoetter, Ph.D., the author of Your Performing Edge. "If you find a ritual that works for you and repeat it over time, your body will instantly respond when you need that extra push," she says.

Keep reading for all the tips you need to get energy to work out and build your own get-motivated ritual.

How to Get Energy to Work Out

So we asked a few world-class athletes, trainers, psychologists, and readers how they how to get energy to workout—yes, even (and especially) when they don’t quite feel like it.

Get mojo from your mini-me.

"When I used to swim, it was always for external goals, like scholarships or world records," ex­plains Janet Evans, who won four gold medals at the 1988 and 1992 Olympic Games. As a 40-plus mother of two, she returned to the pool to attempt to qualify for another Olympics. “Now it's more personal. I remind myself that I'm showing my daughter that if you set a goal and work hard for it, you can achieve anything. Yesterday she said to me, 'Mommy, you smell like chlorine.' And I said, 'Get used to it, girl!'" (Related: Why You Should Add a Mother-Daughter Trip to Your Travel Bucket List)

Go for instant gratification.

Sure, exercise can help lower your risk for cancer, heart disease, and a slew of other scary illnesses. But those long-term benefits seem awfully abstract when you're trying to tear yourself away from The Good Place to go to the gym. "Our research found that the women who stick with exercise programs are the ones who do it for benefits they can experience immediately, such as having more energy or feeling less stress," says Michelle Segar, Ph.D., the associate director of the University of Michigan Sport, Health and Activity Research and Policy Center for Women and Girls and the author of No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring you a Lifetime of Fitness. She suggests starting a journal to jot down reasons to exercise that will pay off today—to be more alert for an afternoon meeting, to snap less at your kids—and reviewing it when you need a push. So long, Kristen Bell (although we still love you, girl!); hello, treadmill.

Star in a mental movie.

"Visualization is a great tool: I see myself at my healthiest, fittest, and strongest, doing different athletic endeavors. This motivates me to go the extra mile and skip the junk food," says Jennifer Cassetta, a celebrity trainer and holistic nutritionist in Los Angeles. "Picturing yourself accomplishing something may create a neural pathway in your brain in almost the same way as actually com­pleting the feat would," explains Kathleen Martin Ginis, Ph.D., a professor of health and exercise psychology at The University of British Columbia in Canada. "It also gives you a burst of confidence that you can succeed, which makes you more likely to continue your training." Here’s how to get energy to work out using all five senses: See the clock at the finish line, hear the roar of the crowd as you turn the final corner of the race, and feel your arms pumping as you stride across those last few yards.

Use mint over matter.

If you need an extra kick to get yourself out of that desk chair and onto the stationary bike, pop a stick of peppermint gum into your mouth. "The peppermint scent activates the area of our brain that puts us to sleep at night and wakes us up in the morning," explains researcher Bryan Raudenbush, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Wheeling Jesuit University. "More stimulation in this area of the brain leads to more energy and motivation to perform your athletic tasks." (Speaking of motivation, check out how to get energy to work out after taking a break from the gym.)

Check your meds.

Although drowsiness and fatigue are common side effects of many over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications, some are more likely than others to make you sluggish, says Zara Risoldi Cochrane, Pharm.D., assistant professor of pharmacy practice at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. Antihistamines, commonly used for allergies and in cold medicine, can cause fatigue, even if they say "non-drowsy" on the box. "These medications work by blocking histamines, which help promote wakefulness," Risoldi says. Drugs for anxiety, antidepressants, and some pain medications may also lead to lethargy. If you think your pills are to blame, talk to your pharmacist, who can help you find an alternative medication that won't leave you wanting to curl up in bed instead of go out for a run.

Repeat yourself.

Feeling discouraged? Do a workout you know you can rock. Research has proven that those who were confident they can keep up an exercise routine are the ones who do it regularly. "It's a self-fulfilling prophecy," says sports psychologist Kathryn Wilder, Ph.D.. "The more you believe you can complete the workout program, the more you'll actually follow through with it." Let's say you dream of running a marathon, but the longest race you've done is a half, and the full 26.2 miles gives you the heebie-jeebies. Build up your confidence by registering for one more half before you move on to a longer distance.

Get it over with.

Researchers in Australia have figured out a possible reason morning exercisers tend to keep at their fitness routine. In a study published in the Journal of Sport & Exercise Physiology, subjects were able to complete a 3,000 meter run faster with fresh brains than after completing a taxing mental task. Why? All that thinking makes you feel tired before you've actually exhausted your muscles. So the worst time to go to the gym is when you're mentally kaput after a stressful day at work. Trouble is, bouncing out of bed and into your sneaks is easier said than done, and it can feel nearly impossible to figure out how to get more energy to work out before work. One trick? Good old bribery—of the caffeinated variety. If you make it to that morning class, reward yourself with a java on the way home. (Need more motivation? Check out eight incredible health benefits of a.m. exercise.)

