Ep #86: 8 Tips for When You Don’t Feel Like Exercising

Strong as a Working Mom with Carrie Holland | 8 Tips for When You Just Don’t Feel Like Exercising
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You know you should be exercising because it’s good for your brain and body, but what do you do when you don’t feel like it? There are going to be days when you’re just not feeling it and you don’t want to stick to your exercise plan, so in this episode, I’m giving you eight simple tips to get you moving.

When you have different ideas, tools, and solutions at hand, you can make exercise easier on the days you’re just not in the mood. So, if you want to stick to your exercise plan and excel, even on the days when it feels like a mental struggle to move your body, this episode is for you.

Tune in this week for eight simple, practical, actionable tips for the next time you know you should be moving your body but you just don’t feel like it. I’m sharing how to shake things up on the fly and make things fun, and you’ll learn how to meet a minimum baseline when it feels like today is just not the day to move your body.


Are you ready to eat, move, and think in a way that gets you strong both physically and mentally? You deserve to have both no matter how busy you are, and I can help. I’m opening up my one-on-one coaching program for new clients, and I would love to work with you. Click here to learn more about working with me.


What You Will Discover:

  • Why difficulty sticking to your exercise plans is a totally normal experience.
  • How a strong sense of purpose makes you more likely to achieve your health and fitness goals.
  • What I tell myself to get my body out of bed and get moving.
  • Why it’s okay to shake things up when you’re not feeling what’s on your movement plan.
  • Some suggestions for making your workouts more fun.
  • 8 practical tips to get you moving when you really aren’t feeling it.

Listen to the Full Episode:

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Featured on the Show:

Full Episode Transcript:

You are listening to the Strong as a Working Mom podcast, Episode #86. What do you do when you just don’t feel like exercising? Try one of these eight tips to get you moving.

Welcome to the Strong as a Working Mom podcast. If you’re balancing career, family, wellness, and some days sanity, you are in the right place. This is where high-achieving, busy, working moms get the tools they need to eat, move, and think. I’m your host, physician, personal trainer, and Certified Life Coach, Carrie Holland. Let’s do this.

Hey, how are you? What’s new, what’s good? So, what’s good here, we are going to talk about what to do when you just don’t feel like exercising. What I mean specifically, is what to do when you just don’t feel like following your plan, when you’re just not feeling it.

Because no matter who you are, there will be times when you just don’t feel like exercising. Even though you know that exercise is good for your brain, it’s good for your body, you will still have days when you start debating with yourself whether or not to get your workout in. I’m going to offer to you today a number of different ideas and tools and solutions to help you make exercise just a little easier on the days you’re not feeling it.

I want you to be able to come back to these and try these things out the next time you just don’t feel like exercising. This has come up enough times in coaching calls, both from clients who are new to exercise and with clients who have been exercising for some time. I think it’s worth diving into so you’ve got some tools in your back pocket for the days that you’re questioning whether or not to move your body.

But before I get to that, I want to share a listener review that was so awesome. I want to just give her a shout out. So, this is from docXmom, who is a surgeon mom of two young kids. I pulled out a couple of sentences here.

She said, “Carrie has helped me understand better how my thoughts influence my words and actions. The content focus each week keeps these ideas on the forefront and have really helped me set and reach attainable goals. I came for the fitness advice – I stayed for the guidance on improving my thought process. Thank you, Carrie!”

Thank you docXmom for this insanely kind review. Your words and feedback reaffirm why I record this podcast every week. It also reinforces for me that I’m getting my message across, and that message is, wellness is more than diet and exercise. While both are super important, that is only part of the equation.

So, I will put this out here because I want to make it super clear. Most anyone can tell you how to eat and move, really. Find a good personal trainer, a good dietician, or a good diet book or go to Google, and it really is not that hard to find a diet or exercise plan that will work for you. If losing weight or getting in shape was that easy, if it was as easy as simply finding the right plan, this podcast wouldn’t be necessary and it may not exist. You could just Google ‘the best diet for weight loss’ or ‘the best exercise plan for building muscle’, and follow the plan and be done with it. But most people know full well that just doesn’t work. Or they’ve tried it, they’ve tried just following a very well prescribed plan, and it just doesn’t work.

