Fitness Motivation: The Tips & Science Driving Workout Attitudes

Fitness Motivation Study
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How many times have you vowed to start eating healthy and exercise more, only to fall off the wagon after just a few weeks? It happens for many reasons – perhaps work got too crazy, or the dull weather made going to the gym feel like a chore – but either way, the main thing to remember is that you’re not alone.

Across the UK, we recently researched over 3.6m fitness-related social mentions to find out when people are feeling most motivated to exercise. We found there are definite peaks and troughs throughout the year, so we spoke with fitness professionals to get their expert advice on how to stay in the zone, and make sure 2016 is the year you finally make good on your goals.

Read on to find out what we discovered about the UK’s gym habits, or skip to the topics below, to get motivation and cheat day advice from some of the country’s top fitness experts.

With these motivation tips you’ll never slack off at the gym or make excuses again!

  1. Focus on the post-workout adrenaline
  2. Give yourself a decent goal
  3. Don’t be afraid of cheat meals
  4. Make the gym enjoyable, not a chore
  5. Make a workout plan and stick to it
  6. Set a good example for your kids
  7. Exercise with a gym buddy and work together

Is there a specific time when people are most motivated to work out?

When it comes to fitness, we like to start January with a bang. Our analysis looked at social mentions between January 2015 and the end of January 2016, and found that, as a nation, we discussed the gym most on January 4th 2016 – the first Monday after New Year’s. Not bad! However, although momentum was kept up for most of that week, gym chat was already down by 34% by the following Monday, which suggests we were already slacking off.

Of course, there’s a difference between talking about exercise and actually working out. Although many people discussed the gym on January 4th, they didn’t actually kick-start their fitness regime until a little later, as the most gym check-ins took place on January 14th.

How does this compare with last year? In 2015, the days with the most check-ins were as follows:

  • February 10th
  • February 19th
  • February 23rd
  • October 13th

This suggests that it takes us a while to motivate ourselves after the indulgence-fest that is Christmas, and we possibly like to step things up a gear around Valentine’s Day – who said romance was dead?

After February, the online fitness conversation gradually declined until September/October, when people started to return from their summer holidays. Clearly, staying consistently motivated throughout the year is something many of us find challenging.

Going to the gym - BULK POWDERS

Which areas of the UK are most motivated to stay fit?

Northerners came out on top here – with 9.1% of fitness conversation taking place in Manchester. Birmingham came second with 4.9%, followed closely by Liverpool at 3.4%. The remaining cities in the top 10 may surprise you:

Top motivated city gym goers - BULK POWDERS

This could mean that Londoners are less motivated, or that they simply don’t like to log in to social media to discuss their fitness regimes as much. Either way, these stats certainly get you thinking about how people approach staying fit differently across the country.

The best days to visit the gym

One thing that could potentially put people off visiting the gym is, frankly, other people. We rounded up the days on which the gym was least talked about (excluding Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and UK holidays). If you want to avoid queues for equipment and waiting lists for classes, add these dates to your diary:

  • January 21st
  • February 26th
  • March 31st
  • April 6th
  • May 14th
  • June 18th
  • July 2nd
  • August 27th
  • September 17th
  • October 29th
  • November 12th
  • December 23rd

Naturally, December was a slow month, as there was nearly 50% less conversation about going to the gym than in January.

That said, our investigation brought something a little suspicious to light. Although there was 45% more conversation about the gym in January in comparison to the rest of the year, it seems that the number of people checking in to the gym was only 25% above average. Something doesn’t quite add up there. Are people who say they’re going to the gym actually faking it, or are they just not checking in as much? It’s possible that even the most ardent of gym bunnies need a little extra motivation from time to time! Here’s how the numbers stack up:

No Talk No Action - BULK POWDERS

The personal journey to fitness

So, what are these findings telling us? It could be that people want to impress friends and family by sharing their new fitness regime at the start of the year, but in reality, they find it hard to stay motivated. Perhaps they feel they can’t keep up with other gym-goers as the year progresses, so they simply stop the conversation altogether? There’s a message here – and it’s that you need to find something personal that motivates you, instead of looking at what drives others.

