How to find exercise that you enjoy

Here’s some tips to help you find exercise that you enjoy.

The top reasons that my clients say they don’t exercise: time, energy, and a negative association with exercise. Well, what if you found a form of movement that you were really excited to do? You might actually carve out time in your schedule. Maybe you could even do the activity with your friends or family. You’d look forward to it, instead of rallying your energy after a long day at work. Exercise would stop being a punishment or a way to “burn calories,” and it would become something fun & empowering! Let’s get started finding some forms of exercise that you enjoy.

First, I want to say that so many of my clients have such a negative relationship with exercise, that even calling it “exercise” or “fitness” just doesn’t feel right. Others may be recovering from compulsive exercise, and doing certain movements or fitness classes may have the potential to trigger some old behaviors. Oftentimes, I use the word “movement” as a more neutral word to help describe activities that get you to move and connect to your body in a healthy, non-punishing way. Ultimately, let yourself be guided by curiosity and fun, rather than that competitive, self-punishing internal voice that may not have your best interests in mind.

What do you think? Is it possible to find more than a few movement activities that you enjoy? YES! But so many people find that it is just really hard to discover new hobbies as an adult. Here’s my tips for how to find (and keep) your new “fitness” hobby.

1) Try new things!

Here’s some suggestions so that you can start exploring activities and places in your area:

A good place to start if you’re in the mood to try some diverse group fitness classes in your area — yoga, pilates, aerial, barre, cycling, boxing, etc.

Also good for discounts on group fitness classes, as well as adventure sports like kayaking, rock climbing, etc. Just click the “Health & Fitness” category.

Lots of groups for running and other types of movement, and a place to find friends/community as well! I clicked on the “get moving” button on their home page to find some activities near me.

To find nice walking/hiking/running paths near you.

  • Fitness classes at your local gym

Most gyms have a variety of offerings like Zumba, yoga, aerobics/bootcamp style classes. Looking for a gym in your area? I recommend just doing a Google Maps search for “gym” or “fitness” and see what pops up. Most gyms will let you do a free day or week trial with them. That way, you can test out the commute from home/work, get to know their equipment, and try a few classes & their amenities before you commit.

If you prefer to workout in the comfort of your own home, there are also a ton of fitness apps that you can download. Here’s a few:

Apple Fitness
Nike Training Club
And also, lots of local studios now have virtual classes! (Thanks, Covid…) Again, Google Maps is the place to search for various types of movement studios in your area.

This is a good place to start if you think you might actually like weight lifting if only you had some guidance… or if you just feel very injury prone & clumsy. A good personal trainer can help build stability and strength to help you ease into any activity that you’re interested in.

  • Movement activity that a friend also enjoys

Ask your friends what they like to do and why! Maybe you can join them on their next run/walk or tag along to that class they were raving about last week.

Woman character is training different types of sports. Bike, walking and running, gymnastics, volleyball, boxing

2) Revisit things from your childhood: dance, rollerblading, soccer, ultimate frisbee, gymnastics

All of my current fitness hobbies have grown from the sport that I started in middle school: gymnastics! While I don’t do tumbling anymore, I have branched off into aerial arts: silks, corde lisse, and Chinese pole. I also picked up breakdancing when I was in college! To this day, I feel very confident trying activities that draw on the foundations that I built in gymnastics. Which means… I dive right into aerial activities, yoga, weight lifting… but I shy away from anything that involves running on grass and catching/throwing balls.

If you played a team sport in college, high school (or even before that), why not try it again? Or is there something similar you’d like to try?

3) Mentally prepare by setting realistic expectations for your performance/skill level.

Yes, you may have been able to do the splits when you were in high school. But it’s been 10+ years since you’ve tried to touch your toes. Or maybe it’s been 2 years (during quarantine), or 3 months of reduced activity due to stressful life circumstances. Wherever you are at in your fitness level, you’ll need to set realistic expectations for yourself. Set small goals, and give yourself a win for showing up and embarking on this journey to find movement that you love.

It can help to think of your first time trying something new as a “baseline performance test.” Try to observe how you are doing, and take note of it with as little judgement as possible. “Ok, I wasn’t able to touch my toes. That’s something I can work on!” Or “I lifted 10 lbs during that exercise. I used to be able to do more, but that was completely different era of my life. I know that I can lift more over time, if I decide to keep working on it.”

People in lab coats looking at a Big dashboard with information. the study of tests and treatment. Bright vector illustration.

4) Find ways of tracking your improvement without using body weight or body transformation metrics.

Find some objective measures to track your progress (that don’t involve measuring weight/body fat):

  • Amount of weight lifted
  • Number of reps
  • Miles or minutes of activity completed
  • Pace
  • Amount of rest time taken
  • Time to fatigue

Keep in mind, it’s not all about the numbers. It’s about how you feel doing the activity. But sometimes it does help to have an objective measure to refer to, especially when you are used to being really hard on yourself. Read more about how to measure your progress without using the scale.

***Do not use these metrics to compare your current self to your past self (“I used to be able to do XYZ! Look how far I’ve fallen.”) No, no, no! That was a different era of your life. Stop comparing, and focus on building from where you are.