There’s a reason for that. There is a reason that finding your ideal diet and exercise plan is only a very small piece of the wellness puzzle. And it’s your brain. Your brain, your emotions, your limiting beliefs, your stories from your past, that’s all your brain getting in the way of you following your plan. That’s where I hope I can help you.

So, it’s one thing for me to share about proteins and salads and meal prep, and how much cardio you need, and what exercises are best for strength training. I’ve talked about all those things on the podcast, and will continue to do so because those are important. There’s science to guide many of those things, and I love to nerd out about this stuff with you. But that’s all the external stuff.

This podcast is about so much more than that. If you really want to change your life, change your habits, and create a lifestyle that you can sustain, it’s going to involve more than following a pre-written plan. It’s going to require that you go inside, that’s where you get into your brain. Because your brain really is the key to changing your life.

I learned that through trial and a lot of error, because God knows I’ve made plenty of mistakes. When I started out coaching, I spent loads of time writing detailed nutrition plans for my clients. I would tell people exactly how much to eat and when, down to the gram of protein. And now, looking back on it, I can see why that was a mistake on multiple levels.

So one, me telling you what to eat every day doesn’t teach you anything. It doesn’t teach you to use your hunger to guide your eating. It doesn’t teach you how to plan meals on your own. You don’t really learn anything; you just have a plan. But for a while I did that. I would write the plans, then I would meet with my clients, and they weren’t following the plans I wrote. Everything would be all spelled out for the client, and all she had to do was eat as it was written on the plan. But she wasn’t following it.

I didn’t understand why until I became a life coach, and then I got it. Then I understood that if it was as easy as following a meal plan, she’d already been doing it, because she could find it on Google or in a diet book. But it’s our brains. It’s all the brain and mindset stuff that makes the difference. But too often, we think that a spelled-out meal plan is the answer.

It’s not, at least not until you’ve got your thinking cleaned up. Because if you follow the meal plan or the exercise plan, but you haven’t worked on your brain, that plan is only going to take you so far and the results will inevitably be temporary.

Meaning, when you get stressed, or you’ve had a really awful day, or you’ve encountered a major life setback, and you don’t have the tools to process that stress and manage your brain, it will be really easy to veer off course and stay off course. Your brain will win over the meal plan every time.

All of this adds up to why I live by the trifecta, eat, move, and most importantly, think. All three components are essential. And all three together give you true wellness, always. So, thank you one more time docXmom for the super nice review and for giving me the opportunity to reiterate what true wellness is all about. Thank you.

Now, I’ll also use this as an opportunity. If you haven’t left a review in either Spotify or Apple podcast, please tell me what you think. I would love a five-star review from you, if you like what you hear, and your reviews help get this podcast in front of other people who could benefit from these tools. My mission is to share these tools with anyone who will listen, because they have changed my life for the better. So, thank you so much for helping me out.

All right. So, I realize I just went off on a bit of a tangent, but I’m bringing it back to the main topic today, which is most definitely going to call on your brain. So maybe it wasn’t as much of a tangent as they thought. But let’s talk about what to do when you’re just not feeling it and you don’t feel like exercising. Because we’re most definitely going to call on your very powerful brain to get you through this.

Okay, so first and foremost, know that this is normal and this happens to everyone. I’ve said this multiple times, but no one on this earth is always motivated to work out. No one always wants to exercise. I will use myself as an example.

I love to work out. It is my hobby. I love to lift weights and run. And while I don’t love to swim, I kind of like it. And even though I like to exercise, I don’t always feel it. There are days when the alarm goes off and I’m just not feeling it.

Please know that this is normal. No matter what kind of exercise you do, no matter how seasoned you are, no matter how much you love to lift or cycle or row or run, or how much you love your Orangetheory class, it is normal to not feel excited about it some days. This is a shared experience. No one is always motivated to exercise. Okay?

So, what can you do when those days happen? The first thing you can do when you don’t feel like exercising, is go back to your ‘why,’ really. And if you’re like me, and full transparency, initially, I totally rolled my eyes at this idea and thought this was way too mushy squishy for me.

