Exercise Motivation: No More Excuses!

21 Ways to Overcome Exercise Excuses

The nation's leading fitness experts weigh in on some common exercise excuses and explain how you can overcome them

Man running with sky background

Image: Stockbyte

We've heard all the excuses for skipping a workout (we've used a few ourselves.) So we made a list of them—the lame, the unavoidable, and the understandable. Then we called around to psychologists, dietitians, trainers, and men who work out no matter what to find out what they thought.

First, the legitimate excuses. We found four: You're sore, you're sick, you're exhausted, you're hurt. That's it. As for the rest of them, listen up. Our list of 21 easy ways to overcome any exercise excuse will help you build a rock-solid body without overhauling your life—so you can finally remove “lose belly flab” from your to-do list.

"Looks like rain."
Men's Health cover model Gregg Avedon lives in Florida. Do the names Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne mean anything to you? Avedon spent much of 2004 lifting storm shutters and storing away patio furniture, then taking cover. He still looks great. Avedon says your home gym—those dumbbells over there, and your chinup bar—makes staying in a viable option. You can also spice up your indoor cardio by jumping rope or running up and down stairs. Or tie both ends of a resistance band to a doorway, place a towel across your chest, face away from the door with the band (cushioned by the towel) across your chest, and run in place.

"I have no time."
Combine things you do anyway—work, breathe—with athletics. Set up business meetings during which you walk or jog; play tennis with your date; take a spin class to find dates; or take your family hiking, suggests Charles Stuart Platkin, M.P.H., author of The Automatic Diet.

"The Office comes on as I leave."
Get TiVo. Then tell yourself you're going to do just half of your regular routine. "It won't seem so insurmountable, and you'll end up doing the whole workout," says Edward Abramson, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Lafayette, California.

"I need my sleep."
Pat Croce manages to stick with his workouts, and this father of two has been busy hosting his syndicated TV show, Pat Croce: Moving In, and opening a pirate museum in Key West, Florida. "Like me, you have to schedule fitness," he says. On the first of each month, Croce reviews his schedule with his secretary and then his wife, and breaks it down into weeks. Every Sunday, he goes over the coming week, making sure there are gyms at hotels where he'll be staying.

"Gyms are too expensive."
January's the month to negotiate fees, trial months, or group discounts. Think you don't have the cash? Save $900 a year by switching from cafe mocha to metabolism-boosting green tea when you stop at Starbucks every morning.

"My gym sucks."
So move. Changing gyms is an opportunity for you to upgrade your workout. See the next tip.

"I'm bored with my workout."
"Throw it in reverse," says Gunnar Peterson, C.S.C.S., author of G-Force. If you always do lat pulldowns with an overhand grip, switch to underhand. Do a reverse-grip bench press, reverse-grip curls, reverse-grip triceps pushdowns. Do front squats, rear lunges, and dumbbell lateral raises with your palms up. Count backward, too. "It's like a blastoff," says Peterson: "5, 4, 3, 2, 1, done."

"I never see results."
Maybe you're not looking in the right places. Measure your waist, your heart rate, and your weight. Write them down. Then measure again after a week or two, says Croce. Celebrate even the smallest sign of progress. Muscles appear as fat melts.

"Four weeks and no change!"
Whether you see results or not, you're strengthening your joints and connective tissues, which means you're laying down a foundation for future muscle growth, says Peterson. Your diet, stress, sleep patterns, and other factors besides your workout may be holding you back—so don't give up.

"I have no energy."
Eat. You need the fuel. "An active guy needs up to 1,000 calories more than an inactive guy," says Gay Riley, R.D.

"My body needs time to recover."
After 72 hours of rest, you're just sliding backward. "But are you actually giving yourself a chance to recover?" asks Peterson. It's not all about time. Mix L-glutamine into your postworkout shake and eat a diet full of omega-3 fatty acids; they can assist with cellular reconstruction and the removal of metabolic wastes to help you recover faster, Peterson says.

"I always get hurt."
This happens when you ratchet up your workout. Focus on losing 1 pound at a time or boosting your weights in 5-pound increments, says C.J. Murphy, M.F.S., owner of Total Performance Sports in Everett, Massachusetts. If you're used to doing 20 minutes on the treadmill, don't try a 2-hour road run. If you bench-press 50-pound dumbbells, don't go for 90. Instead, make small increases in the difficulty of your workout, focus on form, and work with a spotter so you still have a safety net, Murphy says.

"My elbows/shins/pinkie toes hurt."
"Pain is a sure sign something is awry with your exercise choices," says Murphy. This year, don't isolate body parts so much—your muscles should function as a team. If your shoulder hurts for a week after you do lateral raises, stop doing them. Find a variation that doesn't cause pain, he says.

"I don't want to look stupid."
Approach new machines with enthusiasm. "That's a good way to broaden your fitness spectrum," says Peterson. Read the placard, ask a trainer for assistance, and give it a shot. Nobody's looking. "They're so into themselves that they're not even thinking about you," Peterson says.

"I'm bored again."
Organize your workout differently for 1 to 2 weeks, says Peterson. Let's say you're usually a push-pull guy—you do chinups and leg curls one workout, bench presses and squats another. Try working antagonistic, or opposing, muscle groups, such as your back and chest. You can also change to an upper/lower split routine in which you alternate upper-body workouts with lower-body ones. Or try a total-body workout a few times a week.

"My buddy can't make it tonight."
It's easy to blame others. "If you're serious about training, think of it like a job," says Murphy. "If your training partner was an employee who continually was late and had poor performance, what would you do? You'd fire him!"

"I hate working out alone."
Go to the gym at the same time and on the same days. Say hi to people. You'll find others who are on your schedule, says Abramson.

"I should help my wife with the baby."
Or you could help all three of you. More and more gyms have child-care centers so you and your wife can get away and spend time together—something that new parents need, says Abramson. Or go over the calendar with your wife: For every day she's out, you can schedule a workout.

"Everyone's going out for drinks."
Join them once a week "and you won't appear standoffish," Abramson says. But eat first. By having your drinks with a meal, you won't drink, snack, and eat dinner later.

"But The Office is on!"
"Create a commitment you can't get out of," says Platkin. Make an appointment with a trainer who will charge you whether you show or not.

"My commute is long enough."
Go straight from work twice a week, then work out at home the other nights. See our 15-minute workouts you can do while you watch T.V.