How to exercise when you hate exercising

Hate exercise? I do too, sorta. 

It’s easy to call yourself not motivated, lazy, or undisciplined. But maybe that’s not what’s really going on here.

Maybe it’s not exercising, you actually hate. It could be the type of exercise you think you need to do. In today’s article, we’ll explore that along with why you might not ever like exercise and that’s ok too. 

Why do I hate exercise?

I don’t know, you tell me. I kid I kid.

Some people may never enjoy exercise and this is ok. But before defining yourself as this type of person it may be helpful to explore why you hate it. Go a little deeper and dive into that rabbit hole. I’ll warn you, some uncomfortable stuff might come up.

Lean into that discomfort.

  • Did you have a previous negative experience with exercise? Something uncomfortable, humiliating, or challenging?
  • Do you currently feel uncomfortable or embarrassed when trying to exercise now? Why is that?
  • Is the environment or activity set up so that you feel like a minority, outcast, not part of the crowd?
  • Are you afraid you may not be accepted by peers or a coach?
  • Do you see it as a transactional experience? If I do [X] I get or deserve [Y]. Um, sorry. Life doesn’t work like that.
  • Are you afraid to get hurt?

When you think about exercise do you see it as this “give it all you’ve got” event? You’re dripping in sweat, can barely breathe, and everything is sore?

give it all you've got

There are a lot of questions you can ask yourself. It’s important to explore this. It may not be the exercise you hate but something else.

What do you do when you don’t like exercise?

Most people don’t like something the first time they do it. Hell, most people don’t like something the second, third, or fourth time they do it.

You suck at it. It’s frustrating. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable or hurts – physically, mentally, and emotionally.

When you build skills, level up, and get better you tend to like things more. This is why people love video games.

Remember playing Super Mario Brothers (or another one of your favorite video games)?  When you first start playing you suck at it. You die fast, get frustrated, and throw your control across the room.

throw controller

The next day you try again. You still die but get a little further in the level. “Hmmm, ok – I’m getting closer you think. I’ll try again tomorrow.”

You keep doing this until you finally win the boss battle at the end. You move on to the next level. You’re excited and proud so you keep playing. Finding ways to recognize wins and progress can be powerful. When we’re improving we tend to like things more. Or are more likely to put up with the challenges that come with it.

Measuring progress and celebrating wins, no matter how small is an important part of the process. 

  • Did you walk a little further today?
  • Are you able to lift a little more?
  • Have you noticed your energy, mood, or sleep improving?
  • Are you feeling stronger and more confident in your day to day life?

There are a number of ways to measure progress. Find a way that is meaningful for you.

A strategy I use with coaching clients is called “the jar of awesome.”

The Jar of Awesome

jar of awesome

The jar of awesome is a clear jar that you drop marbles in every time you have a win or moment you’re proud of. Being able to see these things add up is very powerful. You don’t have to use the jar of awesome. You could use a habit tracker or another form of recognizing your wins and when you do the hard things.

Redefine what exercise look likes for you

Most people have it stuck in their head that for it to count as exercise they have to be pushing themself to a certain level. Or that it has to take a certain amount of time. Maybe you think it has to happen in a gym, involve weights, or burn a certain amount of calories.

Redefine what exercise looks and feels like for you. Base it on where you’re at mentally and physically.

  • A walk to the mailbox and back = exercise
  • Five squats today = exercise
  • A quick bodyweight amrap = exercise
  • Playing “don’t touch the rug” with your kids = exercise

I’m a big fan of building your exercise or fitness around meaningful movement. Meaningful movement is moving your body in ways you enjoy and that make you feel good.

Meaningful movement is great because it usually doesn’t take much motivation or discipline to do it because it’s fun for you and you already enjoy it. You seek out ways to do it.

  • Beat saber
  • DDR
  • Dancing. I see you, Fitness Marshall
  • Hiking (walking)
  • Ice skating or roller skating
  • Pole dancing
  • Recreational sports
  • Tag with your kids

Start with where you’re at. Currently at beginner mode? That’s cool, you can level up from there.

If you hate exercise practice willful suffering

Hat tip to Jordan Syatt for this. As Jordan describes, willful suffering is the suffering you get to choose. He gives us the example of getting up on a cold morning and pulling the covers off your warm burrito body. You’re choosing to get out of your warm comfortable bed and into the cold to start your day.

Unwillful suffering is something you don’t choose. Not being healthy or fit enough to play around with your children, dating, or having your joints ache as you move throughout your day.

You can willfully suffer and have the benefits, or unwillfully suffer and experience the negative side effects later.

To practice willful suffering figure out ways to exercise even if you don’t enjoy it because it’s the right thing to do. Because it keeps you healthy and adds to your quality of life. 

