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How to Find an Exercise You Love When You Hate Working Out

Tips for getting your heart pumping by leaning into the things you already enjoy.

Jessica Rendall Wellness Reporter
Jessica is a writer on the Wellness team with a focus on health technology, eye care, nutrition and finding new approaches to chronic health problems. When she's not reporting on health facts, she makes things up in screenplays and short fiction.
Expertise Public health, new wellness technology and health hacks that don't cost money Credentials
  • Added coconut oil to cheap coffee before keto made it cool.
Jessica Rendall
5 min read
Woman hula hooping while smiling widely

If you like hula hooping, swing it front and center in your workout routine.  

Hill Street Studios/Getty Images

Contrary to what you may've been taught, working out isn't supposed to feel like a chore. Sure, some days you need a little more motivation than others to lace up the sneakers or get out of bed, but the time you set aside for physical activity should include something that's stimulating or enjoyable to you once you're in the thick of it. It's also a more sure-fire way to build a routine that's sustainable and doesn't lead to burnout. 

If your goal is hitting 150 minutes of moderate activity per week for better heart health, for example, you'll be more likely to hit your target if you enjoy the activity you're doing. What matters is that your heart rate is up, you're sweating a bit and you're moving your body.

Haley Perlus is a sport and exercise psychologist, fitness trainer and author. She told CNET in 2022 that in order to find exercise you like, you should first ask yourself what you already love. 

"It's really more, what do you like to do? And what already gives you energy?" Perlus said. "There are hundreds of different exercise regimens. We can find one that already satisfies your existing love." 

For example, if you're a social person who enjoys or needs the company of others for a workout, find classes where you can feel other people's energy or find a buddy to exercise with. If you're someone who is motivated by a healthy dose of competition, sign up for a 5K or another race, she said, giving you a goal to work toward. 

And if you like learning new things, Perlus said, "Do not get on a treadmill, because you already know how to walk right-left, right-left."

Similarly, if you love being outdoors, don't exercise inside, she added. Whatever floats your boat, there is likely an exercise for that, and through a little trial and error you can find a routine that you're proud (and happy) to call your own.

To help you start getting more specific in creating a new routine, here's a roundup of alternatives and tips for more "traditional" types of exercise.

Resistance exercises for people who don't like lifting weights 

Resistance or strength training and keeping your body strong is an important part of our physical health, especially as we age. It's often associated with bulky weight racks at the gym, but as far as strength or weight training goes, you don't need anything in your hands. 

"Body resistance is the best," Perlus said, noting that she prefers body resistance over actual weight-lifting. For a strength workout using only your body (which sounds quite powerful, by the way), add resistance by placing your body at different angles, according to Perlus. For example, do wall push-ups if you don't need much resistance, and change the angle for more. Squats, lunges, planks and yoga are great ways to stay strong without the intimidating feel of gym weights. Just make sure you're using good form, she said.

Personally, I've never enjoyed lifting weights so I stopped trying to make it happen at the gym. Instead, I've fallen in love with Pilates (the mat kind, not reformer) and yoga as forms of exercise that improve my strength and resistance, that are now part of my weekly routine. 

Finding cardio if you hate running 

Perlus calls our bluff on the "I hate" narrative. 

"We need to really address the 'I hate,'" Perlus said. "Why do you say you hate? What's the story behind it? Because sometimes we can reframe that story."

Maybe you hate it because you've been under the impression it's the only way to get cardio, which is far from the truth. Other cardio exercises include biking, swimming, rowing, jumping jacks, jumping rope and dancing -- anything that gets your heart rate up. 

Circuit training can also be more fun if you're the one picking the exercises to rotate. Don't want to jump rope? Pick a different exercise. 

Importantly, Perlus said, you don't have to do cardio for a long time. "It's actually more quality over quantity," she said. 

Two women in workout clothes dancing beside each other and smiling

By incorporating what you love into your workout routine, like music, you can create lifelong habits. 

FatCamera/Getty Images

Still not lovin' it? 

So you've taken inventory of what you enjoy doing in life and found a workout routine that mirrors it. If you've given it a "good old college try" and still aren't having a good time, Perlus said, the next step is figuring out what you don't like about the routine you're doing, and finding another that specifically addresses that problem. 

Another tip from Perlus: Don't wait until you're at the gym (or ready to groove in your living room) to start pumping yourself up. A great way to get motivated is through music. (Here's a workout playlist trick that's backed by science.) 

Make your routine sustainable

We've heard of "yo-yo dieting," but "yo-yo exercising" is also to be avoided, Perlus said. 

"One way to get away from that is to not yo-yo in your schedule -- to do something every day." For this reason, she encourages people just beginning their exercise journey to get out there seven days a week, carving a little time out of each day. While that sounds intimidating, it doesn't mean "high intensity" each day, she said. Rather, it's just a way to form a routine. If walking is your chosen exercise, take a leisurely stroll one day and speed-walk the next, but make time in your schedule for it. 

If you've decided you want to add exercise to your routine and change your life that way, it's important to meet yourself where you are. (Shaming yourself or your body isn't an effective motivator for exercise.) To do this, Perlus said to ask yourself two questions: What did I achieve today with my health, and what do I get to do next? 

This could mean you got up every hour from your desk to move a little, or walked your dog. It could also mean you stretched for 5 minutes while watching TV. 

The focus of your effort should be, Perlus said, "on what you're achieving, and what you get to do next, versus what you have to do next."

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.