For instance, if a “personal best” (PB) isn’t something you currently keep track of, it may be time for a rethink. An effective approach is to keep a record of your PB so you can see how well you are progressing accurately over time.

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It’s the idea of continuous self-improvement that motivates me. I never feel comfortable settling for my current situation. So whatever it is in life, I’m always trying to progress and be better.”

Matt Lucas, bodybuilder

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Our research revealed that in terms of online conversation, the sport most associated with achieving a personal best was running. 30% of marathon conversation was related to PBs, along with 14% of 10K conversation, and just over 5% of half marathon conversation. There was also some PB discussion around squats, deadlifts and bench presses. Check out the graph below to see how the comparisons line up.

Personal Bests - BULK POWDERS

When it comes to working out, it’s easy to fall into the trap of only thinking about the end goal, rather than enjoying the journey – but remember that every small success (so, every time you beat that personal best) is part of a huge journey. What could be more motivational than that?

Fitness motivation tips from the experts

Of course, it’s also nice to have some professional guidance. To help you find your personal motivation, we spoke with a number of leading fitness professionals to find out what motivates them to work out, and had a look at research that’s been carried out in this field.

Remind yourself how good it will feel when you’re finished

“I stay motivated because I enjoy how I feel once I have done a workout – nothing beats the post workout buzz,” says blogger Natalie Glaze. “Regular exercise is also good for my mind: it allows me to switch off and it makes me happier. A healthier person is a happier person.”

Kris Gunnars, founder and CEO of Authority Nutrition agrees: “I find that exercise makes me feel better in every way possible, both physically and mentally. Being aware of that fact gives me motivation to make it a regular part of my routine.”

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I personally stay motivated by the adrenaline rush I get in the gym.”

Rachael Owen, bodybuilder & BULK POWDERS™ athlete

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Carly of Project Hot B*tch seconds the idea: “It’s taken me about two years, but I just try and remember how I am going to feel afterwards. I procrastinate before a workout just like everyone else, moaning while I drag myself out in the cold…. but I know afterwards I will be running round, high on endorphins, and in an infinitely better mood than before I started.”

Or as Georgina Spenceley, the blogger behind Fitcetera, puts it, “People often think working out will make them tired, but I actually find it gives me more energy, and I often feel more tired after a few days off than when I’ve trained!”

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Set yourself a goal

“I think it’s really important to have some sort of goal in order to stay motivated,” explains Chris Walton, Director of Personal Training at Embody Fitness. “Motivation, in itself, will only help you get started, or help you to do something difficult for a short period – after that, it’s habit that helps you to keep going when motivation is low.”

“Therefore,” he continues, “having a tangible goal to train for means you must form habits as part of the process of achieving that goal. This could be to gain a little more lean mass or drop some body fat, or even something such as a Tough Mudder.”

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I have had a dream of winning gold at the Paralympic Games since I was six years old. Every day gets me a step closer to that dream. If I skip a day, I skip my chance at my dream.”

Ali Jawad, powerlifter & BULK POWDERS™ athlete

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However, remember it’s as much about the journey than the destination. “The key is to focus on the processes and not the end goal,” says Walton. “Taking the ‘gain lean mass’ example, you would focus on the meals you must eat and the number of times you should work out per week in order to achieve your goal. In this way, you can develop the habit that will help you through the times when motivation isn’t as high.”

Many people find that keeping a food diary or using tech gadgets to monitor their progress helps them stay on track (1). It can also help to understand how each part of your training contributes to achieving your goal. “The way I stay motivated to give 101% to every session is to relate each session to the part of the race it aims to improve,” says track athlete Rebecca Campsall. “For example, if I lack motivation to do a speed endurance session, I imagine the final 20m of a 200m race and how much better that will feel for me doing the session.”

