Finding Motivation to Exercise During Lockdown • Common Purpose

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Finding Motivation to Exercise During Lockdown


Words by Tiago

Published 8th January 2021

Approximately 7 Minutes Reading Time


Brief Article Overview

  • The motivation for exercise is fleeting at the best of times, let alone during a year of such stress and uncertainty.

  • It’s easy to regress into a sedentary state when working from home, without the opportunity to go to gyms and leisure centres. However, the longer we stay in a sedentary state, the harder it is to get the ball rolling again.

  • Ambivalence is where contradictory and conflicting thoughts about starting to exercise can get us stuck in a rut. By making these ambivalent “thought loops” explicit, we can break them and re-organise our priorities.
  • Find your deeper why. Why exactly do you want to start exercising? The answer has to be personal to you and represent your deeply held values. Your “why” will enable your “what” and “how”.
  • Using both the carrot (moving towards the desirable) and the stick (moving away from the undesirable) in unison can create a potent force for change and action.
  • Make your goal and the plan to achieve this goal clear and obvious.
  • Identifying your goal and creating a plan should give you the impetus to act, no matter how unmotivated you feel at the time. Once you act,  motivation will build and results will come.
  • Action precedes motivation. Once actions produce results, motivation builds as a result of a positive feedback loop.
  • Enjoy the process!


As Personal Trainers, a large part of our job is to a) provide our clients with extrinsic motivation and b) nurture our client’s intrinsic motivation for exercise. This is easier said than done, motivation for exercise is an elusive beast at the best of times, let alone amid a global pandemic that has resulted in a government lockdown and the closure of gyms and leisure centres across the country. 

As a small business ourselves, who relied heavily on close, personal interactions and gyms being open, it feels as if we’ve not only had to pivot in this climate but perform acrobatics just to keep moving forward. During such times of stress and uncertainty, we’ve experienced times in which the motivation for health and fitness practices have reached an all-time low (for both ourselves and clients). We’ve had to strip it back to basics and re-build our motivation from the ground up. 

So, what do we do when our motivation batteries are running low? When the internal fire is dwindling and we need to get things going again? Well, it takes a bit of introspective thinking and a solid plan of action, which we’d like to share with you today.

What is Motivation?

We can define motivation as “a reason (or reasons) for acting or behaving in a particular way at a given point in time”.

Now, this is seriously oversimplified, because human motivation involves a lot of complex interactions between the external environment and internal competing processes including; wants, needs, expectations, self-efficacy, habits, drives, desires, goals, cost/benefit analysis and so on. 

Many extensive theoretical models have been developed to explain how these interactions occur. Self Determination Theory (including the Basic Psychological Needs Theory), COM-B Model for Behaviour Change and PRIME Theory of Motivation, which you can dig into in your own time, but for now let’s stay pragmatic and outline practical advice for cultivating and nurturing motivation for exercise during these strange times. 

“I just saw 3 people outside jogging, and it inspired me to get up and close the blinds” – Unknown 


Exercise is effortful and it runs somewhat counter to our penchant for lying on the sofa and eating copious amounts of food. This tendency has inspired the development of many modern technologies and services (hence the popularity of Uber, Netflix & Deliveroo). Simply put, it’s easy to stay sedentary for extended periods nowadays. 

This lockdown has unfortunately exacerbated issues. Gyms, leisure centres and sports clubs are closed and our daily commutes consist of crawling from the bed to the sofa and back again (via the bathroom and kitchen). It’s easy to use this excuse to just stop all exercise and do nothing but work, eat, and binge-watch the latest Netflix series. Unfortunately, the longer we stay in this sedentary state, the more difficult it is to get going again.

Identifying Ambivalence


“I will do anything for love….but I won’t do that” – Meatloaf


Ambivalence is the state of having mixed feelings or contradictory ideas about something. What happens when you want to get fit and healthy, but are not willing to make the necessary sacrifices to achieve this goal? It’s easy to get stuck in an ambivalent loop and end up doing nothing because stasis is easier than change. 

