Here’s what to do when you don’t feel like running or working out

Runner Aubrey Barr never considered herself an athlete growing up, but she’s preparing to run her 41st marathon. She said her secret is listening to her body and setting small goals.
Courtesy of Aubrey Barr

  • Find your motivation to exercise by setting small goals, says a marathon runner.
  • She started out walking and has since finished 40 marathons in three decades.
  • Listening to your body and starting slowly can keep your workouts from feeling like a chore.

Getting into an exercise routine and a healthier lifestyle literally starts with the first step.

One of the best ways to stay motivated to exercise is to focus on small, achievable goals, even if it’s just putting on your shoes and heading out the door, according to a runner who will complete her 41st marathon next month.

Aubrey Barr, 56, from Massachusetts, said she never considered herself an athlete, having grown up with serious health problems following a diagnosis of acute lymphoblastic leukemia at age four.

But in college, she developed a running habit that helped her feel mentally and physically strong, which led her to tackle the Boston Marathon, her first, in 1992. From there, the habit just stuck.

“No one sets out to do a marathon and thinks ‘one is done, 39 to go’,” she told Insider. “It was so organic that I didn’t even know it was happening.

She will run the New York City Marathon on November 5th for a charity organization Fred’s Teamfor which she has raised $500,000 for cancer research since the organization’s debut in 1995.

Barr said the key to staying motivated to exercise is listening to your body, finding a community of runners, and taking each day and each run one step at a time.

Start with short, light workouts and increase over time

Barr never consciously decided to start running, let alone tackle long distances. It all started with a simple walk. While in college, Barr said she started following a nearby trail to “let off some steam,” but noticed the five-mile loop took a while to finish and thought running a little might help her save time.

“I didn’t consider myself a runner, I just thought ‘I need to run a little and pick up the pace’,” she said. “I just progressed to walking briskly and then set myself small goals.”

His gradual approach to running is supported by exercise science experts and running coaches alike. One of the biggest mistakes people make when running If you’re doing a lot, very fast workouts should feel easy and not leave you sore, Joe McConkey, a trainer and exercise physiologist at the Boston Running Center, previously told Insider.

Barr said that while taking on an exercise goal like running can be intimidating, it doesn’t have to be hard on your body if you focus on making steady progress over time.

“When you build up the miles gently and have a chance to recover properly, it works,” she said.

Don’t obsess about data

Today’s exercise enthusiasts have more options than ever when it comes to high-tech ways to track progress and optimize performance, but a simpler approach to running can sometimes be better, according to Barr.

Although she struggled to beat her previous time, she said making peace with her own pace has helped her maintain a lasting love for running and keeps training from feeling like a chore.

“When I got to the point where certain times were slipping away from me, I felt kind of discouraged. If the watch is causing you so much pain, don’t wear it,” Barr said.

Community is a key part of staying motivated to exercise long term.
Courtesy of Aubrey Barr

Find a workout buddy

Barr said another factor that kept her hooked on running for decades was the community she found, including through the New York Road Runners.

“It’s all about human connection, hearing about the mistakes you made during training, the victories you experienced, the anguish you feel before your first marathon. I’m grateful to the Road Runners for the great experience,” she said.

Calling a friend to go hiking or going to the gym is also an Science-backed way to stick to your exercise plana Harvard researcher previously told Insider.

Prioritize what you like about exercise

A hard truth about exercise, especially resistance training, is that there will always be times when you feel tired or unmotivated, but finishing your workout can be worth it, Barr said.

Your personal strategy is to remember the feelings of joy and accomplishment that come during or after a run, rather than focusing on feeling tired or sluggish in the moment.

“The first time you overcome self-doubt and do it anyway is a conscious effort. But then you feel grateful and know it will be worth it,” Barr said. “It’s a matter of knowing what a gift it is to have a healthy body and move.”

Discover what you love about exercise and your workouts won’t feel like a chore.
Courtesy of Aubrey Barr

Listen to your body

Barr said a simple strategy for staying motivated is to start with just three minutes of exercise or 20 steps, which seems like a comfortably easy goal to achieve. If she is still tired at the end, she will have a rest day instead of her planned workout.

But the vast majority of the time, Barr said those three minutes fly by and she feels ready to finish a full workout. However, she is also aware that not every successful workout requires maximum effort.

“The hardest part is getting started, but when I do, I’m grateful, even though it’s a slow process,” she said.

In fact, research suggests that up to 80% of running workouts should be done at an easy pace, as slow, steady exercise can help increase endurance and speedtriathlete and exercise expert Dr. Morgan Busko previously told Insider.

Barr said she often adjusts her workouts to keep runs shorter or slower if that suits her body, and this has helped her prevent injuries and burnout over decades of running.

“You need to know your life circumstances. Sometimes there are just days and weeks where you can’t log all those miles, so make the miles you can run count,” she said. “I think if people just trust their instincts, they’ll be very pleased with the results.”

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