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Psychology of exercise

One of the common issues I hear from clients I work with is how they have done exercise but never stuck to it, or how they have a treadmill or gym in their garage but it never gets used.

In general most people enjoy exercise after they have done it but just can’t find the enthusiasm before hand. There are many reasons for this and some powerful yet simple solutions. The reason this happens so often is that we succumb to six major errors to defeat our best intentions.

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1) Thinking exercise must be a certain length of time

So many people think about exercise, look at their watch, and then decide against it. They feel they only have 30 minutes so will wait until tomorrow when they have more time. This tomorrow becomes next week which then becomes next month.

The reality is that anything is better than nothing, so a 2 minute run would far outweigh no run at all. The fact that every gym instructor says you should do 20 minutes aerobic exercise for the benefits is missing the point. The magic 20 minute mark is because that was how the majority of research studies defined regular exercise. It does not mean that there is much more benefit from 20 minutes over 15 minute. The key is to do some exercise. Try to say to yourself before exercise:

“I am going to do what I feel is ok for me, maybe this is one, two or ten minutes, something is better than nothing”

In my experience when people go on the treadmill thinking “I'll just do 2 minutes” they always end up going for longer, and if you don’t. It is not a problem, this is part of your life long routine, 5 minutes here or there does not make a difference.

2) Exercise hurts

The second major factor to put you off exercise is the thought of exercise hurting. All too often when imagining the gym you are reminded about the pain associated with it and before long you are making up an excuse not to go.

The reality is that if done correctly exercise should leave you energized, feeling great and hungry for more. The common error which gives you this negative association is during aerobic training where you go at a comfortable pace for 18 minutes then becoming a maniac for the last two minutes and hammering yourself at a much higher intensity.

The end product is little added improvements in fitness of any significance but a nasty association of pain and exercise in your mind. Exercise should energize, never hurt. Try say to yourself before exercise:

“I am going to go do some exercise and go as light or as hard as I feel comfortable with today”

The result is you go to do some exercise with the idea you will do just level 3 instead of the usual level 8. However, before you know it you have often put the level back up to normal once you get going. If you don’t though, it is not a worry, as it is just one session on your life long routine so it makes little difference.

3) Not using Periodization

The body is not stupid. If it continually tells you it does not want to do exercise you need to apply the principles of periodization. This will involve changing your training programme each week in subtle ways so your body continues to respond each session. It is at this point the body will crave exercise as you reawaken the desire to train.
To use this principle keep in your mind the thought:

“I am bored by my exercise, that must be a sign from my body something needs changing”

4) Not doing all four areas of exercise.

If you are doing all four areas of exercise it is impossible to have time to get bored as you are more concerned about squeezing it all into one short sharp session. In general, de-motivation normally occurs with long 45 – 60 minute cardio sessions. Remember each session should have all four exercise areas within it and this usually is enough to remove any motivational problems.

5) Emotional issues and exercise.

Exercise is inherently connected to a number of emotional and behavioural issues. The failure to stick to your exercise programme can just be the expression of a mental block. An effective way to get over this obstacle is to use emotional freedom technique to resolve the core and underlying issues.

6) Eating a meal incorrect for your metabolic type.

The quickest way to lose motivation is to mess up a meal before your exercise. The result will be a series of signals from the body which may include one or all of the following; loss of energy, bloating, tiredness, general lack of motivation. These signals caused by eating a meal with the wrong foods and/or in the wrong amounts will remove any motivation you may have had to exercise.


Most people who struggle for exercise motivation are making one or more of the mistakes outlined above. They are usually just focusing on one exercise area, not performing the exercise so their body is responding to it (not using periodization) and putting too many demands on their time or effort level. Other people struggle to adhere to it as mental or emotional blocks are causing them to produce this behaviour. Finally, incorrect meal choices are a sure fire way to drain the motivation from starting or performing the exercise.

To learn more about these techniques and how to apply this to your whole approach to healthy living then why not think about personal training in London or my On line course.


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