How To Maintain Workout Motivation In an Endless Quarantine

Does lockdown seem neverending?

Quarantine is dragging, and not just on the economy and your emotions.

It makes sense if you’re having a tough time maintaining your motivation to work out during a pandemic, when your favorite coping mechanism (the gym, of course) isn’t an option.

If your mental health is slacking because you’ve completely lost the motivation to work out, you know that the cycle can get ugly: I have no motivation to work out, so I don’t work out, so I slip into deeper into a funk, so I can’t work out, so…

Read on if you’re searching for ways to bring that cycle skidding to a halt.

First, know that it’s also alright if you’ve got no workout motivation and… that feels alright with you. You might want to curl up on your couch and play video games instead of heading out for a run or hitting the proverbial deck for your hundredth burpee of the day. Sometimes, the key with maintaining your mental health lies precisely in not forcing yourself to accomplish things. 

It’s okay to take a break, even if it’s a long one. You don’t have to force yourself to drum up the workout motivation if this is one of those times when not pushing yourself is the best way forward. 

That said, if you do want to reignite your motivation? Instead of beating yourself up (don’t do that), you might just have to get a bit creative.

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.

push up at home
Dmytrenko Vlad/Shutterstock

Carve Out Your Own Space And Time

My wife and I have worked from home since even before the pandemic, but now we have a dog at home — so suddenly, using my new trap bar in the apartment during the day (when all the little one wants to do is climb on top of me and lick the weight plates) is a bit more precarious.

So my wife redesigned a section of the living room for my lifting equipment so that I could feel more like I’m disappearing into the gym when I need to put on my workout shoes. Having that specific space — and running through similar rituals that I had when I could go to the gym (a very particular way of tuning out the world, turning up my music, breaking out my lifting journal, etc.) — helps me slip into a mindset that feels like I’m closer to the gym than the couch.

You might also have to play around with the time you work out. I’m a morning person, but with the new puppy, I’ve been doing night workouts after my wife and I put the four-legged to bed . It’s much easier on his sleep schedule, and this way, I have something to look forward to each day. In quarantine, it can be hard to look forward to much of anything, so that’s important in and of itself. And, if something unexpected happens in the morning before work (which it tends to), I’m not missing a workout — I’m still planning to do it later tonight. 

Sit down with your workout journal and daily calendar to figure out what changes might work for you. How can you carve out physical and emotional space for consistent workouts in your routine?

yoga athlete
Bojan Milinkov/Shutterstock

Switch Up Your Game And Work On Your Weaknesses

Even if you have access to a few weights, it might just feel a lot different working out at home, and not necessarily different in a good way.

Unless my mood is just right, it’s hard for me to work out with weights in my apartment because it makes me miss the gym even more intensely. Doing completely different workouts than I would normally do, though — yoga instead of (or in addition to) traditional powerlifting workouts, for example — helps get my mind in the game because I’m focusing on cultivating new skills rather than constantly thinking about the specifics of what I’m missing (a squat rack, for example).

If you’re used to strongman workouts, take some time learning yoga or Pilates. It’ll translate well into your strength work, and the added mobility will help keep you safer. If you’re typically the type to blast through heavy reps, try using less weight and going slower in a more bodybuilding type of approach. Choosing workouts that will target your weaknesses can be tough, but teaching your body new ways to move creates different muscular and neurological stimuli, which might be exactly what you need to level up your motivation.

[Related: Smash imbalances and weaknesses with ‘functional symmetry’]

Create A Specific Quarantine Workout Program

In the first few months of quarantine, many people had that hope that there would be some relief around the corner. Now, things might feel much more indefinite.

It’s definitely reasonable to be able to plan out a six-week training block and even a longer macrocycle, under the assumption that you won’t be able to get back to the gym in that amount of time. Leaning into the uncertainty and programming for what equipment you have — rather than dreaming of equipment you don’t have — can give you a more tangible set of goals to work toward. And the more tangible your goals, the more inspired you might be to accomplish each rung, day by day.

Think about what workout goals you had for the gym before the pandemic. How can they translate into workout goals you can actually accomplish in quarantine? Maybe you can’t practice your back squat right now, but you can train to get down that elusive pistol squat from the comfort of your own yoga mat.

Once you’ve landed on a tangible set of goals, plan out an at-home program accordingly. Mark up your calendar if that helps you, and remember that if you have to skip a workout or two, it doesn’t mean you’ve ruined the program — it just means you pick up where you can.

side plank
When’s the last time you worked up to a two-minute side plank? (ESB Professional/Shutterstock)

Use Benchmark Workouts

It’s pretty easy to see your traditional lifting progress if you keep a training journal. But that same journal can get demoralizing when you’re no longer slapping plates on the bar because you don’t have a bar nor plates nor a rack. So maybe start a fresh one if you haven’t already, and choose some benchmarks other than basic weight-rep schemes to help keep track of your progress.

Maybe you’ve got a single kettlebell to train with and that’s it. Maybe you want to see how many swings you can get in ten minutes. Record that number, keep up with your program, and test your ten-minute AMRAP again in a couple of weeks.

Or maybe you’re building up to single-arm pushups. Every couple of weeks or so, test how many diamond pushups you can log in a single set with clean form. Or, go out on a short tempo run on a consistent route for a consistent amount of time.

Whatever type of goals your quarantine workout program is calling for, you can design little benchmark check-ins to match your progress and remind you what you have to be proud of — and what you’re working toward.

Just like with all training, though, your progress will not be linear all the time. You’re not going to improve infinitely and cleanly, no matter how tuned in you are. Some days, your body will be tired, or your mind will be half on your work stress, or any other number of infinite things that impact your workout could be off. And that’s okay. Use your benchmarks and journal more generally to keep yourself going, not to get caught up in your head and beat yourself up.

Watch Some Strength Sports Livestreams

Okay, so if you’re in a particularly “I wanna beat myself up” mood, this might not be the greatest thing to do because comparing yourself to world-class athletes is often a road to disaster. But if you’re feeling emotionally alright but physically sluggish and you want some inspiration and excitement, you might want to dive into the YouTube archives and look for Strongman, CrossFit, and weightlifting competitions.

Rooting for your faves to lift their heaviest weight yet might just remind your muscles that they enjoy moving, too. Who knows? Maybe you’ll break some PRs of your own.

home phone exercise
Mar Godoy/Shutterstock

Let Yourself… Stop

You can’t put 100% effort into 100% of the things in your life, 100% of the time. You just don’t have enough percentages to go around, and that’s okay. Quarantine has created a hell of a lot more stress in most people’s lives, and it’s okay if the energy you’re putting in to keep yourself afloat takes away energy from your workouts.

It’s more than okay to cut down your intensity or just cut down your workouts altogether for a while. Just like you listen to your body during training sessions, you need to listen to your body between sessions, too — if it’s telling you not to push it right now, it’s alright to listen. Don’t be surprised if, once you listen to your body and give it the rest it needs, you’re ready to spring back into action with more enthusiasm than ever.

Wrapping Up

It’s tough to figure out how to keep up your motivation for so many things during quarantine, and even if you love working out, you might find your desire to do so wobbling more than a little bit. You don’t have to force yourself immediately back into the game, but when you’re ready, you’ve got some excellent quarantine sweat sessions just waiting for you.

Featured image via Prostock-studio/Shutterstock