How to Stay Motivated to Reach Your Movement Goals at Home

Maintaining the drive to work out might not be easy right now, but research tells us that staying active can improve our mood, our stress levels, and our overall well-being.

Kuznetsov Dmitriy/ Shutterstock
Kuznetsov Dmitriy/ Shutterstock

Many of us have been sheltering in place for months — and with most gyms closed, this period has changed the way we incorporate movement into our days. Some have invested in at-home fitness equipment or online training sessions, while others have reassessed what a “workout” has to look like, fitting in small bursts of movement where we can throughout our days. Either way, research tells us that staying active does wonders to improve our mental health, our sleep, and our stress levels. But maintaining our motivation to move isn’t always easy, especially now. 

We asked our Thrive community to share their tips for staying motivated to keep up with an exercise regimen while staying at home. Which of these will you try?

Put on a song you love

“Every other morning, as soon as I wake up, I play songs from the Pointer Sisters. Within a few minutes, I am stretching and then moving, and soon I am dancing. I also add pushups and sit-ups. There are no ‘shoulds’ or ‘oughts’ involved. It’s just 20 minutes of joyful movement that makes the rest of the day feel effortless. Let the call of the music that you love energize you, no matter the time of day.”

—Diane Gillespie, emerita professor at University of Washington Bothell, Seattle, WA

Recruit an accountability buddy

“I have a workout buddy and we both help keep each other accountable. Every day after we work out, we text an emoji to each other to quickly check in. It’s a nice way to connect and it’s great motivation. If either one of us hasn’t texted by the early afternoon, we check in with each other to make sure everything is OK. It’s nice to care for someone else in this way and to be cared for!”

—Lisa Abramson, mindfulness teacher and executive coach, Menlo Park, CA 

Create a “movement menu”

“I’ve never been consistent at exercise, but knowing that my mind and body need it during ‘his time, I’ve created an online ‘Movement menu.’ If I’m feeling really motivated, I will do a bootcamp or circuit-style workout. If I’m feeling drained, I’ll do some yoga. And if I feel like not doing anything, I do a dance workout. By the time that first dance is done, I always want to carry on and I feel really proud of myself that I did something even though I didn’t want to”

—Alexa Doman, life coach, Madrid, Spain

Lay out your clothes the night before

“I lay my workout clothing out the night before and get dressed first thing in the morning. My go-to right now is my Peloton bike and the Peloton app. I can match my energy to the instructor that I want to work out with! When I’m done, I post my workout to social media to inspire my friends and share how our workouts went! Community is everything right now.”

—Lisa Pezik, business strategist, Ancaster, Ontario, Canada

Treat it like a meeting

“To stay motivated to exercise, I schedule my exercise in my calendar, just like other meetings. It’s a non-negotiable when it’s on my schedule. Now more than ever, I exercise for sanity, not vanity!”

—Nicki Anderson, director of women’s leadership program at Benedictine University, Lisle, IL

Set a personal goal 

“I have incorporated a morning run in my daily routine and set myself a monthly goal for miles. Last month, my goal was to run 200 miles and I ran 211 miles in total. This month, my goal is to beat last month’s number, and I have completed 133 miles so far.  To keep things fun, I also participate in virtual races.”

—Dawn Rondholz, teacher, Highland, CA

Track your steps

“I wear a smartwatch to track my steps. Being that I’m on the computer working, writing, and doing everything that is productive, it’s so important that I am also moving around during the day. I’m motivated by my watch, but even more by my two dogs. In fact, on Sunday, I took them on three walks. I take them on at least one walk daily!”

—Shari Smith, eBay seller and trainer, Erie, CO

Keep equipment around the house

“Staying active and maintaining movement while working from home has its challenges, but we use a few ideas to keep it going. I have placed various exercise equipment near the rooms we’re in a lot, like free weights in the bedroom and push-up bars near the kitchen. When we cook or are waiting for a boil, we do pushups or sit-ups. My wife has an exercise bike under her desk, and we also use workout videos on our phone. It’s a choice every day, so we motivate each other.”

—Scott Miller, marketing director, Wilmington, DE

Walk your dog

“During this time, I’m grateful that I have two big dogs — a husky and a labradoodle — that are both high energy and need at least one good walk per day. If they don’t get outside to exercise, they seek to create mischief around the house, and it’s very motivating. We walk in the evening when it’s cool for them, and it allows me to enjoy the fresh air and exercise as I wind down my day. It’s something that I’ve gotten to look forward to.”

—Christine Hourd, personal development coach, Calgary, Alberta

Exchange workout videos with someone

“Unfortunately, during this time of COVID-19, my wife and I are living apart in two different countries.  We are pretty much video chatting as much as we can and setting a time every evening to talk.  During the day though, to keep motivated, we send each other workout videos we’re trying, and we challenge each other to do one a day from each other’s routine. We’ve found a way to drown out the news and stay accountable.”

—Mike Pio Roda, consultant, Vancouver, B.C., Canada

Reframe what exercise looks like

“The only way I’ve been able to maintain my exercise routine is to remove all the rules around it. Prior to life in quarantine, I had a pretty disciplined workout regimen, attending the 6:15 am gym class at least five days a week. When gyms closed and that clearly wasn’t an option anymore, I tried to get on board with the Zoom workouts, but I knew something had to give. I couldn’t keep beating myself up mentally for not consistently beating myself up physically. It was then that I decided to change my mindset towards working out and expand my definition of exercise altogether. Rather than only accept high-intensity movement as a workout, I started going on long walks outside and counted that as exercise for the day. Something about relieving the pressure of getting in a super intense workout  actually reignited my motivation. As soon as I allowed myself to do less as a workout, I found I wanted to do more. I started giving myself permission to do whatever felt right for me that day, and it resulted in more physical exercise as well as a wonderful mental exercise.”