What’s interesting too, is that in terms of goals, there’s been a shift in recent years. One of the most talked about goals related to fitness is simply to be healthy, with nearly 64% of all posts mentioning the benefits of staying healthy as a reason for working out in 2016 so far. This is huge compared to 13% that work out for weight loss, 11% that work out to gain strength and 12% that are trying to achieve some sort of bodybuilding goal.

Motivation for Working Out - BULK POWDERS

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Indulge in a cheat meal

In recent years, the idea of the cheat day or cheat meal has become popular among diet and fitness buffs. The idea is that if you stick to a healthy eating plan for the majority of the week, you can reward yourself with one meal a week when you can eat whatever you want.

For many, the idea of getting a treat in return for their hard work is a powerful way to keep their motivation levels high and provides an extra sense of purpose and reward for their effort. (2)

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During training camp, I have to be strict with my food to make weight. After the weigh-in and my Complete Hydration drink, it’s straight to Nando’s – and it’s awesome!

James DeGale, World Champion boxer & BULK POWDERS™ athlete

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The concept does have some basis in science: for example, a number of studies suggest that human willpower is a limited resource that resets itself daily and occasionally needs to be topped up. (3) What’s more, other research (and a lot of anecdotal evidence) shows that knowing something is forbidden may only increase your desire for it. (4) When you combine these two factors – a limited supply of willpower, and the lure of off-limits treats – your motivation to eat healthily could rapidly start to slide.

The cheat meal offers some release. Many people find that knowing that their favourite foods aren’t entirely banned, and that they’ll get to indulge soon, at a specific point in the week, gives them enough strength to stick to their eating plan the rest of the time. There may even be a biological reason for this, as there is some evidence that occasionally overindulging in carbohydrates in particular can stimulate the production of leptin, a hormone which creates a feeling of fullness and satisfaction. (5)

Bodybuilders even schedule in a cheat meal as a way of resetting the hormones that control their appetite and insulin production, as these may become unbalanced under their extreme, body fat-reducing diets.

In practice, a cheat meal or snack could be a wiser option than a full cheat day, as people are less likely to blow their entire weekly calorie budget in a single cheat meal. Research backs this up, as several studies indicate that thinking you can compensate for your cheat day food choices at a later date often means you’re more likely to overeat on both regular and cheat days. (6)

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It’s important to have the right balance, not just in your nutrition but in life as well. I drink alcohol, I eat pizza: that’ll never change, but I just don’t do it every single day.”

Paul Stainthorpe, Father Fitness

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In fact, many of the experts we spoke to were actually more in favour of having a little bit of your favourite unhealthy treats whenever you want them, rather than saving it up for a cheat day binge. “Restrictive diets don’t work for me,” says Georgina Spenceley. “I end up creating myself more stress by trying to stick to them than if I’d just eaten in a more balanced way. I make more healthy choices than not, and that’s what allows me to indulge when the chocolate calls!”

The idea is that indulging in moderation is better than trying to deprive yourself at any point, which is backed up by studies that show taking a restrained approach to eating overall is more effective than strict “dieting” when it comes to losing weight. (7) In fact, by finding ways to make your regular, healthy meals and snacks tastier – perhaps by using healthy substitutions for the usual ingredients – you may not even feel the need for a treat.

For example, add flavoured whey powder to shakes, smoothies, desserts and other foods to keep protein levels high. Not only does protein help with muscle growth and recovery, but it can also keep you feeling full and satisfied for longer, reducing any urges to snack unnecessarily. Even better, the right recipe can feel like a treat in itself; check out the video below for an example of how to prepare a mouth-watering snack that won’t disrupt your diet.

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Make it enjoyable

If your workouts are fun, you’ll require far less prompting to get off the sofa and into the gym. Find an activity you enjoy, or try a variety of classes and routines to prevent boredom setting in. As nutritionist and life coach Lorna Balfour of Passionate About Fitness explains, “I love training. I focus on enjoying each workout and make sure I train hard enough to see good results. Each session is different so I don’t get bored.”