I thought it was a little woo and out there. But after trying it out, and seeing the impact it had during some of my worst stretches, where I felt like I could barely get out of bed, let alone exercise, I will tell you, I am a convert. There’s nothing mushy about this. And yes, I know that at five in the morning, when you’re lying in your warm cozy bed, it may be hard to remember why it matters to you to work out when it would be so much easier to simply roll over and go back to sleep.

But I’m going to ask you to do it anyway. Wake yourself up long enough to remember why you are choosing to do it in the first place. Remind yourself why this is important to you. So, if you’re wondering why this matters, it has been shown over and over again that people with a clear sense of purpose are much more likely to see through and finish out their goals.

So, someone with a strong attachment to her ‘why’, who has a clear conviction driving her actions, that person is going to be more likely to achieve her goals than someone without a clear ‘why’. This is true for exercise, career, business, really anything. Have a clear ‘why’ to guide you.

For me, I have a number of reasons that move me to get my booty out of bed at 4:45 most days. You can borrow any or all of these if you’d like. First, I want to be strong. I want to feel strong. I’ve said it before and I will say it again, muscle feels good. I want to feel good in my clothes. I want to be able to run and bike and race and compete when I’m 80. I want to be a role model for my kids. I want to have workout dates with my husband, now and when we’re super old.

I want to show my clients what is possible, no matter what their age. I want to do whatever I can to contribute to my health and prevent diseases like diabetes and cancer if I can. I do not want to be limited by my body in any way. And I want people to see me and say, “Damn, that girl, she takes care of herself.”

I could certainly go on here, but those are some of my main reasons that get me out of bed when most people are still snoozing. And while those are my reasons, I would encourage you to do the same. Come up with your list of reasons that exercising matters to you.

And make that list as long as possible. I want you to come up with as many reasons as you can for why following your exercise plan is important to you. Come up with a load of reasons as to why changing your habits matters. List them all out. Make that list the home screen of your phone or your computer. Put it on a sticky note on your bathroom mirror so you see it every morning. Put it somewhere and remind yourself of it frequently. Come back to your ‘why’ and come back to it often. Here’s why I want you to have as many reasons as you can think of. Some days you will feel motivated by looking a certain way in your clothes. Other days, you’ll be compelled by your kids who are watching you and learning by your example.

Other days, you may be thinking of a family member who is very sick, which is the case for me right now. And you may think of that person and remember that you have your body, and you have your health. And it’s a gift that should not be taken for granted ever. Remember all of your reasons, as you lay there contemplating whether or not it’s worth it to get out of bed and get your workout in. Remember all of the reasons it matters to you to change your habits. Come back to that list as often as you need and add to it as you see fit, especially when you don’t feel like getting it done.

All right, next. The next thing you can do when you don’t feel like exercising, is to remove your expectations. What I mean by this, is that sometimes when we set out to exercise we have an idea in our head of what we’d like to accomplish; a certain pace per mile, or a certain pace per 100 yards in the pool, or a certain output on your Peloton, which means a certain cadence and resistance. Or maybe you know what you did on the bench press last week, and you want to do that again this week.

But if you’re just not feeling it, and you’re having a hard time convincing yourself to get moving in the first place, it can be even harder to get moving when you’re holding yourself to expectations that you don’t feel prepared to meet that day. Maybe you’re having a stressful week. Maybe anxiety is keeping you from falling asleep, or it’s waking you up super early, and it’s hard for you to get back to sleep.

That is generally me, my body has a great way of waking me up and keeping me up when I’m feeling anxious. And often, that’s at three in the morning. So when 4:45 rolls around and it’s time to get moving, it can be hard to get amped up for a five-mile run. That’s largely because I know what I’m capable of. I know what my pace is.

I will start to play all kinds of games with myself, “There’s no way I’m going to be able to do that. It’s going to feel like running through mud. It’s going to be painful and clunky, so why bother?” And that’s because I’ve put expectations on myself.

The same idea may be true for you. It may be that you have an expectation of what a legitimate workout should look like for you. And if you have any inkling that you can’t perform to that capacity, it may be that much harder to gear up and get started. So instead, on the days that you’re really not feeling it, remove those expectations.

For me, if I feel like garbage and I really don’t want to run, I will do it anyway. I won’t have any expectations as far as the number of miles I do or what kind of pace I run. Or if it’s a swim day, I will do the same. I won’t hold myself to any particular workout, I will just go back and forth in that pool, practicing my stroke, paying attention to my form. And that’s instead of worrying about what kind of speed I’m holding or how many laps I’ve done.

