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"I Hate Exercise!" What to Do if You Hate Exercising: Cognitive Behavioral Strategies

If you tell me you hate exercise, you won't be the first or last person to share that with me. When there is a difference between what people feel they "should" be doing and what they are doing, it can cause distress. That does not make the desired behavior any easier. There is a lot about exercise that is unpleasant and difficult. People always ask me how to exercise when they hate it. There are two perspectives on this. One, live in line with your values, and two, learn new perceptions. In this article, we will discuss both.

person exercising on a treamill

Exercise When You Hate It: Live in Line With Your Values

The first perspective on exercising when you hate it involves the goal of living in line with your values. This concept is used in psychology when people have difficulty with certain behaviors due to mental processes such as anxiety and obsessions. We can apply this concept to exercise also.

What are your values that make you want to exercise? Maybe physical health is important to you. Perhaps you value being able to walk a distance without getting winded. Maybe you can't do activities that are important to you because you lack endurance, so you want to improve that with exercise. Whatever the value is, keep that front and center.

Living in line with your values can give you a sense of fulfillment. This feeling might not get rid of any unpleasant feelings or sensations. It merely, or importantly, adds something crucial--the experience of living in line with your values.

We can also delve a bit into why you hate exercise so much. What makes it so unpleasant? Common reasons are "I don't like getting sweaty," "I hate feeling out of breath," and "I'd rather go straight home after work and chill than exercise." These are all legitimate bothersome factors about exercise.

But let's go a bit deeper. Is the getting out of breath or getting sweaty or not going straight home the miserable part? Or is it you thinking about how bad it will be that dissuades you? Our thoughts can be pretty powerful. It can be helpful to notice what about exercise you hate or what about it is increasing the distress.

Understanding where the distress is coming from is a crucial cognitive behavioral strategy. We might not be able to control our brains and thoughts, but we can intentionally focus on what we want to focus on--our values. This is not a solution or guarantee to get the distress of exercise to abate, but integrating this knowledge of how distress works can over time change your mental approach.

Don't Exercise When You Hate it: Learn New Perceptions

The other half of this work is to learn new perceptions of exercise. This encompasses what you include in the definition of exercise and how exercise can be done. When you expand your concept of exercise to include more activities, you are more likely to find activities that you don't hate. Continue reading to find more ideas of what can be included in your exercise.

Expanding the Concept of Exercise

  • Exercise with someone. Go on a walk or to the gym with a friend or family member. Put your child in the stroller and go for a walk. Take your significan other on a date to the zoo. Active activities can be more pleasant with another person.

  • Exercise at another time of day. Be open to unusual times or times when you would not typically think of exercising. If you used to exercise first thing in the morning, but that time slot was taken by other responsibilities, think about late at night. Maybe that time can work practically, even though for you it is not your typical time.

  • Try a new activity. Try outdoor bike riding, dancing, jumping rope, soccer, hiking, or gardening. Those activities that seem out of your comfort zone...give those a second thought, and consider if they might be enjoyable.

  • Don't exercise in a gym. Exercise can be done in many places that are not a gym! Walk in the mall, check out the exercise machines at the local park, or run on an outdoor track.

  • Think of both indoor and outdoor exercise. In your own home you can do exercise videos from YouTube, use an exercise machine, or lift weights. Outside you can walk, run, bike, play sports, rake the leaves, or shovel the snow.

  • Exercise with equipment or without equipment. Maybe you want to do strength training. If you have weights, great. If not, canned food can work for half pound or pound weights, and two liter drinks bottles can be roughly four pound weights. To go completely equipment-free, try strength training that just uses your body weight. If you'd rather do cardio, machines are great. For no-equipment days, try an exercise video.

  • Use entertainment. Listen to music, watch a show, or turn on your favorite podcast. This can give your brain something to focus on besides the exercise. It can also give your exercise more enjoyment.

  • Use options for instructor-led exercise. In person classes at the gym are not your only choice. Consider exercise videos on YouTube or live exercise classes over Zoom that you can do from your own home. This allows you do have someone lead your exercise but not have to go to a gym.

  • Vary your routine. For some people, a rigid pattern of exercise can get monotonous. Consider changing your activity, and keep your mind open to what you are willing to try. If you usually stick to an app-lead exercise routine, what about trying an unstructured jog outside or a spin ride.

  • Consider your body position. Some people rather sitting while exercising than standing. If that is you, try a stationary bike, outdoor bike, rowing machine, or chair yoga. If laying down sounds more appealing, you can find a yoga or Pilates class that works for you. You can also choose to only the exercises that are in a position that is comfortable for you. If you find burpees to be dizzying from all the up and down motion, skip those and move on to the rest of the workout.

  • Note your exercise focus. You get different health benefits from strength training than from cardio. Both are great because both are good for you. If you are used to doing one category, give the other a try! Or try a workout that blends the two. Some instructor-led or online classes can fit the bill for that.

  • Guide yourself or work with a trainer. Ideally, we can be our own best motivators, but in reality, it is helpful to have a real person provide guidance and feedback. Additionally, a personal trainer can tailor a workout to your fitness level and exercise goals. For people who are newer to exercise, starting with a trainer can then allow you to lead your own workout between sessions.

How to Exercise When You Hate Exercise

If you have a goal of exercising and are struggling with starting or maintaining a routine, consider these ideas. Some cognitive strategies and some practical ideas can help you exercise even if you think you hate exercise.

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