2 Simple Keys to Long Term Exercise Motivation

2 Keys to ExerciseI’ve been working out at least 4 days a week since I was a freshman in high school.  I’m now 26, so I feel like I have a solid understanding of how to stay consistently motivated and dedicated to an exercise regimen.  I’ve read numerous articles with widely varying tips on how to accomplish this.  These tips range from the simple act of getting a gym membership all the way to the intricacies of documenting a well defined set of fitness goals and personal rewards for accomplishing these goals.  I’ve even read that getting dressed in gym clothes or making a commitment to walking the dog is enough to get the average person motivated.

While I don’t doubt the legitimacy in some of the suggested methods I’ve read, I don’t really think that they hold the key to long term exercise motivation and commitment.  A regular exercise routine can be extremely redundant.  The redundancy will eventually bore the average person out of their right mind.  So even tough joining a gym, finding a workout buddy, and documenting fitness goals is a good start, it won’t exactly keep a person motivated 6 months down the road.  In time, most people will start thinking hard about all the enjoyable things they would rather be doing instead… at which point the battle is lost.

So, what’s the key to long term exercise motivation?  There are actually 2 keys, 2 very simple keys, music and variance.  Motivation is usually driven by the desire to accomplish something, but it is kept intact on a moment to moment basis by continuously stimulating the mind.  If the mind isn’t stimulated, it will rapidly lose desire for the original goal.   In order to create a desire for exercise, you have to stimulate your mind by making exercise an enjoyable and adventurous experience, which is exactly what music and variance add to a long term exercise routine.

  • Music – Music makes us think, it gets us going, and it sets our stream of consciousness on a positive course.  Both fast beat and slow beat music have the same stimulating effect on the mind, so alternate between the two while you exercise.  Also, discovering new music that you like is one of the most rewarding experiences.  Once you overplay all your favorite artists, start plugging their names into the various Web 2.0 music recommendation sites.  These sites will assist you in discovering new bands and artists based on similarities to music you already like.  Use your exercise time to rediscover your favorite artists, discover new ones, and build a massive collection of music that you will enjoy for the rest of your life.  It won’t be long before you realize that music makes exercise fun.
  • Variance – No matter how wonderful an activity is at first, if it is performed in repetition over the course of several weeks it will ultimately become a dreadfully boring experience.  Keep things fresh!  Do a variety of different exercises each week.  Your gym has numerous exercise machines, free weights, and pieces of cardio equipment.  Ask a trainer for help if you need to, or just be adventurous and figure it out for yourself.  Watch other people and learn.  Just make sure you always start off with very light weight or speed settings when you are unfamiliar with an exercise.  Once you have all the exercises down, start randomly alternating through them on a weekly basis.  Do 3 or 4 sets of 3 or 4 exercises 3 or 4 times a week.  Never do the same exact exercises in the same exact order 2 weeks in a row.


  1. says

    I think that “THE keys” to long term exercise motivation and commitment aren’t listening to music nor mere exercise variance. I like to listen to music when working out, and say that at best, it’s a good “tip”, but not a “key”. I have issue with your second point, variance, and the way you say to apply it. Too frequent variation, both in types of exercises and way you perform them often diminish your body’s ability to adapt to the stimulus, keeping you from becoming more skilled at them neurologically, or stronger physiologically.

    Don’t get me wrong here, variation is a good thing to keep the body adapting to stimulus and growing, but switch things up too fast and haphazardly and you’ll slow your progress. For me, I love seeing specific progress in my strength. But that’s just it – all people are not like me. I think you need to analyze WHY people go to the gym.

    People have different desires and goals – if you want a long term habit you might want to play off their largest desires underlying their motivations. Some people go to the gym to train for a specific sport. Some people are very social and can’t stick with something unless there is social interaction.

    Two better “keys” across the board could be:

    1. Improve the joy you get from going to the gym. When you have a choice, you pick what you like. If you get joy out of slimming down, getting bigger, or increasing your football throw, gear your workout for rewards that make you feel the best.

    2. Improve your commitment and resolve. Just making something more enjoyable doesn’t mean that it gets done. Tons of folks complain that they just can’t do the things they want to do – but many of them can arrive at jobs they hate everyday. Find a way to integrate working out into your life and make it a habit. Promise yourself that you can’t eat / go to work / watch TV until you do. And then keep that promise. Habits make or break you – if you always need motivation then you’d better find a key to it.

  2. says

    Bart, I don’t know why I never replied to your comment. Sorry about that. Your points are extremely insightful and well stated. I have no argument against them… but I like mine too.

    So I guess we now have 4 keys to long term exercise motivation. 😉 Thanks for the addition.

  3. says

    Interesting article, and while I’m not exactly an exercise addict and suffer from motivation problems myself, I felt moved to comment.

    I don’t find music to be an aid to exercise. In fact, as a musician of 20+ years I often (very often) choose to listen to nothing so I can be more present in my environment and enjoying my activities.

    I find when exercising it helps to really focus on how your body is feeling while you execute the exercise. Music in my ears usually distracts from this.

    This might just be my own experience as a musician as I tend to focus pretty rapidly on what’s I’m listening to and get engrossed in that.

    About variance, I also actually enjoy doing much the same exercises over a longer period of time than you suggest so I can actually see improvement in reps and/or performance of the exercise.

    Thanks for the great articles, keep up the good work!

  4. ~M says

    I just had to comment, because I feel strongly, at least for myself, that if not for music there would be no way to keep me motivated to routinely exercise. The right beat, or emotion/passion in certain music, just gives me that extra bit to get me going, and keep me going. I also agree that variance is extremely important, as routine will bore me to tears eventually, which will quickly lead to ‘Good-bye, exercise!’. So I am with you on this one all the way Marc! Although the other points are good too :)

  5. says

    Great article and I completely agree. I personally find that dance music gets me motivated in the gym because of the beat.

    We also have a free exercise calendar download available on our site which we find is also brilliant for motivation.

    Keep up the great work.

  6. john says

    I agree with both the music and variance parts.
    What I do most mornings is get up half hour earlier and do aerobics in front of the TV. I have at least 30 DVDs and videos from the likes of Aerobics Ozstyle, Denise Austin etc (and others). I do different one each morning and feeling great as a result (I am 67 years old now). Its a pity that Channel 10 closed down Aerobics Ozstyle many years ago. All 4 main channels just have the usual talking heads waste of time entertainment trivia. Channel 10 or other channel could have a point of difference by having aerobics thus attracting new and more viewers.


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