in: Fitness, Health & Fitness

• Last updated: September 9, 2023

What to Do If You Don’t Feel Like Working Out

I went to my garage to work out this afternoon and realized, “Man, I don’t feel like working out today.”

But I still started my warm-up on the deadlift anyway, knowing that sometimes motivation follows action and all that jazz.

As I worked through my warm-up sets, things just felt heavy. Weight that should have been easy to lift felt like it weighed three times as much. I didn’t feel any general get-up-and-go. I just felt flat, both physically and psychologically. I still didn’t want to work out. Motivation did not follow action.

But I kept pressing on.

I did my first working set of deadlifts. They felt awful.

I continued to have zero drive to do my planned workout.

So, I changed things up.

I worked out.

I just did a different workout.

I didn’t do what I had planned, but I still got my exercise in for the day.

If you train long enough, you’ll have days like these. I have them about once or twice a quarter. They come on for various reasons. Sometimes I’m just stressed from work. Other times they happen after I’ve had a good run of progressively adding weight or reps to my training. My body and brain are saying, “Dude, we’re going to make you take it easy for a bit.” Other times those flat days crop up for no apparent reason.

But even when I don’t feel like training, I avoid having an all-or-nothing mentality and don’t give up on the idea of exercising altogether. I still get a workout in. It’s just an easier one. My easy workout might not be doing much for me in the short term, but it’s helping me keep the habit of exercising in the long term. Success in life is usually due to a long obedience in the same direction. If I can stay consistent with my training, even on the days I don’t want to train, I’ll be alright in the end.

Here’s what I do when I don’t feel like working out and can’t even will myself to do it:

Reduce intensity. My first recourse is to simply reduce the intensity of my workout. That means I reduce the amount of weight I’m lifting. Instead of deadlifting 445 pounds for three sets of five, I’ll do 315 pounds for three sets of five. If you’re a runner, reducing the intensity of your workout could mean running slower.

Reduce volume. If I’m still feeling blah after reducing weight, I’ll reduce volume. That means doing fewer reps. So instead of doing three sets of five, I might do two sets of five. Or even just one set. If you’re a runner, reducing volume would mean running a shorter distance.

Change up your exercises for the day. Sometimes what my mind and body needs isn’t rest but rather a change. So when I’m not feeling like doing my regular training session, I mix things up and do other exercises.

Today, for example, I did a few sets of a goblet squat with a kettlebell instead of my regularly programmed safety bar squat.

I’ve had days where instead of doing my regular workout with barbells and dumbbells, I’ll go all in on the kettlebell and do swings, Turkish get-ups, and the like.

Other times, I’ve dropped my scheduled barbell workout to do a quick bodyweight workout, or I’ve spent the entire session doing mobility stuff.

Don’t be afraid to ditch your plan if it means you’ll still get some physical activity in that day.

When all else fails, go for a walk. If none of the above are working for me, I’ll at least get a 30-minute walk in. Walking isn’t hard, and it feels good. I always feel better after a walk. Solvitur ambulando!

That’s what I do when I don’t feel like working out. This obviously isn’t groundbreaking stuff, but I think people often need permission to scale things down or mix things up when a training session isn’t clicking. Well, permission granted.

Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good; doing some physical activity is always better than doing none, and the most important thing of all is to stay consistent with the exercise habit!

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