We find that simply talking to someone about our thoughts will help highlight these internal contradictions which are keeping us stuck in a rut. Only once these “thought loops” are made explicit, can we break them. We can then work to prioritise our values and create concrete plans that will get us going again.

Finding Your Why 


“He (or she) who has a why to live, can bear any how” – Friederick Nietsche

We find this such a powerful notion, we’ve written a separate article about it. If you’re feeling unmotivated, it’s probably time to uncover (or re-discover) your deeper why. Here’s how; ask yourself “why exactly do I want to start exercising regularly?”. Once you’ve come up with an answer, ask three more “whys” to dig deeper into your true values.

This is more difficult than it looks, and it may take a few days to ponder on it. But once we find an answer that stands up to this level of scrutiny, we can be confident that we’re building on solid ground. A well defined “why” precedes the “how” and “what” of any action plan.

Utilising The Carrot and The Stick  

The key with the carrot (reward) and stick (punishment) as drivers for motivation are that they must be self-imposed and not put upon us by other people. The idea here is that when we’re digging for our deeper why we shouldn’t just think about the potential upside of action (the carrot), we should also contemplate the negatives of inaction (the stick). For example, what is likely to happen if you never exercise again? Possibly the development of health problems and chronic pain? or excess weight gain?

Don’t underestimate the power of fear as a potent instigator. Create a goal to aim for, but also raise awareness of the cost of inaction, both of these forces acting together should be enough to get you going again.

Goal Setting and Developing a Plan 


“The goal is to keep the goal the goal” – Dan John


“Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in, day out” – Robert Collier


When contemplating a new exercise program, most people fall at the first hurdle because they don’t make their goals (and the plan to achieve this goal) clear and obvious. The goal and plan don’t have to be fancy or extravagant, but they have to be made explicit. Here’s an example;

Goal: Lose weight and look better without clothes on (exercise to increase energy expenditure and improve body composition).

Plan: Perform 2x resistance exercise sessions and 2x cardio sessions per week, alongside a nutrition plan. Measure relevant outcomes to provide feedback. 

If we ask the layperson, “what are your training goals? And what plan are you following to achieve this goal?”, the likelihood of receiving a detailed and well thought out answer is low. 

Once we’ve found our deep why we can then set ourselves a goal that truly aligns with our values. We can then create a plan made up of small, achievable actions and habits which pave the way to success. It’s important not to view a plan or schedule as a prison, but instead, a framework that can support you through the process and a useful point of reference. 

This is where searching for help and guidance is useful. Reach out to someone in the know and pick their brains when developing your fitness goals and plans. 

Begin with Action


“If nothing changes, nothing changes” – Chris Coe


We didn’t come up with this analogy, we un-apologetically stole it from ex-powerlifter and trainer Jordan Syatt (follow his Instagram @syattfitness, he’s highly knowledgable and funny too!). When motivation is low, we assume that it will appear out of nowhere and only when it does, we’ll then be able to take action. Here’s a schematic of how most people think motivation works;

But here’s a different perspective that we find helpful;

Note in the second schematic, the action comes first. Taking action may be as simple as reaching out to someone and discussing having a chat about your goals, or simply researching a good workout plan. After stewing on it a while and creating a plan, creating the motivation to simply execute won’t seem like such a big deal. This will get the ball rolling and drive motivation up as a result of the aforementioned positive feedback.


We all go through times when the motivation for exercise is running low, we just don’t feel “up for it”. This is perfectly normal and sometimes taking the odd day off is not the end of the world. But if skipping exercise is becoming a habit and you notice yourself regressing into a sedentary state, break it down and start again from the ground up. 

Reach out and talk to someone about your struggles. Re-discover your deeper why for exercising (remember to use both the carrot and the stick in this regard). Set yourself a goal and create a realistic plan to get you there. Talk to a professional if you don’t feel you’re able to create a plan. Action precedes motivation and motivation builds over time, so take the first step and enjoy the process! 

If you’re interested in starting your health and fitness journey with us…

Disclosure: This article is not to be used as medical advice. If you are currently experiencing physical or mental health issues, please seek professional advice from a fully qualified Nutritionist, GP or Physiotherapist.