7 Tips For Working Out At Home When You Have No Motivation

"But my couch is right there..."

Even if you have a kettlebell or a couple of dumbbells lying around, it can be hard to muster up the motivation to use them.

When you’re used to being able to load up a barbell and lift way more than your bodyweight, it can be demoralizing — to say the least — to find yourself with such a limited amount of equipment. Of course, you can do amazing work to build and maintain muscle at home with no equipment at all! But when you’re lacking the comforting ritual of going to your gym, it can be hard to muster up the motivation to work out at home.

Even if you know everything you need to know about bodyweight or limited-equipment training, that doesn’t mean you want to do it. There’s a ritual to going to the gym: it’s your home away from home; you have an intimate relationship with the feel of the barbells, the sounds of iron clanging, the scent of your gym (for better or worse); and it might well be the only time you dedicate to yourself. 

Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

sleepy gym goer
New Africa/Shutterstock

On top of that, the world is just extra tough right now. Any depression or anxiety that you might normally feel may well be even worse these last couple months, and you’re definitely not alone in that. Whatever your reasons for feeling unmotivated to work out at home, remember that there’s nothing wrong with you for needing to take a break. You’re not weak if you can’t whip up the motivation you usually have. You’re not bad if you skip workouts because your mind and body just don’t want to do it.

But, if you’re like me and you know you’ll feel better if you break a sweat, check out these strategies for getting back in the game (and feel free to use them all).

At the gym or at home, it all comes back to your intention. Are you working out because you want to stay strong for your next powerlifting meet (when, you know, we can have those again)? Do you have a PR you’re trying to hit on the deadlift platform? Is lifting your emotional safe space and you want to give yourself that gift as often as you can? Whatever your reason for wanting to move, sometimes the world — and our brains — feel too heavy to budge. Don’t beat yourself up if you’re having trouble getting out of your own way.

If the very idea of working out is stressing you to the hilt, take a few days. Your muscles won’t evaporate. Take care of yourself and be gentle about your program taking a hit — it’ll come back. If you love it, it always will. It might look different, but it’ll still be there.

[Related: 8 muscle building home workouts from top athletes and coaches]

black man working out online at computer
Prostock-studio/Shutterstock

Have a Ritual

Even if you don’t have the physical room to set up a workout space at home, you can still carve out a mental space. What do you do, physically, when you get to the gym? Maybe you stop by the water fountain to top off your bottle; put your bag in a cubby; pull out a mat to warm up, sit down, and trade in your street shoes for your lifting kicks… Even if you only have a few feet of physical space to work with, you can still create the emotional space for these pre-workout rituals. 

Try using the same water bottle you use at the gym. When I try to drink from glasses during my at-home workouts, I feel… well, like I’m working out at home. I personally don’t want that. So my Captain Marvel shaker bottle it is.

Whatever you’re drinking from (and you should be staying hydrated!), create a ritual for filling the bottle up. Blast your workout tunes (or whatever you listen to while warming up at the gym) into your headphones while you lay out your mat or towel or whatever else you need. Ask your roommates or family to ignore you for however long your workout will last. Create that space for yourself, even if it’s mostly mental. Because at the end of the day, working out is mostly mental anyway.

Mountain Climber
Image via Shutterstock/George Rudy

Stick To A Bodyweight Program

One of my biggest senses of disorientation with working out at home is that suddenly, my Thursday mornings aren’t full of 5×5 deadlifts, and my Mondays no longer feature heavy squat sets. I don’t have a bench or power rack for pressing. Really what I’m getting at is that when I don’t have my barbells, I feel like I don’t have my schedule; and keeping to my training schedule is my favorite thing to do for just myself… in all of life. So take that away, and I flounder quite a bit.

If you’re feeling a similar way, remind yourself that bodyweight training at home doesn’t have to mean you leave your training splits behind. Are you an upper-lower split person? You can keep that. A push-pull split? Stay on that track. Split by lifts? Stay in that mindset. Get creative about what to swap your regularly-scheduled lifts with — endless bodyweight squats might not be the most fun, but on days you would normally squat, maybe swap in some tempo Bulgarian split squats supersetted with jumping lunges.

Have a goal in the gym of benching twice your bodyweight? Keep that goal, but also give yourself a new one — maybe work up to a one-arm pushup, and program for that. Having a program can help create even more space for your workout, and might help you feel more connected to the gym and your goals (and therefore, more motivated).

If you’re writing your own program, make sure you’re integrating back and pull work into your program — just because you don’t have a deadlift platform and a pullup bar doesn’t mean you can skimp on your posterior chain training. Not sure how to integrate pulling and other back work into your bodyweight training? Think about exercises like supermans and wall walks. Got a spare bedsheet lying around? Integrate no-equipment pull moves into your upper body days by tying a knot in the bedsheet, securing it over a door, and getting in some inverted rows and TIYs.

[Related: The best bodyweight workouts you can do at home]

yoga at home
George Rudy/Shutterstock

Phone A Friend

Pick a yoga video, get your friend the link, dial them up on Google Hangouts, and… do some yoga together. Or some at-home strength training — whatever floats both of your boats. Having a buddy to do a virtual workout with every day can serve as a great (and fun) reason to toss on some shorts and get moving. Set a time that works for both of you each day for maximum accountability and fun-factor.

