Top Tips to Stay Motivated in Your Fitness Journey

Top Tips to Stay Motivated in Your Fitness Journey

Staying motivated in your fitness journey is no easy task. Year after year, people struggle to stay on track with their resolutions. While we start our fitness journey with the best intentions, keeping that spark going can be challenging. We will cover the top tips backed by science to help keep you motivated in your fitness journey.

Staying motivated in your fitness journey is no easy task. Year after year, people struggle to stay on track with their resolutions. Most people give up on their New Years’ resolution 19 days into the new year.[1] While we start our fitness journey with the best intentions, keeping that spark going can be challenging. This is unfortunate because research shows that a lack of motivation reduces the amount of exercise people do and their adherence to exercise routines.[2] We’ll cover some of the top science-backed tips for staying motivated in one’s fitness journey and break down practical ways to apply these to your routine.

Set Goals

Setting goals can help you stay motivated and on track with your fitness journey. Fitness goals can also vary by type, including process, performance, and outcome-focused goals—a process-focused goal centers around the habitual execution of a task. Process-focused goals include attending all your planned workouts or meal prepping every Sunday for a month. Performance goals focus on things that you can objectively measure and do on your own. Performance-focused goals can be like beating your one-mile run time or bench pressing a new personal record. Outcome-focused goals are based on our performance relative to others. An example of an outcome goal can be to enter a local 5k and try to have the fastest time. Research shows that for fitness goals, people respond best to moderate to challenging goals that are still attainable.[3]

Just like how you can categorize your goals by the type and their difficulty level, you can also organize them based on the timeline when you want to accomplish them, in the short term or the long term. Generally, your short-term goals will build up and help you progress to a more significant long-term goal. In one study, the subjects set out to increase the distance they ran. They set both short-term goals to complete each week and long-term goals they aimed to complete by the end of the study. Setting goals and getting feedback on their performance resulted in an increased running distance for all the subjects.[4]

Take-home tip: To stay motivated in your fitness journey, pick a challenging fitness goal you can realistically achieve in a year. This can be an outcome or performance-focused goal. From there, reverse engineer your path to reaching this goal by setting shorter-term quarterly goals. Most of these goals should be process-focused goals that will compound over time and help you reach your main fitness goal.

Fuel Your Competitive Fire

Since we were kids, it felt good to win at games. For many people, the thrill of competition helps them stay motivated with their fitness goals. If you find it challenging to keep up the intensity of your workouts, it’s possible that competing against peers in a workout class or training toward some competitive event could be what you need to keep that spark going. A study on cyclists found that head-to-head competition resulted in increased performance.[5] The researchers initially thought that the cyclists performed better because they could employ better pacing strategies when racing among their peers. Still, after analyzing the data, a centrally mediated factor appeared to have contributed to this increase. In other words, the competition motivated cyclists to ride faster. A different study also involving aerobic exercise and performance found similar results. The subjects were rated based on their performance relative to their peers who exercised longer.[6] Not the competitive type or just starting your fitness journey? No worries. Research shows that a phenomenon occurs known as the Kohler effect, where even the weakest members of a group are more motivated when working alongside moderately more capable peers. So what does this mean? Jumping into an advanced class on your first day is biting off more than you can chew. But give a fundamental/beginner class at a local fitness studio a try.

Take Home Tip: If you struggle to stay motivated with your fitness journey but enjoy competition, try gamifying your fitness routines. Some options for this include signing up for a contest that you train towards, doing fitness classes where you’re pushing yourself amongst peers, or regularly competing with friends/family on fitness goals.

Find A Workout Buddy (or Two)

Having a social group to support your fitness journey can help keep you motivated. There are many benefits to having a gym buddy, including emotional support and being held accountable when you slip up. In one study, the subjects who found a new gym buddy increased the amount of exercise they did compared to those who stuck to their same old routine.[7] Another benefit of having a gym partner is that, more often than not, you’ll have different strengths and weaknesses, so you’ll be able to push each other so that you both improve your weak areas.

If your gym buddy happens to be a little better than you, that’s a bonus. A different study found that people who exercised with a gym partner they deemed a little fitter increased their workout time and intensity by as much as 200%.[8] The researchers were surprised at how quickly the subject’s performance in the gym improved in this study. They speculated that when people built a relationship with their gym partners, they didn’t want to let them down, which motivated them to improve.

Take Home Tip: Create a social group that helps you stay motivated on your fitness journey. This can be a group you work with in person at the gym or even an online community you check in to keep accountable for your goals.

Blast Your Favorite Jams

Research shows that listening to music during exercise can have a performance-boosting effect on strength, power, and endurance.[9] The beneficial effects of music while exercising extend to both women and men.[10] One of the primary reasons music can provide this boost is that it improves mood while reducing the rate of perceived exertion.[11] You feel better while you work out listening to music, and the workouts feel less intense. 

Take-home tip: Make a playlist with your favorite songs and use this to hype you up before or during a workout.

Fun and Different Activities

Introducing new activities that excite you can make staying engaged and motivated on your fitness goals more manageable. Fitness routines like CrossFit, where individuals are constantly exposed to various movements, elicit a high level of motivation and engagement in people.[12] A different study that compared short, high-intensity interval workouts to longer steady-state workouts found that the subjects preferred doing the quicker, more intense workouts because they found them more enjoyable.[13] Research has shown that enjoyment of the physical activity is a strong predictor of adherence.[14] If you like the workouts you do, you’re more likely to stick to doing them.

Take-home tip: Expose yourself to different exercises and intensities to find enjoyable workouts. It’ll be easier to stay motivated and stick to your fitness journey when you find activities you like doing.  

References

[1] Stay Strong All Year | A post by The Strava Club on Strava

[2] Exercise Motivation and Self-Efficacy Vary Among Patients with Heart Failure – An Explorative Analysis Using Data from the HF-Wii Study - PMC (nih.gov)

[3] https://cedar.wwu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1123&context=wwuet

[4] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24604394 

[5] Influence of Competition on Performance and Pacing during Cy... : Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise (lww.com)

[6] Aerobic Exercise Is Promoted when Individual Performance Affects the Group: A Test of the Kohler Motivation Gain Effect | Annals of Behavioral Medicine | Oxford Academic

[7] https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/10/161004081548.htm

[8] https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121126130938.htm

[9] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5435671/

[10] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26447745

[11] The Influence of Music Preference on Exercise Responses and Performance: A Review - PMC (nih.gov)

[12] Frontiers | Make Fitness Fun: Could Novelty Be the Key Determinant for Physical Activity Adherence? (frontiersin.org)

[13] High-Intensity Interval Training Elicits Higher Enjoyment than Moderate Intensity Continuous Exercise - PMC (nih.gov)

[14] Extrinsic Motivations: Relevance and Significance for Exercise Adherence (sciepub.com)


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