Another popular way to inject some fun into your workout is to add some tunes: studies show that working out to music makes the experience more enjoyable, and therefore people are more likely to stick with it. (8) A good workout playlist can also provide a welcome distraction and emotional boost when you need it, increase endurance and even make you perceive less pain and fatigue. (9)

Other people are more motivated to work out if they look the part, so treat yourself to some gym kit that’s both stylish and functional. (10)

Or, simply head outdoors. Research indicates that people who exercise in nature report greater feelings of happiness, satisfaction and enjoyment and increased mental wellbeing – plus are more likely to want to engage in the activity again. (11)

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Plan and schedule workouts in advance

“I lead a very busy lifestyle, so in order to help me fit in my workouts I plan and schedule them in advance,” says Georgina Spenceley. By putting specific “fitness appointments” in your diary, you’re less likely to skip these sessions when your day gets hectic. Many people find that exercising first thing in the morning is also a good idea. It may be hard to get up that early, but at least you’re certain to get your workout in before the demands of everyday life intervene and scupper your plans!

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When that alarm goes off at 6am, it’s you that gets yourself out of bed and into the new day. I’m the only one who can create my physique, and make it the best it can be.”

Matt Argall, bodybuilder & BULK POWDERS™ athlete

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Remember, too, that not every session has to be long or extremely intense. “My training is relaxed and not a frenzy,” says Lorna Balfour. “It doesn’t need to be.” Give yourself permission to do a shorter or more relaxing workout on days when you’re feeling stressed or crunched for time – a 2012 study showed that 30 minutes of training each day can be just as effective as a full hour. (12)

Finally, if you’re budget-conscious, shelling out for a class or trainer may help increase your motivation to turn up – and thus work out as better value-for-money than a free workout. “Nothing will motivate me out of bed and off to a class more than the prospect of wasting a tenner!” says Carly.

So what do the stats say? Well, November, December and January are the months in which most people talk about workout plans, with 30% more conversation taking place during these months. More people discussed workout plans in 2015 compared to 2014, as we saw a 33% jump in conversation in January 2015 compared to January 2014. This trend appears to be continuing to rise, as in the past we’ve seen conversation drop off significantly in February compared to January. However, workout plan conversation was actually 62% higher in February 2016 compared to February last year. Onwards and upwards!

Planned Workout - BULK POWDERS

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Set a good example for your kids

“I don’t want to be that unfit dad, so my journey started when my son was born, says Paul Stainthorpe, who blogs at Father Fitness. “It’s important for me to set a good example, and remaining fit and healthy is one of those examples.” Parents’ levels of fitness really do make a difference, as studies have demonstrated that the children of active parents are more likely to engage in regular physical activity themselves. (13) You could be setting them up for a lifetime of healthy habits and athletic endeavour.

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Surround yourself with like-minded people

“I am the founder of a health and fitness content creation agency, so I spend most of my time with health and fitness professionals and models, creating campaigns and filming them,” explains Louise Rumball of Lu De Lux. “Being surrounded by people who look their best helps me stay motivated to look my best because it is the norm within the industry.”

Even if you don’t work in the fitness industry – and the closest you get to professional fitness models is marvelling at their posts on Instagram, Pinterest and other social media – you can still help motivate yourself by finding a fitness buddy who is more advanced. A 2012 study showed that working out with someone you perceive as being better than you at the activity in question encourages people to increase their exercise duration and intensity. (14) Or even if your gym mates are all at a similar level to you, they can still be a good influence: other studies have found that having a friend depend on you can increase motivation and performance. (15)

It seems several female gym goers out there would agree, as our research found that women are more likely to have a gym buddy, with females making up 63% of tweeters who mention them.

Gym Buddy - BULK POWDERS

Many of us need a hand overcoming the mid-week strain too, with nearly 20% of the conversation about having a gym buddy taking place on a Wednesday. There was a 50% drop in gym buddy conversation on a Saturday though. We also saw an 8% rise in the volume of conversation around gym buddies from 2014 to 2015, and we observed a 17% rise in January and February 2016 compared to the same period of time in 2015.

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