Try An Online Class (No… Really.)

If you’re a lifter by nature, the idea of taking an online workout class might be… unappealing. But group fitness classes have a truckload of benefits for lifters (think increased mobility to actually hit a deep squat, and boosted cardio health to hit an eight rep set without feeling half-dead). And if you’re feeling particularly unmotivated to work out, having an instructor onscreen to make you laugh (yes, you’re allowed to laugh while you’re working out) and just straight up tell you what to do can make moving a lot easier.

I’m not gonna lie — some days during quarantine, my depression has been so bad that the only way I’ve been able to move has been using the Nike Training Club app classes to make me do something. Some days, it makes me feel better. Other days, it’s 40 minutes of hell, punctuated by unenthusiastic movements on my part, little holes in my soul when I can’t currently smile even when I know otherwise I’d be laughing at the trainers being silly (but also hella hardcore).

But… those little bouts of movement are, on some days, better than nothing for me. And I definitely wouldn’t be able to move on my own accord without them. If that might be the case for you, find a couple of instructors you trust, who make you feel affirmed, and have at it.

home workout
Elnur/Shutterstock

Use An App

Taking an isolated class or two is great, but plugging yourself into a program of online classes can be even more helpful. Plenty of yoga YouTubers have 30-day yoga challenges, and the Nike Training Club app has pre-designed programs you can choose from that can help keep you on track. Miss a day? No worries — 30-day challenges don’t need to be completed in 30 consecutive days. You don’t have to start over at one because you missed a day. Be gentle with yourself and enjoy the benefits of a program being all laid out for you.

[Related: The 6 best workout streaming services for strength athletes]

Plank Core Clock
Image via Shutterstock/22Images Studio

Make A List Of 10-Minute AMRAPs

It can be a lot easier to convince yourself to move if you promise yourself it won’t last a long time. The intensity of a quick AMRAP (as many rounds/reps as possible) can be hard to imagine when you don’t even want to get up to grab more water for yourself.

Select some of your favorite movements (got a kettlebell? ten minutes of AMRAP swinging is both hellish and awesome) and see if your score today can beat your score from last week.

Keep a post-it or other record of your AMRAP ideas. Create these workouts like you were creating a mini-program, thinking about movement balance and — especially in this case — what you like to do. (If you’re already strapped for motivation, you probably don’t want to load up an inspirational AMRAP with moves you hate.) Writing them down in advance means you won’t have to think about choosing the exercises in the moment — just consult your list, pick on, set a timer, and go.

Deload Workout
Photo By Syda Productions / Shutterstock

… Don’t Work Out (But Maybe Get Some Sunlight)

With my depression and anxiety, oftentimes the only reason I leave the house each day is to go to the gym; but with the gym closed, my motivation to drag myself out of the door is often completely gone. My wife needs to constantly cajole me out of the house, especially during the pandemic (a favorite “trick” of hers is asking me to get her a latte, which gives me a goal that will make me happy).

More often than not, the moment I step outside, I feel at least a little better.

A couple of weeks ago, it took over two hours for me to even step foot out of the apartment — but two minutes after I left, I came back in, traded my regular sneakers for my walking sneakers, and went for a sprinting session. Why? The sun can just, biologically, make you feel a lot better. So even if you don’t wind up coming back for your running shoes, take it easy on yourself — you don’t have to work out today if you have no motivation. You might need a break from working out, and that’s okay. But try to make sure you get some sunlight — the movement of walking plus the Vitamin D will probably do you some good, and you deserve all the good you can get.

[Related: 3 ways to increase the intensity of your at home workouts]

You Don’t Have To Lift, But You Can Work Out

For me, “working out” has meant barbells — for years. I have absolutely loathed working out at home… and I kind of still do.

But in my less depressed moments, I’m excited to just be able to move, and to be able to learn new things about my body, develop better mobility, and figure out so much more about myself through working out at home. Getting the motivation to work out away from the gym can be especially tough.

If it’s not coming naturally for you, pay extra attention to your likes and dislikes, including times of day that you like or hate to move. Be gentle with yourself, try out new strategies, and no matter what, don’t beat yourself up — that’s one workout you never need.

Featured image via New Africa/Shutterstock

Jay Polish

Jay Polish

Dr. Jay Polish is an American Council on Exercise certified personal trainer, and holds an additional certification in Kettlebell Athletics. A competitive powerlifter, their personal training practice focuses on empowering both new and experienced lifters with body positive training methods of strength and circuit training.

They teach Theater and English in the CUNY system, where they received their PhD in English. They live in California with their wife and their fantasies of having multiple puppies. Their website is here. You can train with them through Trainerize.

When they're not in the gym, they moonlight as the author of two young adult books, LUNAV and LOST BOY, FOUND BOY (March 2018, NineStar Press).

Their debut novel, LUNAV, a lesbian enemies-to-lovers faerie tale, features dragons that grow on trees and friendship amongst rebellion. Their debut novella, LOST BOY, FOUND BOY, is a scifi re-telling of Peter Pan in which Neverland is a holomatrix, Hook is a bisexual cyborg, and Tink is an asexual lesbian computer interface.

Leave a Comment