5 Ways to Turn a Bad Workout Around Instantly

By K. Aleisha Fetters |

Not feeling it? Try these motivational tricks to pump yourself up and get the results you want.

bad workout

On the best exercise days, you wake up bursting with energy, and you walk into the gym or your favorite SilverSneakers class ready to go. But even the most devoted fitness fans are bound to have a day when starting or finishing a workout feels nearly impossible.

Occasionally, your lack of motivation might be your body sending you signs that you shouldn’t push through a workout. Do you have any symptoms of illness? Are you excessively sore from a previous workout or perhaps really short on sleep? If that’s the case, give your body what it needs at the moment: rest.

Feeling generally healthy—but unenthusiastic, bored, or frustrated by your workout? Take a minute to shift your mindset with these motivational tricks.

Motivational Trick #1: Talk to Yourself Like a Friend

Is it possible you’re being overly harsh on yourself? More than likely.

“While exercising, we are quick to appraise, judge, or label what’s happening,” says Justin Ross, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist who specializes in sports performance. “If we start overthinking or paying significant attention to feeling bad or being bored, we are bound to only increase those negative feelings.”

Now’s a great time for a pep talk. Try this: Talk to yourself—but pretend you’re cheering on a loved one. According to research in the European Journal of Social Psychology, people who encouraged themselves with “you” statements (“You’ve got this!”) rather than “I” statements (“I can do this!”) had an easier time pushing through tough tasks.

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Motivational Trick #2: Recall an Awesome Workout

This workout might not feel like your best, but you’ve probably had a stellar one in the past. Maybe you finally mastered a bodyweight squat, discovered that water aerobics feels great on your joints, or felt invigorated after a challenging but fun hike.

Whatever your shining fitness moment, focus on it when things get tough. Recalling those positive memories can rev up your motivation to exercise, according to research in Memory.

Sometimes that trip down memory lane can go all the way back to when you started your fitness journey. Whether it’s to keep your heart healthy, avoid injuries, or just be in the best shape of your life, Ross explains that reconnecting with your underlying motivation can help you surge through a lackluster workout.

Motivational Trick #3: Watch Your Favorite Rerun

Walking on the treadmill, or doing a total-body chair workout at home? Put your treadmill screen or television to work by turning on your favorite old show.

When people watched reruns of their favorite shows, their willpower and can-do attitude increased, according to a study in Social Psychological and Personality Science. The researchers believe that the boost comes from “social surrogacy,” or virtual friendship,” you’ve formed with the show’s characters.

After all, feeling a social connection of any type is a proven way to make workouts more fun and motivating, says Colleen Mullen, Psy.D., a psychologist who specializes in mental coaching.

Motivational Trick #4: Find What Feels Good

A little muscle soreness during or after exercise is okay—but pain is not. If any movement causes pain, that’s your cue to adjust until you find an ouch-free alternative you can perform with good form.

Luckily, there are a variety of simple adjustments you can make. You can use a lighter dumbbell, or no dumbbell at all. You can use smaller movements, so you don’t have to lift as high or squat as low. Or you can swap the exercise altogether for one that feels good for your body.

You may need to experiment a bit to find what works for you, and that’s more than okay. In fact, that’s smart training. Let any fitness instructors or trainers know if a movement causes pain so they can suggest a modification. Plus, check out these tips:

Motivational Trick #5: Count Your Wins!

You’ve given yourself a pep talk, and you’ve made your adjustments. But what if you’re still struggling to finish those last few reps or minutes?

If your form is breaking down—you’re using momentum instead of muscle to lift, for example—that’s a sign you’ve done enough of that particular exercise for the day.

Don’t think of this as a failure. Instead, focus on what you did achieve, Ross says. Count the exercises you completed with good form or how long you worked out. Even if you didn’t meet your initial goal, you’ve still done something great for your health.

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