I hate exercising (help me get me exercising)
April 8, 2020 3:45 PM   Subscribe

I am slim, and look fit. But I have some lower back issues, and also a dodgy shoulder. I need to do specific exercise for these things, but I have never managed to motivate myself to do this every day. In fact, I find exercise incredibly boring and tedious. I want to figure out ways to integrate exercise for my back and shoulder (and perhaps everything) into my daily life. Out of the box thinking very welcome.

I am a slim person, who eats pretty well, and doesn;t smoke. On the outside like I don't look like I would need exercise. It sounds nuts, but I live in London and walk fast everywhere. I also have a dog, and both these things keep me relatively fit and happy. But not for the physical details I need.

But I can tell that as I get older my lack of attention to exercise has consequences. I have lived with a twingey back for 10+ years. I also have a recurring shoulder injury caused by hypermobility and a slight lack of muscle support in that area. Physiotherapists and osteopaths always give me exercises to do, and I usually fail after a few days.

Tips like "take up climbing, it's great" or "do some press ups every morning" just won't do it for me, they never have. I need to push past my exercise cynicism and find a way to get my motivated and interested in the process. Can you help?
posted by 0bvious to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
If you have a good physio, and the exercises prescribed are effective, I'd suggest finding some kind of motivation to do them as given. In my case, I aim to do them 5 days out of 7, and I do my PT rehab while watching TV. I keep a simply diary of my efforts, to hold myself accountable.

It's just daily maintenance, like brushing your teeth. And when it starts to work, and pain decreases, motivation increases.

As for fitness/exercise, what are your goals, or, another way - what do you want to be able to do?

I like being strong and mobile. To know that I can sprint down the block if I have to. To grab a tree limb and pull myself up. To wrestle with little ones. To try new activities and have some general facility with my body.

I find working out in the sunny park with my favorite tunes in the headphones is mostly a pleasure, so I'm more motivated to do that than walk to the gym in the rain and lift barbells. But sometimes the latter provides some relief too.

Finding something you like enough to do regularly.
posted by 4midori at 4:00 PM on April 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

Not sure if this is an immediate need or a longer term request, but for the long term (ie, once we're past social distancing), is working with a trainer an option? I like exercise well enough and have gone to the gym for years. But I was in a rut, so in the last year I started working with a trainer, and it's upped my motivation considerably and given me a whole slew of new things to do at the gym. So if this is an option financially, it's something to consider.
posted by swheatie at 4:43 PM on April 8, 2020

I would build up my whole game. Eat more raw vegetables. More water. Less sugar/alcohol/caffeine etc. Little hacks that add to your total health... and do so for several weeks... and I'm sure your body will tell you that it 'makes sense' to do what it takes to also address those problem areas.

It also helps to break it down one week at a time. Promise yourself: this week I will do the exercises on Mon, Wed, and Fri - no matter what. And when you do, reward yourself with something (I like to buy albums.. or whatever etc.)

Also... notice people around you that don't take care of themselves. Shouldn't you be taking care of yourself? Your future self will thank you for doing so I'm sure.
posted by mrmarley at 4:46 PM on April 8, 2020

Well, there’s a reason that a lot of exercises feel dull. Many are dull. The challenge is finding ones that you don’t find dull, because then you don’t need artificial motivation. An analogy from personal experience: I’ve never liked running. Just don’t. So I thought I just wasn’t ever going to enjoy any cardio. Then I bought a road bike. As it turns out, that’s super fun for me. I don’t “exercise”; I just ride my bike, and I like it so much that I (used to) do it more often than I would have run.

So the challenge is to find something you enjoy. I’d point you to gmb.io, as they’re more focused on the fun and functional end of exercise. But...

If these injuries are serious enough that you’re seeing doctors about them, you probably shouldn’t do random exercises you read about on the internet. See your doctor and let them know your motivational issues, and explain the types of things you do enjoy. They should be able to make recommendations that fit your life.
posted by kevinbelt at 5:31 PM on April 8, 2020 [2 favorites]

Since our quarantine, I've started working out while listening to podcasts. I'm not much of a music person, but it had never occured to me to use podcasts. I'm not doing high intensity stuff, so I get bored otherwise. I've successfully kept up my longest streak ever with this approach.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 6:18 PM on April 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

Agreed that you need to find something that's enjoyable for you. Part of the issue sounds like you're thinking of "exercise" as something that benefits only the body. Look at it as something that can help develop the mind as well (since they're kinda the same thing!).

One way to approach this might be to think of yourself personality-wise, and go from there. Do you like methodical problem-solving? Climbing is in fact pretty rad for that. Strategizing? Tennis, martial arts... Getting zen? Yoga, running...

