How to Start Working Out if You Really Hate Exercising

Cole Saladino/Thrillist
Cole Saladino/Thrillist

From the outside looking in, exercise sure looks like a form of medieval torture. The exertion, the grunting, the self-inflicted pain -- it’s not exactly a walk in the park.

Except that it is. It is exactly a walk in the park. And if you’re still not exercising because you “hate exercising,” then it’s time for a little chat. Your “I hate exercising” excuse is about as acceptable as claiming you hate puppies, and both speak to potentially serious problems with your heart.

Here's how to push past the pain and start moving your butt.

Pull up your big-kid pants

Before I even get into all the ways you can overcome your hatred of exercise, I’m going to assume two things: 1) you’re an adult, and 2) you accept the reality that adults sometimes do things they don’t want to do because they’re the right thing to do. Do you always love going to your job, or to dinner with the in-laws? I bet you do it anyway.

Guess what? Exercise is good for you. It’s good for your family. It’s good for your mind, your body, your budget, and your earning potential. It’s good for your mental health and social well-being. It’s good for your self-esteem and confidence. There are a million reasons exercise is good for you, so frankly, as an adult, it shouldn’t matter whether you like it, you should do it anyway. It’s called adulting.

Stop whining about exercise like you’re a 5-year-old (5-year-olds actually love exercise, by the way), suck it up, and accept your fate. If you value yourself at all, you’ll start treating exercise like a necessary appointment regardless of how you feel about it.


Change your mental game

To quote the late baseball great Yogi Berra, 90% of the game is half mental.

Once you’ve accepted your fate as an adult, it’s time to start working on your mental game. If you try to drag yourself through a workout while mentally telling yourself, “I hate this! This is the worst! Why would anyone do this to themselves?” you’re going to hate the experience.

I’m not suggesting you lie to yourself and pretend group cycling class is better than sex, but you can shut down the negative internal diatribe and replace it with positive thoughts. Give yourself a pep talk before you work out. Simple statements like, “This is good for me,” “It’s only 30 minutes -- I can do anything for 30 minutes,” or, "This is time I get to spend alone," can help you reframe the experience from something you dread to something worthwhile, if not outright enjoyable.

Get specific about what you hate

Throwing around the blanket statement, “I hate exercise,” is like saying, “I hate cheese.” It’s too vague. You may hate Muenster or Swiss, but have you tried Gouda or feta? What if certain cheeses are an acquired taste? What if there’s a cheese out there you really love, but you just haven’t tried it yet?

Rather than saying, “I hate exercise,” go ahead and get specific. If you hate running, cool. Don’t run. If you hate jumping, great. Don’t jump. If you hate strength training, bully for you! Start with something else. I wouldn’t suggest you eat cheese you hate, so why would I suggest you do exercise you hate?

Because there are as many forms of exercise as there are types of cheese, it’s easy to avoid the ones you actually hate while seeking out those you tolerate, or even enjoy.

Flickr/Ian Barbour

Choose the least-bad option

After weeding out the forms of exercise that actually sound like torture, select something that sounds doable and commit yourself to it for a full month (you can do anything for a month!). You don’t have to go crazy here -- walking, swimming, dance, yoga, and circuit training are all great, low-impact options to ease into.

Once you’ve selected your workout, sit down and schedule it into your calendar at least three times a week. Sound totally undoable? Start with one time, then go from there. Make this a non-negotiable appointment. Remember, you’re an adult and this is good for you!

Be proactive about making it more enjoyable

Exercise itself may not be your favorite way to spend half an hour, but you have the power to make the experience enjoyable. Don’t play the victim -- grab a friend and turn your workout into a social experience, or use your walk as an excuse to explore your city. Put together a playlist to keep you motivated or save your favorite podcast to listen to while you exercise. Anything unpleasant can be made more tolerable based on the environment and people around you.

Mix it up

Even if you love cheese (or sex, or anything, really), eating nothing but cheddar all the time is a recipe for disaster, for a lot of reasons. Look for fitness classes or experiences that sound interesting -- trampoline basketball, anyone (?!) -- and sign up for something new once a month. Not only will this help you identify workouts you might enjoy, but it can turn your regular fitness routine into “training” for your special event.

By slowly reframing the idea of exercise from something boring and torturous into something fun and adventurous (even if it’s hard), you’ll be more likely to stick to an ongoing routine. That’s not to say you’ll always enjoy it, but it doesn’t really matter if you want to exercise. You’re an adult, so exercise should be a given.

Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, and get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

Laura Williams is an exercise physiologist and fitness writer who doesn't always love exercise, but always does it anyway. Tell her all the ways you hate working out on Twitter: @girlsgonesporty.