Or if I’m on the Peloton, I will choose a low impact ride and just ride, with no other expectation other than to keep turning the pedals. I encourage you to do the same. When you’re not feeling it, find a way to get started anyway, and make a conscious decision, before you even start, that there are no expectations on you other than to move.

You’re just going to exercise, period, end. With no metrics attached, no pace per mile, no total output measured. You’re not keeping tabs on yourself here; you’re not going for a one-rep max on the bench press. Instead, you’re moving your body for the pure sake of movement. That’s it. Expectations? They are out of the picture.

Here is the best part about this. Here’s what I see when I coach other women to try this out. I had a client last week; she was not feeling it. So, she removed expectations, as we discussed, and she said to herself, “I’m just going to run to the end of my neighborhood and back. It’s about a mile. It’s no big deal. I’m just going to take it easy.” And she was nice to herself about it.

She took an easy pace, and when she got to the end of the neighborhood she kept going. She felt better once she got started, and she felt better enough to keep running, and did three miles instead of the one mile that she started out planning.

You may find that happens to you, too. I find that especially true for treadmill running. I definitely prefer to be outside, so when it’s freezing or snowy or nasty here in Michigan, I have a hard time convincing myself to run on the treadmill.

But if I can just get started, and remove the expectation that I will run a certain number of miles or at a certain pace, it becomes less daunting. Often, once I get moving and get into a groove, I can run much longer than I originally planned.

So, the key here is to be kind to yourself. On the days when you really don’t want to exercise, be nice to yourself. Remove expectations for a stellar performance, and see if you can move purely for the sake of moving. It will feel lighter. It will feel less pressured. And honestly, once you get going, you will likely find that you can do more than you initially planned. And even if you don’t, you still got your workout in, in whatever shape or format that is, and that counts for a lot.

All right, next. The next thing you can try when you just don’t feel like exercising, is to remember that something is better than nothing. Okay? This really is so true, and it is one of my most favorite mantras when it comes to exercise. Of course, if you’re sick or operating on zero sleep, or if you’re injured, then clearly this does not apply. But otherwise, something is better than nothing.

As an example, imagine you plan to do a 45-minute strength training routine in the evening after work. But then work stunk, it went way longer than you planned, and now you find yourself short on time. When all is said and done, you may just be straight up tired and stressed. And after being at work all day, you may not be feeling it. That 45-minute strength session that you were planning on now just sounds like a horrible idea. And you don’t have a lot of time to spare, and you just don’t feel like exercising.

So, what do you do? Something, you do something, okay? This is in contrast to hanging it up, driving home, and skipping the gym altogether. So what if you can’t get your 45 minutes in? What if you can only get half of that in? Or what if you’ve only got 15 minutes to work out, then what? You go and get a 15-minute workout done, that’s what.

I would rather you get a workout in for 15 minutes, instead of saying forget it as you throw in the towel and drive home. Do something. It does not have to be your full 45-minute session, it could be a 15-minute circuit that you make up on the fly.

Or it could be that you come home and do a bodyweight routine of squats, lunges, and pushups for 10 or 15 minutes. That’s it. Trust me, while it’s “only” 15 minutes, I promise you will feel so much better that you did it. Because something is better than nothing.

And this also proves your adaptability. Whether it’s because of time or other constraints, when you still get a workout in, even if it’s not the workout you initially planned to do, you’ve proven to yourself that you can adjust and still get it done. Those are both important.

All right, next. If you’re just not feeling like exercising, find a way to make it fun. I know this sounds obvious, but I’m going to spell it out. Exercise should not be torture. And if you are having a day where you really aren’t feeling it, then this is where you get creative and find a way to make it fun.

How do you do this? There are loads of ways. So, if you normally listen to podcasts or books, shake that up and turn on your “pump up” tunes. I know I love to listen to a good self-help book while I’m running, but there are days that I just need some Britney Spears and Beyoncé to get me moving. And, I honor that.

Or if it’s leg day and I’m just not feeling it, I will take out deadlifts, because deadlifts are my least favorite leg exercise. I will substitute something else that I find more fun, like reverse lunges or some other leg exercise.