You might also look at participating in activities that address what you see as your weaknesses. I've done this all my life and had some pretty amazing transformative experiences. I always take it slow at first, and allow the initial resistance/tantrums/agonizing... but inevitably, I become a stronger, better person for it.

It also might be fun to find a team sport, or to get a trainer as swheatie suggested, so that you have some kind of social reinforcement and sense of play or achievement or whatever floats your motivational boat.

As a professional yoga teacher, outdoor guide, climber, former distance runner, dancer, and on and on... one thing I can say that makes worlds of difference for anyone in any type of activity (in addition to regular stretching, that is) is consistent weight training and calisthenics. Not only do these things keep one lookin nice; they also address the sorts of imbalances you mention by waking up neurological responses, putting/keeping your bod in good alignment, and developing strength in needed areas.

Good luck!
posted by Orlando_Vita at 6:26 PM on April 8, 2020 [2 favorites]

You could be me...except that you live in London. I have hacked this problem in so many ways! I'll get a routine that works for awhile, but then I get bored or life intervenes and then I believe that I'm back to square one. But that is a big fat LIE, because now I know that I can get back to taking better care of myself; I have done it before and I will need to do it again (eventually) because I am easily distracted. Also, my body is >50 and it falls apart more quickly than it used to when I don't take care of it. Be patient (and yet firmly consistent & kind) and you will make your future self very happy. Make small commitments that are so small that you feel silly if you don't do it. Honestly, 5 minutes can make a world of difference if you do it every day for a week... or a month.....until you start adding in other things because you are stronger.

My current method involves
an app (Daily Workouts - I bought it but the free/ad supported version works fine. I need to be told what to do.)
a designated space with some simple gear (handweights, large exercise ball, mat, resistance bands)
a set routine (first thing in the morning I use the app for 5minutes of abs & then 5 minutes of something else)
a tech toy (apple watch; I respond well to the gamification of the activity tracker. Reminders to stand and move are good)
a COVID-19 adjustment because I can't go to in person classes (running stairs in park with husband; sometimes the teen comes too.)

The biggest thing? Know the deeper WHY. For me, I know people who have aged well and those who have not. If I want choices in life when I am 80, I must take care of my body and brain. That is the stick.

All the usual things about building new habits apply. How do you tie the behavior to other regular activities? How do you get more fun/connection/other things you value while you do this thing? These are the carrots.

Looking back from the other side of 50, my shoulder thing and back thing got worse with age. But they are better now because of many layers of 5 minutes in the morning. No work is wasted work.
posted by heidiola at 10:50 PM on April 8, 2020 [7 favorites]

I’ve recently gone from almost totally sedentary on most work days (desk job, work from home) to 30 minutes of exercise every day, via the following motivations and adjustments:
- Bought an Apple Watch impulsively when it was on sale and it turns out I LOVE the “close your rings” app for some reason—highly motivated to keep my streak going now. I had a cheap FitBit knockoff before and it just wasn’t the same.
- Started playing Pokémon Go again after a couple years off. I keep looking for excuses to go for a long walk now so I can hatch eggs and find new Pokémon.
- Set up an exercise bike desk in the living room, where I can watch TV or play with my phone or read a book on the bike if I need to get extra exercise in for the day. I let myself play as much Candy Crush as I want as long as I’m cycling while I do it and I don’t even notice I’m tediously exercising, but my heart rate is consistently elevated enough for my watch to count it as exercise.

I used to rock climb regularly and loved it, but the gym is out of the way so my frequency of visits went down after a while. But just a recommendation for that particular activity because it’s really fun.
posted by music for skeletons at 1:09 AM on April 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

I need to push past my exercise cynicism

Could you say more about this? I feel like there's a lot being left out here. What's the cynicism? What *does* motivate you in other domains? How does "take up climbing, it's great" fail for you? Is there some reason you don't want your shoulder or back to feel better, and that's why you never keep up with physio recommendations? Are you not convinced exercise will show results?

Without that info: being interested in the process requires commitment. I consider thin recommendations like "do some press ups every morning" mostly counterproductive because they try to preserve someone's current lifestyle, their current identity, even their current body. Those are precisely what have to change. Trying to minimize the change is opposite of what you want. Think bigger; approach it like a major new relationship that will involve a lot of time, energy, and money. You'll do it every day for an hour, you'll dive into books about it, you'll set your own long-term goals because you want to.
posted by daveliepmann at 1:32 AM on April 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

I need to push past my exercise cynicism and find a way to get my motivated and interested in the process.