Pump iron.

Your body uses iron to transport oxygen throughout your body so your heart and muscles can give you the energy you need-so if you're lacking oomph, you may be lacking iron and have anemia. The risk is greater if you have heavy periods or do not eat red meat since heme iron is the most readily absorbed form of iron and is only found in animal sources, says Mitzi Dulan, R.D., co-author of The All Pro-Diet. Even mild deficiencies can cause fatigue during your workout, but talk to your doctor before self-diagnosing because iron overload can also be harmful. If you don't eat meat, try these nine iron-rich vegetarian eats.

Let go of your inner geek.

A study from the University of Alberta in Canada found that humiliation in gym class (dodgeball, anyone?) can turn people off from fitness for good. Amy Hanna of New York City can relate. "I was a klutzy kid who hated PE," she says. "But when I started working out as an adult, I realized that it's about meeting my own goals, like running 10 miles or squatting my body weight. When a couple of women I know recently asked me to help them get in shape, I knew that the horrors of junior high gym were behind me." Reminding yourself that you're not being judged or graded can help you shake off the PE-class blues, says Billy Strean, Ph.D., a professor of physical education at the University of Alberta. "Going to the gym isn't about performing for someone else," he explains. "The only person you have to impress is yourself." (Related: 7 Ways to Make Your Post-Workout High Last Longer)

Engage in friendly competition.

Hop on a stationary bike next to someone who's superfit and you'll be motivated to work even harder, according to a study from Santa Clara University, which found that college students who exercised with a fitter partner exerted themselves more. Ask a friend whose abs you admire if you can tag along on her next workout (here’s how to choose the best workout buddy for your fitness squad), or introduce yourself to that superstar in your Spinning class and make sure always to grab a bike next to hers.

Read about it.

When world-champion indoor track star Lolo Jones needs a little extra oomph, she heads to the bookstore. "If you're in a lull, the best thing to do is to pick up a book about your sport," Jones says. "Go read about running or biking or whatever your passion is. You'll be eager to try out the tips you learn." We love getting lost in the life stories of amazing athletes. Two titles to check out: Solo: A Memoir of Hope, about Hope Solo's rise to superstardom as the U.S. women's soccer team goalkeeper and an Olympic gold medalist, and Road to Valor, a must-read for history buffs about two-time Tour de France winner Gino Bartali, who helped Italian Jews escape persecution during World War II. (Build your library even more with these five best running books.)

Join the club.

"When I talk to my nonrunning friends about my workouts, their eyes tend to glaze over, so I joined a local track club," says Lisa Smith, of Brooklyn. "It's great to share stories with them, and the social aspect keeps me com­ing back and working harder." In addition to the camaraderie and support, group training fosters a healthy sense of guilt when you’re searching for how to get more energy to work out, Martin Ginis says. You don't want to let down the team by blowing off a workout, right? "Talking to your friends can also distract you when you're exhausted and tempted to quit," Smith says. Find a gang to pass the miles with at the Road Runners Club of America's website, or if you have kids, check out seemommyrun.com, which has more than 5,400 jogging groups throughout the United States.

Tuck in early.

Could your pillow hold the solution for how to get more energy to work out? Getting more zzz's can put a little extra pep in your step, science says. In one Stanford University study, when basketball players logged 10 hours or more in bed a night for five to seven weeks, they sprinted faster, made more accurate shots, and felt less fatigued. Con­sistently going to bed 30 or 45 minutes earlier instead of watching TV or scrolling through Insta may pay off at the gym.

Fine-tune your workout.

Lindsey Vonn, the Olympic champion downhill skier, psychs herself up with boom­ing bass and rocking rhymes. "Listening to rap—Lil Wayne, Drake, Jay-Z—in the morning before my races gets me fired up to go 90 miles per hour," she explains. She's onto something. According to research at Brunel University in England, listening to music can increase your endurance by 15 percent because your brain gets distracted by the songs and may miss the "I'm tired" signal. Plus the emotional connection to beloved tunes can give you a sense of euphoria that keeps you going. Try these tricks to DJ your way to the ultimate dance party workout playlist.

Give yourself permission to take an active rest day.

We're all for hitting it hard during your workouts, but since exercise breaks down your muscles, constantly pushing yourself and training on back-to-back days can break you down. "Your body grows stronger to prepare you for the next workout when you give it time to recover," says Leslie Wakefield, director of women's health programs at Clear Passage Physical Therapy in Miami, Florida. If you also have insomnia or develop chronic injuries, you may be overtraining. While the ideal amount of rest varies for each person, plan at least one day of rest and one day of cross-training into your weekly fitness schedule, Wakefield recommends. And if you can't stand to do nothing, gentle, restorative yoga also counts as "rest."

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