As Jordan mentions, find the least resistance to get you started. Start there and build momentum.

start making progress

What happens if you don’t do any exercise or activity?

If you’re not currently exercising or doing any activity you’re already getting a preview of what may happen.

  • loss of lean muscle mass
  • weight gain
  • decreased energy
  • health problems
  • depression

There are numerous studies showing that a lack of activity and a sedentary life can increase our risk for various health issues. In one of them (1), the relationship between sedentary behavior and all causes of cardiovascular disease, cancer mortality, and type 3 diabetes was measured when adjusted for physical activity.

It demonstrated an increased risk of disease and mortality with the increased total sitting time (or sedentary behavior). It also revealed a threshold of 6–8 h/day of total sitting and 3–4 h/day of TV viewing, above which risk for several important health outcomes increased more rapidly. 

In another study (2), people who spend higher amounts of time in sedentary behaviors have greater odds of having metabolic syndrome. Reducing sedentary behaviors is potentially important for the prevention of metabolic syndrome.

But let’s be honest. You probably don’t care what the research says. You already know what a sedentary life leads to. Even with that knowledge you’re still not taking action. So what’s really going on here? 

  • Are you in an environment that doesn’t promote or make it easy to get in more activity?
  • Do your current personal relationships make getting in more activity difficult? 
  • Are you trying to do too much? 
  • Are you waiting for the “right time?”

The right time is always the same time. NOW. It was the right time 10 years ago, last year, last month, and yesterday. 

Is walking exercise? I don’t hate that.

Of course.

The definition of exercise is an activity requiring physical effort, carried out to sustain or improve health and fitness. Walking is one of the best and easiest ways for us to do this.

The benefits of walking as an exercise:

  • walking burns calories without exhausting you
  • It doesn’t add stress to your body like other forms of exercise
    relieves stress
  • great way to multi-task (walk meetings, meaningful conversations, audiobooks)
  • Walking can improve mental health (especially when combined with being outdoors)
  • Great way to build momentum (keystone habit)
  • It’s low impact
  • Creative thinking
  • It’s an easy form of exercise
  • It gets you outdoor
  • Improves recovery from hard workouts
  • Helps you relieve stress
  • Improves mobility in the hips

Walk up the stairs more, to the mailbox and back, or long hikes. Whatever your fitness level allows you to do.

Can you be healthy without exercise?

I hate putting things in a box like this. It encourages all-or-nothing thinking and leads us to put ourselves into categories that don’t help us grow.

It would also depend on what your definition of healthy is.

And honestly, I’m not sure defining it as healthy or not is helpful or matters all that much. Instead, decide what is healthy for you by exploring what you could or could not do with a healthy body.

How would you know you’re healthy? Can you chase your kids around without gasping for air? Does your blood work come back in a certain way? Are you able to do obstacle course races with friends? Are you confident enough to have your picture taken in a bathing suit? 

Is it something else?

Should you force yourself to work out or exercise?


The reason I say this is that often our proudest moments in life are when we lean into discomfort, do the hard thing, and push past personal barriers and our own bullshit.

So yeah. You sorta should force yourself to work out or exercise sometimes. 

How can I lose weight if I hate exercise?

Calorie Deficit Chart

Create a calorie deficit.

I go in-depth about how to do that in the getting started diet guide so I won’t dive in deep here. But essentially, weight loss always comes down to being in a calorie or energy deficit over an extended period of time. You can do this if you don’t exercise through diet alone.

Is it normal to hate exercise?

Of course. It’s normal to hate or not enjoy all sorts of things. But like we’ve talked about already. Is it actually exercise that you hate or something else? 

  • Do you hate feeling embarrassed in the gym? 
  • Because it hurts or is uncomfortable?
  • Do you hate feeling out of shape?
  • Do you hate trying to figure out what to do, how much to lift, where to even being? 

My coaching program, beginners guide to strength training, and 12-week beginners plan can all help with this. 

How can I force myself to exercise? (10 alternative ways to exercise)

How about you don’t force it. Instead, you start with movement you enjoy, something easy (like walking), and combine it with something you already like. Such as listening to podcasts or hanging with friends.

I gave you a ton of ideas for staying active already. Below are a few other ways to stay “healthy” physically, mentally, and emotionally.

  • rock climbing
  • playing games with your kids (don’t touch the rug, tag, animal crawls
  • martial arts
  • walking (meetings, to the grocery store, to grab a coffee)
  • cleaning
  • gymnastics and tumbling
  • yoga and pilates
  • recreation sports like flag football, disc golf, ore dodge ball
  • using the stairs more. Maybe even a 30-day only take the stairs challenge
  • dancing classes or for fun around the house
  • video games like beat saber, DDR, and others
  • spike ball

Ok, that was 12 other ways but whatevs.

So do you hate exercise or is it really something else? 


Photo by Spikeball on Unsplash