The Real Reason You Hate Working Out, According to Science
Do you find you have to drag yourself to the gym, dreading every second? Or maybe you get excited about starting a new workout routine only to find yourself ditching it a week later. It might seem like no matter what wacky tricks you use to motivate yourself — wearing workout clothes to bed or bribing yourself with sweets — you still hate going. Do you just hate exercise? Isn’t it supposed to feel good to work out? Is there something wrong with you?
Maybe not. The reason you hate exercise so much might have nothing to do with the actual exercise at all. According to science, the problem runs much deeper.
People often focus on weight loss as a goal at the gym (think: weighing themselves each time, choosing workouts for their calorie burn, or sticking to rigid schedules with the hopes of losing weight). People also often focus on their perceived flaws as motivation (think: hoping for toned arms, critiquing their bodies in the mirror, or aspiring toward a “better” figure).
But psychology research shows that these tactics don’t actually work. They’re self-sabotaging, resulting in even worse exercise motivation in the long run.
A study published in the Journal of Health Psychology suggests that appearance-focused or body-shaming motivation tactics are actually a large part of the problem. Results showed that the stronger the stigma a group of college-aged women felt about weight, the more they dreaded exercise — and the less they actually worked out. A number of other studies have also found negative correlations between weight stigma and motivation to exercise.
The takeaway: The more focus there is on bodies looking “good” or “bad” based on size, the less enjoyable exercise becomes.
You might think this has nothing to do with you. But chances are, weight stigma has a lot to do with you — and a lot to do with how you think about your workouts.
“Promoting exercise for physical appearance further idealizes thinness and further exacerbates weight stigma,” says Jessi Haggerty, registered dietitian, personal trainer, and owner of Jessi Haggerty Nutrition & Movement Therapy. And weight stigma motivates you not to workout. “It can also isolate people who don’t have the ‘ideal’ body type you are trying to sell.” She also notes that appearance-based motivation is externally driven, rather than internally driven — which can generate an all-or-nothing relationship with exercise that doesn’t work.
“When we start exercising for pleasure and fun, exercise can become intrinsically motivating, meaning we are motivated from within,” Haggerty says. “If it’s not enjoyable, it’s going to be really hard to stay motivated!”
So next time you’re trying to motivate yourself through a workout, take note. Are you critiquing your body in the mirror? Are you exercising in the hopes of losing weight?
Every time you exercise to try to change your body, this study suggests you will enjoy exercising less. And exercise is really good for you! It can improve your mood, protect your heart, and even keep your brain healthy.
Instead, try focusing on motivation that doesn’t have anything to do with how you look. Think about how working out feels in the moment. “Don’t get too caught up on what you ‘should’ be doing, and really take the time and space to find something you love,” Haggerty says. If you’re not sure what type of exercise you enjoy, here are the latest trendy workouts you might want to try.