So, find those things for yourself. What are ways you can make your workout more enjoyable? Maybe watch a Netflix series when you’re on the elliptical or the Stairmaster. Maybe you have a special song list for the days you need to pump yourself up.

Or maybe you abort your original workout all together for something that is just more appealing to you that day. Maybe you meet a friend for a walk instead of going to the gym. Or you take a workout class instead of going it alone. Whatever it is, find something. There are so many ways to shake up your workout to make it more fun, find what that is for you.

All right, so next. The next thing you can do when you’re not feeling it, is to practice visualization and imagine what it will feel like when you finish your workout. Imagine the runner’s high you get when you finish your last mile. Or the adrenaline rush when you are coated in sweat after a hard ride on the Peloton. Or the sense of accomplishment when you finish your Orangetheory class. Whatever it is, go to the finish line.

Picture yourself sweaty, drippy, red faced, and imagine how good that feels. Start with the end in mind. Stephen Covey said it, and it’s so true. Imagine how awesome you feel when you’re all done. Really feel into that and let it guide you. Of all the things I do, visualization is most helpful for me with swimming. I can feel the dread rising the closer I get to the pool.

But with the help of my “pump up” music and some visualization, I get it done. I envision what it will be like once I’ve logged the yardage. And I imagine what it feels like to hit stop on my watch, get out of the pool, and get to my towel to dry off. I can feel it, I can smell the chlorine, and I can see it. I can feel a sense of accomplishment when it’s all done, even before I’ve gotten to the parking lot.

That visualization process is what gets me there. So try it out for yourself, especially if there is something you’re still learning to love. Like I said, for me, it’s swimming. Maybe it’s something different for you. Or maybe you used to be a runner, you’re trying to get back into it, and maybe it’s hard right now because you’re not at the same level of fitness you were years ago. And so, going for that run is just a little more painful. Because you’re working hard, and you know what it used to feel like. That can be a total mind game. But you know you’re not going to get any closer to that previous level of fitness by talking yourself out of it.

So instead, envision it. Envision the end of your run. Imagine what it will feel like to get those miles in, even if they’re not easy. And visualize how you’ll feel when it’s all over. Let that vision and that feeling of accomplishment drive you to get moving.

Alright, and last. The last thing I will offer for when you just don’t feel like exercising is this, go for a walk. Yes, that’s it, go for a walk. It’s fairly easy, as long as you have a place to walk and the right shoes, so you can make that your backup plan. When all else fails, you can go for a walk.

I don’t know about you, but there really hasn’t been a single time in my life when I’ve returned from a walk, no matter how short it was, and thought to myself, “Gee, I wish I hadn’t done that.” I always feel better after I get outside and move my legs, even if it’s nothing more than a short loop in my neighborhood.

I will offer the same to you. If nothing is working, and you decide today is just not the day for your run or your ride or your strength session or your CrossFit class, or whatever it was you were initially planning, fine. No problem, go for a walk instead.

And please do not discount the impact of walking. Walking is the most highly underrated form of exercise there is. It’s good for every body system I can think of, and if you can get outside and do it even better. So your backup plan can be that if everything else falls apart, and you just don’t feel like exercising, you can still get it done by going for a walk. Okay? Your walk counts.

Alright, I want to bring this all home by addressing something that comes up commonly in coaching calls. Like so many of my clients, you may be wondering, “What does this one workout really matter? Does it really matter if I skip this workout? Is this one workout really going to make a difference?” And the answer is yes and no. Let me explain.

In the grand scheme of things, one workout does not make you fit, right? One run does not add up to significant cardiovascular fitness for the long term. One strength training session does not result in the muscular physique that you’re aiming for. One workout, in isolation, does not make that big of an impact in terms of your overall fitness.

But then it begs the question, at what point does it matter? When does that one workout really matter? I’ve shared this analogy before, and I’ll share it again here. It’s the coin analogy. One coin does not make you rich. But if day after day you keep adding coin after coin to your pile, at some point, you will have a huge stack of coins and you will be rich. So, at some point, one coin on that pile was enough to make you rich.