—Kacie Main, writer and podcast host, Jacksonville Beach, FL

Set alarms on your phone

“It’s so easy to get into the rut of sitting at your workstation from early morning to late at night and forget to take time out for you.  Every day looks different with work and family commitments, but I have been setting my alarm to remind me to move my body.  This could mean a full hour workout, a quick walk, or just a five-minute dance session around the house. I am finding more than ever that moving is what my body and mind need during these challenging times.”

—Carrie McEachran, executive director, Sarnia, ON

Mark it in your calendar

“I’ve actually always worked out at home, and to stay motivated, I use a calendar that has my workouts prepared in advance. Not having to find a workout to do each day keeps me from getting distracted. I also keep out my free weights and gym mat, so as I walk over it, it’s a constant reminder of what I need to get to.”

—Priya Jindal, transition management consultant, Washington, D.C.

Stream your workouts live

“One way I’ve found to ensure I’m exercising is by making myself accountable to others, and I’ve been doing this by offering people a quick warm-up video each day. In mid-March, I started doing very short live videos on Facebook every morning with some light stretching and moving based on martial arts, boxing, and kickboxing. Having to show up every morning to hopefully inspire others who are homebound to move and breathe has kept me moving throughout quarantine. Most people who join would never usually take a class in martial arts or boxing, but the inner warrior lessons I teach apply to everyone. Teaching people how to take back their power, even for a few minutes each day, is a way I can do something during this time. And to me, that’s powerful.”

—Theresa Byrne, life and inner power coach, Denver, CO

Take a walk with your partner

“Every morning, my husband and I walk five miles together.  It is a great way for us to stay connected, step away from screens, and enjoy nature.  We track our steps with our phone and watches so we can share with our remote kids our progress and let them know we are staying healthy.”

—Cindy Wolpert, executive coach, Sarasota, FL

Use it as your end-of-day marker

“I maintain motivation for exercise while in quarantine by making it my transition between my ‘work brain’ to ‘home brain.’ At the end of my workday, I schedule a daily run. I leave my home office, disconnect mentally for a few miles, and return with a clear head ready to cook dinner and engage with my family. The scheduling of this is key because we are used to showing up for what’s on our calendars.  If I didn’t make the time on my calendar, I wouldn’t just find the time to make it happen given all the other responsibilities.”

—Alexis Haselberger, time management and productivity coach, San Francisco, CA

Try a wearable to measure progress

“I’m using my Apple Watch to help me stay motivated to keep up with my movement and exercise at home. There is nothing I love more than closing my move and exercise rings before I go to bed. One way I do this is by turning reminders on to ensure I’m moving every hour. Additionally, I usually work out after my workday and won’t end my workout until I’ve hit my goal. Having measurable goals to work towards helps keep me accountable.”

—Alyssa Swantkoski, executive assistant, Denver, CO

Adjust your standards

“I’ve never been one to exercise, but with this pandemic, I knew that I had to incorporate movement into my days if I wanted to maintain my mental and physical well-being. Being a perfectionist, I get deterred if I don’t see immediate results. So I sought an easy solution by borrowing my sister’s stationary bike, putting my perfectionism behind the door, and committing to cycling every day based on what felt right for my body. Instead of setting goals or targets, I aimed for consistency and commitment. Some days, I crave a ten-minute workout, and on others, I’m energized enough to do an hour. I remind myself that I’m moving because I want to love myself more, not to criticize myself. Whatever I can do is plenty enough!”

—Marjan Oloumi, human resources, Sydney, Australia

Join a philanthropic fitness challenge

“To encourage myself to exercise more and to raise awareness and funds for mental health support, I am joining the #MilesforMentalHealth challenge. It’s a great excuse to get outside and walk in nature, and knowing it’s also for a good cause is beneficial for my body and my mind.”

—Loren Eley, group client lead, London, U.K.

Put on your workout clothes when you get up

“I actually don’t bring my mind into the equation at all. Instead, I just go through the actions of pulling on my workout clothes and getting started in the morning, doing my best to keep my mind clear or distracted by other things as I get into exercise mode. I’m never sorry afterwards. If I waited for the moment that my mind agreed, I wouldn’t do it. I find letting the behavior go first and then letting the thoughts catch up is my best strategy.”

—Deirdre Maloney, organizational trainer and facilitator, San Diego, CA

Mix up your routine

“Right now, I’m loving the flexibility I have when it comes to exercise. I’m rotating a 30-day online yoga course with one-off flows I come across whilst scrolling Instagram, or a Pilates session sent to me from an instructor friend, along with a power walk or bike rides in my local woods. Rather than getting hung up on the time of day I’m exercising, I’m allowing myself full flexibility to do it any time that suits and fits.”

—Mary Simkin, clinical nutritionist, Surrey, U.K.

Be kind to yourself

“My tip to stay moving is all about mindset. I find it helpful to be especially kind to yourself right now. If you can’t run five kilometers today, don’t!  If walking for two hours sounds like a bore, don’t do it! There’s nothing more demotivating than failure.  Build up to what you want to do, and do it slowly. Use an app to help you and listen to music or a great book as you go. I’m currently listening to affirmations as I do my three short runs each week, and they’re keeping me motivated to keep going.”

—Eloise Burton, mindset coach, Hampshire, U.K.

Do you have a go-to tip for staying motivated to keep up with your movement and exercise at home? Share it with us in the comments! 

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