How to work out when you're not feeling it: Motivation secrets for every excuse

Sore muscles, a work deadline, a flaky workout buddy, the dog ate my sneakers — there are always reasons to blow off a trip to the gym. But these are the best times to double down so you don't lose momentum. Got an excuse? We've got tips for how to beat it and get your rear in gear — and in shape.

Excuse #1: I'm too tired
First, remind yourself of your goal. Is hitting the couch or snooze button instead of the gym going to get you there? Second, cut a deal: Commit to 10 minutes of light cardio or yoga or foam rolling, knowing you can bail when time is up if you're still dragging. "We often feel sluggish because we've been lazy and inactive all day, but once blood starts flowing we perk up and want to keep going," says Sharon Millas, personal training manager at Wicker Park Athletic Club. "When you're tired is also the perfect time to take a group class — you'll pull energy from those around you."

Excuse #2: I'm too busy
Squeezing in a quick sweat session might be exactly what you need. Research shows working out lowers stress and boosts productivity. "Think of your time to exercise as a special appointment and mark it in your calendar," says Kelly Johnson, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist at the University of New Mexico. "If you can't find a solid 30 minutes to work out, break it up into 10 minute bouts of exercise throughout the day — the benefits are the same."

Excuse #3: I'm sore from my last workout
"The worst thing you can do is lie around, which just makes your muscles tense up more," says Millas. You don't have to go hard, but do mimic the movements that made you sore in the first place. "If you're arms are sore from weightlifting, go through the same motions but with lighter weights," she says. "Getting blood pumping helps ease aches."

Excuse #4: I'm bored
Sick of running on the treadmill? Not inspired to do bicep curls? Don't. "There are so many different options — ballet barre, boxing, boot camp — I just don't accept this excuse anymore," says Millas. Commit to trying a new class once a week or mix things up with high-intensity interval training. People find HIIT workouts more fun than standard, moderate-intensity continuous exercise, according to research in the Journal of Sports Science.

Excuse #5: I'm recovering from an injury
Book a session with a personal trainer who can help you figure out how best to work the bum area without overworking it — or how to work around it so the rest of your body stays in shape. "It's important pair with the right person for your needs, so talk to the gym's personal training manager about your injury and your goals," says Millas. "They can match you with someone who has experience with rehabilitation to make sure you're going at the right pace."

Excuse #6: I'm too out of shape
Visualize yourself reaching a fitness goal, which primes your muscles for the task and boosts your confidence in your abilities, suggests a study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. "Visualization helps us imagine our possible selves – what we want to be, achieve, or experience in the future," says Christy Greenleaf, Ph.D., sports psychologist at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. "It can be used effectively to help people stay focused on goals and notice if and how their behavior matches up with those goals and their desired future self."

Excuse #7: I've got to take care of my kids
Yes, but you've also got to take care of yourself — and when it comes to fitting in a workout, you can do both. Many gyms, including Chicago Athletic Clubs' Kids Club, offer expert child care services. Bonus: CAC's club camp offers everything from swimming and rock climbing to ballet, so your little ones will be inspired by you and learn how fun staying active can be.

Excuse: #8: I'm just not motivated
Open-ended, far-off or unrealistic goals ("lose weight" or "chiseled abs by next month") do little to motivate you. What does: "Goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound are most effective," says Greenleaf. "Once you've picked a goal, break it down into smaller behavioral goals, write those goals down and track your progress."

Excuse #9: I'd rather be at happy hour
A cocktail isn't the only way to unwind with friends, Millas says. Instead of always meeting up at a bar come Thursday or Friday, for example, rally everyone for yoga or blow off steam at an outdoor boot camp. "Not only will it give you a healthy mindset going into the weekend, but surrounding yourself with like-minded people help keep you focused," says Millas. And besides, you can always hit the bar afterward.

—Kelly Rowe for Chicago Athletic Clubs
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