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5 Ways to Mentally Prepare for a Workout

by Melissa Bell
8 minutes read

It’s early – way too early – the sun is not even up yet, but you know you need to get to the gym…

Or maybe it’s been a long day, and you just want that glass of wine on the couch, but there’s a voice in the back of your head telling you that you can’t sit down yet…

How do you do it? How do you push through all the distractions and long days and long nights? How do you mentally get in the game and get that workout done?

Mentally Prepare for a Workout

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It would be easy for me to say: Just do it! Or: Put one foot in front of the other and keep going. But we all know that a couple of inspirational words don’t get you out the door and into the gym. You need to be ready – physically, emotionally, and mentally – to get the most out of your day and your workout.

We’ve worked out five key pieces of advice that help us get out and work out. You can get your head in the game if you plan for success. In no time at all, you’ll find you are thinking about your fitness in real, healthy ways and you can turn that into action and actual results.

To mentally prepare for your workout, choose one new strategy at a time. Don’t try to change everything all at once or tackle all your roadblocks on Day One. Being ready for a healthy lifestyle is a slow, careful, thoughtful process. And you can start today.

Find Your Happy Place (and Time)

First of all, it is important to know when the best time and place are for your best workout. There are a number of factors to consider here, from your work schedule to your social calendar, but if you choose your workouts wisely, you will be much more likely to succeed.

I know which of my clients are my early risers. They are at their best before the sun comes up, so we plan on solid early workouts. They know that if they can get out of bed before everyone else, they will be on their way to feeling great about their day and themselves. A great way to get ready for your early workout is to plan the night before. Take the mental struggle or hesitation out of your morning by laying out your clothes the night before, but signing up for that class, or by finding a friend to hold you accountable (if you don’t know any other early risers, find a colleague who will ask you about your workout when you get to work). Set up your success the night before and you won’t be able to talk yourself out of it in the morning.

I also recommend finding a workout space that works for you. If traditional gyms make you miserable, you are never going to clear out your headspace enough to enjoy the workout and keep up a healthy lifestyle.

If you are limited to the indoors, try studio variations like Crossfit or spinning. And hybrid classes are all the rage, from weight-lifting yoga classes to TRX Pilates studios; there is something for just about everyone. And if you can take it outside, let apps like Aaptiv or Strava keep you motivated. The days of “boring” runs are long gone.

In short, start from a happy place. You will conquer your mental hurdles by giving yourself the time and space to be happy with your workout. Don’t make yourself miserable with an early morning workout routine if you are a night owl; don’t go for a run if you would rather ride a bike.

Set Small, Achievable Goals

If you are planning to run a marathon, you have a precise training schedule that might help you plan out weeks, months, or sometimes even a year in advance. But most of us don’t have that big, formal, motivation factor. We are working from day-to-day, trying to stay on top of everything and still get to the gym, too.

One of the easiest ways to psych yourself out of a workout is to set a goal that is too big. If you’re not running a marathon, don’t worry about a 20-week training plan. You can tackle one workout at a time. Let yourself take it one day at a time. Breathe.

So set a goal for tomorrow. Go for one run; take one class at the gym; do one extra set of reps. Not only will you be able to prepare better for that one goal, but you will achieve it! And even little, daily accomplishments quickly begin to add up to success!

Achievable Goals

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Don’t Lose Your Momentum

Within one week, your body begins to forget how strong, fast, and fit you are. That seems wildly unfair, considering how much effort it takes to get in shape in the first place, but it’s still true. So it is essential not to let your body forget!

Since you are building on small, achievable goals, you can keep up your momentum by staying focused. Each new day brings additional success, and you can remind yourself of that each night when you think back on your successful day. Recognizing that achievement will help you stay on track.

And if you miss a day, that’s okay, too!

Don’t Be a Perfectionist

No one is perfect. We will all miss a workout. The difference between those who succeed and those who do not, however, is the mental approach to that missed opportunity. Do you beat yourself up over a day off? Do you worry that your big goal is ruined by one small omission? Don’t!

Successful athletes know that dwelling on the past only keeps you from being better in the future. Instead of worrying about a mistake or a missed workout, focus on the next one that you know you won’t miss. Keep your mind on how great tomorrow’s workout will be.

Your schedule will never be perfect, and your form may need improvement, but that shouldn’t stop you from getting out there and moving.

Build Your Habit

If you follow these steps – if you work out where and when you feel your best, if you focus on small goals, stay motivated, and allow yourself the room to make mistakes – you will be on your way to a better you. Mental focus on success puts you on a path to building healthy habits that will, in fact, help you stay more mentally focused. It’s a wonderful cycle of optimism and reward: think happier; workout better; feel better; think even happier…

Now, you may have heard that it takes 21 days to build a habit. Or maybe 28. Or even 66! I can’t guarantee you a set number of days for your new mental approach to your wellness to catch on. And this is actually good news! If you make your new fitness habit something you build in small, manageable steps, by this time next week or next month, that healthy habit will be yours to keep.


Photo by Bruno Nascimento on Unsplash


Brian BaxterAuthor: Brian Baxter

Author Bio: As an athlete, coach, parent, and sport psychology consultant with over 20 years experience in youth sports, I created BaxterSports kids summer and winter camps to continue my work and provide a great environment for athletes to learn and grow in all aspects of life.

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