Use these measures as encouragement to pat yourself on the back. When that negative voice says, “You’re horrible, you should just quit…” You say: “No! I am making progress, as evidenced by these metrics. Plus, I do actually enjoy this activity when that nagging negative voice isn’t so loud in my ear…”

Asian woman dressed in pink workout gear lying, exhausted in a funny position on her mat

5) Don’t be afraid to look and feel silly. Know that you will probably feel unskilled, clumsy, or “out of shape.”

Um, excuse me. You’re trying something new! Of course, you will feel silly. Prepare to laugh at yourself a little bit. If you are doing this in a group, listen to the other group members and/or instructor who encourage you. They might have some stories of their own beginnings that you can relate to and commiserate with.

Notice the difference between feelings of frustration that make you want to work harder… and feelings of frustration that make you want to quit or scream with rage. What is actually bothering you about the activity? Try to pinpoint the specific issue. And then, what story are you telling yourself?

For example, the story I often hear, “If I lost weight, running would be easier. It would hurt my  joints less, and I would be less sweaty.” Ok, so the issue is that your joints hurt, and you feel sweaty. Let’s address the pain and the sweat, rather than the story that you’re telling yourself about weight loss and running (or any other activity). Seek a physical therapist or personal trainer who can strengthen muscles around your joints to help with the pain. Buy proper workout clothes that are sweat-wicking. Carry a towel, get some sweat bands, or purchase some chalk to help with sweaty grip.

And…. of course, when starting (or re-starting) an activity, you will probably slip & fall. Make sure you learn the proper way to fall to reduce risk of injury. Which brings me to…

6) Seek proper instruction at your level.

Personally, aiming for progress & improvement is something that motivates me. I recently took a pilates reformer class, and it was so hard. The fact that I couldn’t hold myself up for the full duration of the exercises made me want to come back and take the class again to get stronger! That being said, doing an activity that is much too hard, way past your current capability can often be de-motivating.

If you are struggling or find yourself getting frustrated, ask the instructor (or person who is introducing you to this activity) if there is an easier approach to learn the activity. Don’t be afraid to go to a lower level class, or ask for regressions of an exercise. It is better to do an easier movement with proper form, than it is to do a difficult movement with bad form. Learn it right the first time to build proper foundation and reduce risk of injury.

Find an individual instructor to guide you through movements to build the proper strength and learn the right form. If you can afford it, it’s best if you ask a professional coach, such as a personal trainer, or someone who has many years of experience in coaching in your chosen activity. I promise you, it’s worth the investment to improve your confidence and avoid the frustration of figuring it all out on your own.

For a more affordable option, you can research videos on Youtube to find some tips on your activity of choice. Yes…. you could ask your friend or boyfriend/girlfriend to instruct you on something like weight training. BUT… their tips may lead to more frustration because 1) you won’t be as receptive to take fitness advice from your friend and 2) they may not know the proper tips, drills, and regressions to help you learn safely.

Group of diverse athletes sitting together

7) Try a variety of activities to develop your barometer for what you enjoy and what you don’t enjoy.

And also, you may have completely different experiences at different gyms/studios. You may like the consistent feel of a franchise, or prefer the small-community vibe and body-positive environment of a local studio.

Some instructors might rub you the wrong way, but another one might really resonate with you. Don’t give up on cycling just because the first studio and instructor that you went to mentioned burning calories or earning your food. They’re not all like that! Call ahead and ask the staff what instructors or classes they would recommend to you based on your level of experience and other factors that are important to you.

8) Don’t be afraid to say “this isn’t for me, I’m not doing this again.”

Basically, it’s ok to quit. Listen to your body. If something feels too advanced, it’s ok to say, “I’ll come back to this in a bit when I feel ready.” If you find yourself constantly trying to motivate with numbers and objective metrics, and you never notice any spontaneous feelings of accomplishment… it’s time to reassess this form of movement for yourself. Some questions to ask yourself:

  • Do I ever think about this activity outside of the time I have scheduled to do it? How does it make me feel?
  • Do I ever do research or talk to people about this activity in my spare time?
  • How do I feel when I am getting ready for this activity? (Commuting to, getting dressed for, putting it in my schedule, etc.)
  • Have I ever smiled while doing this activity?
  • How do I feel during this activity? How do I feel after this activity?

An example of an activity that just doesn’t do it for me: rock climbing. I’ve tried it multiple times before. It requires similar strength and skill-building as other activities I have tried. So many of my friends love it. But I just don’t get excited about it! I will still go rock climbing with a friend, if invited. It’s a good social fitness activity for me, but it’s not something I’ll be doing on the regular. Don’t get locked into something just because you think you should like something.

Worried that you’ll give up too soon? Think you’ll never be able to find an activity that you actually enjoy? Tired of that negative voice in your head that’s berating you about your body, food choices, and exercise habits? Book an initial consult with me! We can talk more about your struggles and how I can help.

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What’s it like to work with me? Read more here.

Do you feel like you have to or really really should do a certain type of exercise because it’s “good for your health” or it “burns a ton of calories?” Or maybe you have a hard time taking a rest day because you’re worried about your energy balance and maintaining your weight? Obsession with exercise as a way to control your health & weight oftentimes coincides with a focus on your food choices and health. You may find this article on orthorexia insightful. Orthorexia is an unhealthy obsession with eating “healthy” foods, in which actions surrounding your food choices (and sometimes exercise choices) persistently interfere with other aspects of your life, physically or psychologically.