The Science Behind Staying Motivated With Your Home Workout Routine

How to get the motivation to workout when we’re doing the same routine over and over — that’s what we’re all wondering right now.

It’s not just you though: a poll in Yorkshire, UK found that 1/3 of people have gained weight because of lockdown. That third are 6lbs heavier on average. In the poll, 37% said that a lack of motivation is a major reason for them not exercising.

This makes sense: workout motivation plummets when we can’t keep things fresh with new routines. We don’t have quite the same options as before, so how do we get the motivation to workout now? What are some proven ways to do it?

For that, we’ll need to take a look at the science.


Put on your workout gear

Now that we’re not leaving the house to hit the gym, we can workout in any clothes we want. Just because you can do something though, that doesn’t mean you should. Working out in your underwear or pyjamas is maybe one of those things.

The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology published a 2012 study on Enclothed Cognition — the idea that the way we dress affects the way we feel.

People did better in attention-based tests dressed in a doctor’s coat compared to a painter’s, suggesting your clothes might even change the way you perform.1  

This could be powerful for knowing how to get the motivation to work out — and it also makes sense. We all feel less active in a dressing gown and more professional in a suit, so why would we not be more motivated in fitness gear? You put on some yoga pants or a tank top and it makes you feel more ready.

It shouldn’t just be the clothes you wear about the house though. Make sure to wear proper comfortable fitness gear.

After the clothes though, are there any other accessories we need?


Try some fitness apps

In 2018 there were 320,000 health and fitness apps in app stores and a combined 75+ unique monthly users.

People love using fitness apps and with good reason. They can be a great way of tracking your progress while also providing a solid routine.

In one study, strength went up by 3.2% among fitness apps users. Workout frequency went up 3.8%.2

Using apps may not be the best route long-term though. It’s good for staying connected to your goals, setting a routine, and reminding yourself to workout. However, almost 49% of people stopped using the app during the study — suggesting, long term, apps can still leave a lot of people with no motivation to exercise at home.

Still, fitness apps are a great way to get your motivation to workout kick-started. The great thing about fitness apps is that they turn your workout into a game: they give the anticipation and satisfaction of being rewarded, which is also a great way to get motivated.

There are plenty of apps out there to inspire new workouts too — as well as a whole host of workout videos you can follow along with on YouTube. You can check out Myprotein’s app or YouTube for inspiration.


Treat yourself and use rewards

We reward dogs for correct behaviour but when it comes to ourselves, rewards are less frequent.

A study in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that, at work, immediate rewards motivate people more than delayed ones.3 If rewards motivate people to do well at their job, they can definitely help people get the motivation to workout too.

They found rewarding yourself immediately after a task has an improved effect on doing that task regularly. Mentally connecting the reward to the task also helps too.

So right after you exercise, make yourself a tasty shake, or have a biscuit, or some relaxing downtime. Connect these rewards closely to your workouts and you’ll find yourself looking forward to them too.

What if rewarding yourself doesn’t do the trick though?


Use fear as motivation

If there’s one thing that motivates someone more than getting a cookie, it’s not getting a cookie. However, possibly the greatest motivator of all is having a cookie and fearing it’ll be taken away.

Using a little fear (in a healthy way) can be a great way to get the motivation you need to workout.

It can increase performance — rats, for example, perform better with a fear of punishment present.4 So, are you more motivated by fear than desire too?

To use this in your routines requires discipline and maybe even someone’s help, like your old gym buddy. You could give them £5 every time you miss a workout, for example. The idea of losing money is a good way to get you off the couch.


Exercise outside

They say, “change what you can; accept what you can’t,” and it seems a lot of us have been changing some things in reaction to this new normal.

So what have we been changing?

In Germany, outdoor workouts increased 29% and indoor workouts decreased 35% from February to March.

Although closing gyms has been a main cause of this, there are still loads of motivational benefits to exercising outside. It can increase feelings of wellbeing and energy, as well as make you feel more connected to the real world.5

When you feel better about the environment, you will feel better about exercising too.

So, even if you can’t change your routine, try changing the place you work out to get your motivation back. This kind of change, although small, could hugely affect it.


Take home message

When you’re wondering how to get the motivation to workout (and you can’t vary your workout routine as much), remember you can still vary everything else. That could be your clothes, your app downloads, or videos, your reward system, or the environment.

They’re not only effective motivators — they’re also backed by science.

Feeling more motivated?


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1. Adam, H & Galinsky, A.D. (2012) Enclothed cognition. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. Volume 48, Issue 4, 918-925

2. Maria D. Molina & S. Shyam Sundar (2020). Can Mobile Apps Motivate Fitness Tracking? A Study of Technological Affordances and Workout Behaviors, Health Communication, 35:1, 65-74

3. Woolley, K., & Fishbach, A. (2018). It’s about time: Earlier rewards increase intrinsic motivation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 114(6), 877–890.

4. Miller, N. E. (1948). Studies of fear as an acquirable drive: I. Fear as motivation and fear-reduction as reinforcement in the learning of new responses. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 38(1), 89–101.

5. Thompson Coon J, Boddy K, Stein K, Whear R, Barton J, Depledge MH. (2011). Does participating in physical activity in outdoor natural environments have a greater effect on physical and mental wellbeing than physical activity indoors? A systematic review. Environ Sci Technol. 45(5), 1761‐1772.

Evangeline Howarth

Evangeline Howarth

Writer and expert

Evangeline is a Veganuary convert and newbie vegan with a degree in English and French from the University of Nottingham. Having recently ditched the meat and dairy, she really enjoys the new flavours and cooking techniques she’s encountered on a plant-based diet. She’s been shocked by the millions of ways you can use tofu, however still hasn’t found a decent cheese substitute! When she’s not in the office or eating, Evangeline usually out running or sailing. As a qualified RYA Dinghy Instructor and a marathon runner, she knows the importance of providing your body with the right nutrients for endurance sports as well as a busy lifestyle. Find out more about Evie's experience here.

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