Not sure if the emphasis is simply on "get me motivated and interested" of if it's on "process." I know that for me, a woman who only started exercising-for-the-sake-of-exercise in my twenties, learning about the physiological processes and changes associated with exercise made it a lot more fun. Increase in blood flow to the spinal cord when I run, activating specific muscles while doing planks, just learning how my body is put together in general was exciting, and also motivating because it made me aware of what was going on during physical activity beyond, "I'm out of breath and my goddamn body is on fire."

If you are a numbers person or just enjoy analysing things, some sort of tracker could also be a good idea. A lot of people roll their eyes at smart-watch apps, and alone they're certainly not going to be sufficient to get you to move, but having concrete numbers whose changes I could observe also made things more interesting--taking a minute off my 5K, watching VO2max increase, whatever.

You mention your naturally svelte physique a couple of times--regardless of your looks or how you feel about them, I would advise against using appearance as either a positive or a negative a motivator. Absent a very serious regimen, ideally under the guidance of a trainer, exercise is not always a surefire way to create any superficial changes one might be looking for. There are thin people who don't work out at all (like you, you lucky human) and "obese" folks who run marathons. I think it's much more useful to decide on a non-aesthetic goal--getting faster, getting stronger, increasing coordination or flexibility. You have way more control over those things via the time and effort you put in, and you're less likely to be confounded by other factors like diet or sleep or stress.
posted by peakes at 5:11 AM on April 9, 2020 [2 favorites]

I have zero motivation to workout at home. I joined up with a small gym that offered beginner classes. The gym membership was relatively expensive over $100 a month. For me spending that money was the motivation I need, if i'm spending the money I better use it. Also the social aspect of the class is a motivation. Find a gym with trained personnel that will be able to adapt any exercise to your limitation.
posted by tman99 at 5:47 AM on April 9, 2020

I'd say insufficient rewards are at the basis of this. You do your exercises you don't feel any different and it all feels awkward, boring and ineffective. So instead of seeing the problem as being the exercises, trouble shoot what you would need to do to motivate to do any pointless daily task and regard it as a project in developing discipline.

Find a forcing function. Tie your exercises to something that you already have to do every day. A good forcing function is something like waiting for the kettle to boil, or when you get up to go pee. Every time you get up to pee do one of each of your exercises. At the end of the day give yourself one tiny but pleasing reward for each time you did the exercise. A suitable reward would be something like a Smartie or an M&M, or an equal number of minutes on that website you enjoy so much but stay off, like TV tropes, or stickers, or points towards a high ticket reward.

Do them for the reward, not for the benefit of the exercises. Do them so that you can tell yourself you are a motivated person able to discipline yourself into following a program.

Reward yourself additionally for number of days in which you exercised. NEVER penalize yourself or reset the clock for missed days or exercises. So one M&M for each time you do the exercises in a given day, plus a new pair of cute socks for doing this for three days, whether they are in a row or not. And new screwdriver for your tool kit if you can do it for ten days, whether or not they are consecutive. And download that e-book you want when you reach fifteen days. Make the rewards preset but irregular, so that sometimes they are easy, cos you just have to get five more days in, and sometimes they are harder because you have to do them for thirty whole days before you get that cheesecake.

Start by doing an absurdly low number of reps, spaced so that your body gets used to the idea of getting into that position without protesting, or having time to tell you that you are bored. Then slowly ramp up and change your routine so that you are doing three or five exercises each time you get up to pee and start rewarding yourself for sets of exercises, as with one M&M for every five exercises, which can be done either one at a time or all at once.

Get so that your mind can be completely elsewhere while you do them. Once you learn the forms so you can do them on auto pilot you can do them while watching videos that amuse you, or while talking with a friend, or while standing on the balcony watching the birds and drinking coffee, and you won't find them boring. Boring is often the name we give to the feeling when we don't want to do something and can't get into it. Thoughts like, "This feels stupid. I don't even know if I am doing it right and it doesn't feel like it is doing anything and I don't know how to stretch my brain so that I can analyze what I am doing enough to feel confident I actually did anything," often get perceived as "This is boring."

Pay attention to your breathing. Sometimes people stop breathing when they do exercises on the spot, or don't ramp up their breathing when they need to. Also pay attention to how it feels. Stretches may feel wrong and you want to retract. Reduce the stretch enough so that you can sustain it and hold it and test to figure out how far you have to stretch to progress from no effect to "I really don't want to be in this position." Check different parts of your body for those feelings. You may be thinking about your arms feel stupid, when in fact your back is the one that wants you to stop holding the position.