Do you see that? I love this idea, and you can apply the same concept to your workouts. So on one side, yes, that one workout really does not matter. But it actually does matter because you need all of those individual workouts to add up to give you a whole bunch of workouts. It’s the accumulation of workouts over time that makes you stronger.

No one strength training session is going to be the one that suddenly results in you having the biceps and the booty you’ve been working for. Instead, it’s showing up day after day, for months and years, doing those workouts even when you don’t want to. It’s all those workouts that add up to give you the level of strength and health you’re working for.

And beyond that, beyond the physical results that we’re talking about, when you show up and get a workout done, no matter how reduced or shortened it may be, that impact reaches far beyond your physical body. That exercise has an impact on your brain and your identity that is equally if not more important than the physical benefit you get.

Because when you exercise even on the days you’re not feeling it that sends a message to your brain. And that message is, “I am someone who gets her workout done. I follow through. I keep my promises to myself.” And to me, that is what matters more than anything, it’s identity. You are proving yourself to no one other than yourself, and that is huge.

That is what I want for you. Showing up for yourself, even when you don’t want to, even when you don’t feel like it, that matters a lot. It’s building consistency, discipline, self-efficacy and habit. It reinforces your identity as someone who works out, and that is going to matter far more than whatever miles you run or pace on your bike that you hold. It’s your identity. You are someone who works out even if you’re not feeling it.

All right, so there it is. We just went over a number of tools and ideas to help you when you don’t feel like exercising. To review: Remember that this happens to everyone. No human, no matter how athletic, no matter how seasoned, no human is always motivated to exercise. And when this happens go back to your ‘why.’ List out all the reasons that exercise and getting stronger matters to you. Come up with as many reasons as you can, and come back to those reasons frequently.

Remove all expectations. If you’re already not feeling like exercising, this may not be the day that you achieve a personal best on the bike or a new max on the squat rack, and that’s okay. Take the expectations out of it, and focus instead on just moving, period, end.

Remember that something is better than nothing. A 15-minute session is better than a zero-minute session sitting on your couch. Find a way to make your exercise fun. Whether that’s a good playlist, a Netflix show, meaning a friend, whatever it is, find a way to make it more enjoyable. Envision the finish line. Imagine what it will feel like when you finish your workout. Channel the post-workout endorphins and think of how much better you’ll feel once it’s over. Feel into that and let it get you started.

And if all else fails, go for a walk. A walk counts. I don’t care how long or where or how fast or slow, just get out and go for a walk.

Remember that it matters. It may be only one workout, but it matters. Each workout adds up over time to give you the level of fitness that you have. You do not get to your 100th workout without getting through workouts 1-99. They all add up to give you fitness.

Most importantly, each workout you do sends a message to your brain, “I get my workout done.” That’s your identity, and that is essential. So, I hope that you can take one, or a number of these suggestions, and put them to use the next time you just don’t feel like working out. Remember that you are human and it’s normal not to be excited to work out every day. But if I can help you take the sting out and make this just a little easier, and you get it done, that is a win all round. All right?

If you need help with this, let’s go. When you coach with me, I will help you create habits like exercising and eating healthy, and you will have a plan for when it gets hard and you just don’t feel like it. You will learn tools and concepts that make your habits operate in the background, so you don’t have to waste energy thinking about your workouts or your food. It is totally freeing.

Check out my website. Go to www.CarrieHollandMD.com/contact, tell me what habits you’d like to build, and let’s get to work. Thank you again for hanging out with me, and I’ll catch you again next week.

If you like what you’ve been hearing, please review the show. I would love to get your feedback and ideas. Your suggestions have inspired episodes and will help me make the show better for you. Share this podcast with a friend, text a show link, share a screenshot, or post a link to the show on your social media. Be sure to tag me @CarrieHollandMD on either Instagram or Facebook so I can follow along and engage with you.

This is how we get the word out to other working moms who want to feel strong inside and out. If you know someone who wants to feel better or eat and move differently but she is too tired or too busy, it is time to change things up. You know making that change starts with how you think, and that is what we do here on the Strong as a Working Mom podcast. I’ll see you next week. Thanks for listening to Strong as a Working Mom. If you want more information on how to eat, move, and think, so you can live in the body you want, with the mind to match, visit me at CarrieHollandMD.com.

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