Try to find a music that has a tempo that goes with being comfortable with your exercises. If you need to hold positions something languid that makes you sleepy comfortable might help.
posted by Jane the Brown at 6:58 AM on April 9, 2020 [2 favorites]

What I do for physio is I've basically linked it to my routine. So when I brush my teeth in the morning, I do my hip flexor strengthening exercise. Eventually I began automatically trudging over to my exercise band whenever I had my toothbrush in hand. I try to do dynamic (moving) or standing physio in the morning, and static or lying-down physio in the evening.

DISCLAIMER: IAMNYD, please adapt for your back/shoulder situation.

As for exercise, I also struggle with this. I have a lot of emotional issues around exercise/sports/etc and the one thing I've found is: do something you enjoy. If you like music, put on some songs and just close your eyes and dance, without worrying how silly you look. I actually enjoy looking up Just Dance videos for songs I like and following those, without the pressure of getting a certain score in a game.

It's still a work in progress. The thing that helps me is the idea that the best exercise is consistent. Even if it's just exercising regularly once a week, that is better than exercising every day but not being able to keep that up. Even if you don't go as "hard" as you feel you should, it's the consistency that's most important - and then if you have that in place, you can adjust what you do.
posted by zima_lengneui at 7:04 AM on April 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

(I should note that I used to play sports, so I enjoy the feeling of exerting my body. The nature of my ADHD also means that "making x activity enjoyable" is more effective for me than "give myself y reward for doing x activity". YMMV)
posted by zima_lengneui at 7:07 AM on April 9, 2020

It would be helpful to know if you have any physical goals - anything you want your body to be able to DO. These goals can be anything, no matter what your starting point is - do you have any desire to do the splits, hold a handstand, hike a steep mountain, compete in a triathlon, use aerial silks? If there is any part of you that identifies with "I want to be a person who can effortlessly press up into a handstand" then it will be easier to motivate yourself to take steps that lead in that direction.

And along with that, are there any forms of activity or movement you ENJOY? I'm someone climbing definitely worked for, and it's honestly so fun that it doesn't register as exercise, but I know what you mean - I also find it hard to do exercise I perceive as drudgery. So are there any activities you enjoy? If it turns out you enjoy yoga, then it's going to be more effective to get small frequent amounts of shoulder strengthening and core work for your low back from yoga videos you'll actually do than a more targeted low back + shoulder physio routine that you hate. The perfect is the enemy of the good here.

If you don't have any physical goals you identify with or want to work for, you basically want your life to stay exactly the same but you don't want to be in pain, that's fine too. The good news is that physio exercises shouldn't have to be performed forever - they're just designed to get your tissues strong enough that your current everyday activities are no longer stressful to your back or shoulder. So if you can make a commitment to 6-8 weeks of whatever exercises you've been prescribed in the past, performed 2-4x a week, you should see a big difference in your pain levels and quality of life. If that seems too daunting, try making the workouts very short and combining them with something fun (like watching a specific netflix show or listening to audiobooks/podcasts you only listen to when you work out).
posted by autolykos at 7:27 AM on April 9, 2020

How about swimming? It works the whole body. Obviously you cannot go to a pool now but when this virus is gone look into it finding a local indoor pool with hours that work for you. If you do not know how to swim a lot of places have lessons for adults. It's something you'll be able to enjoy for the rest of our life.
posted by mareli at 7:32 AM on April 9, 2020

I did stretching exercises for my back every morning for years. The routine was designed by a physical therapist. I did them before breakfast while my wife read to me.

Involving another person is a big help, if possible.
posted by SemiSalt at 7:36 AM on April 9, 2020

I don’t know if this helps but it sounds like you’re looking for exercise ideas that you’ll find enjoyable, as if everyone who exercises loves doing it, and because you don’t enjoy it, you haven’t found the right thing... I exercise regularly and I wouldn’t say I often enjoy doing any of it. Gym, swimming, jogging, yoga... generally I find it all pretty boring, and something to get out of the way.

But I enjoy how I feel afterwards. And I enjoy feeling fit, and having few aches and pains for the 23.5 hours (or whatever) of the day I’m not exercising. And, hopefully, I’ll enjoy feeling fitter when I’m older because I’ve exercised regularly when I was/am younger. That’s the plan, anyway.

Maybe it’s something about finding why to exercise, and having that matter to you enough, as much as it is about finding a form of exercise you can tolerate.
posted by fabius at 2:16 PM on April 10, 2020

Cannabis has helped me get exercising and enjoy stretching/yoga afterwards. That and/or good podcasts.
posted by anthill at 1:27 PM on April 15, 2020

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