When Exercise Gets Boring (Which it does!)

I was at the gym this morning, and found myself in a state that many people who exercise find themselves: BORED. I go to a good gym with plenty of things to do and plenty of trainers, so it wasn’t the gym’s fault. The problem was me!


So, I asked myself: why is it that I feel bored, and what can be done to continue exercising but enjoy it more?


Before I start, let’s all agree here that exercise is a necessity and therefore must be done. It’s non-negotiable. Over the years, I have often spoken about the benefits and indeed the joys of exercise — the mental release, the rush of energy, the relief from stress, and of course feeling (and looking) healthier and younger. Exercise played a significant role in my ascent out of depression, and I continue to advise it for everyone, unilaterally.


Nonetheless, going to the gym remains one of the easiest things to procrastinate against. Studies show that most people stop going after just 6 weeks! And one reason for this is the sheer boredom that people feel while exercising.


The concept of exercise reminds us of one of those paradoxes about being human: There’s a lot of things we need to do to stay alive and well, and instead of being interesting, they’re boring. First, there is the initial stage of starting an exercise program, where we feel very invigorated and enthusiastic. This abates after a few weeks or months, and then exercise seems more like a chore. And then the procrastination starts. The reason why gyms have so much “breakage”, i.e. so many people who sign up and then stop attending, isn’t just because people are busy. It’s because exercise — over the long-term and not handled properly — is boring.


We must remember that God has made us human. “Human” carries with it many imperfections, one of which is that we need to be stimulated. We are susceptible to boredom. Quite simply, most human beings are not wired to do the same thing over and over and still find it interesting. So don’t feel bad about being bored. It’s natural!


Nonetheless, exercise is something we need to do, so how to find a way around the boredom?


The good news is that it is fully combatable, and I have two strong tips that will have you overcoming your exercise ennui in no time.


First: when it comes to exercise, you must have specific goals. It’s not good enough to say that you want to “stay in shape” or “get healthy”. No: a goal must have tangibility. For running, it may be to run a mile in less than 5 minutes or to do a marathon; for weightlifting, it may be to bench-press 200 pounds or deadlift 400. And for many it is to lose a certain amount of weight. However, you have to specify how much you want to lose. Otherwise, your goal is weak and the mind can easily start to belittle it. My bench-pressing goal from last year (see article on “Chasing 300”) kept me focused and less liable to lose interest.


Second: You need to try different exercises. Even if you have a clear-cut goal, the pursuit of that goal can become boring, due to the repetitious nature of exercise. As the old saying goes, “Variety is the spice of life” — and it is also the spice of exercise. Again, as human beings we are not designed to cope well with repetition. If the long-distance running is starting to get boring, take a few weeks and run sprints instead. If the bench-pressing is becoming boring, do other chest exercises or just focus on shoulders and arms for a few weeks, or even (the dreaded) legs. If your entire program bores you, introduce different exercises, different machines, even different body parts, but don’t stop exercising. You’ll find that the variety stimulates your brain cells and restores your enthusiasm.


Those are the two big tips, and if you stick to them, you’ll find that you stay interested and even happier about exercise. Some people may derive further benefits from having a training partner. This is fine as long as you and your partner have similar goals and are willing to push each other. Procrastination can become contagious, and a training partner who is not serious enough can have a negative effect on you — so be careful. The same goes for music: it can be a nice help, but don’t become dependent on it, otherwise you’ll start using it as an excuse.


So don’t feel bad about feeling bored at the gym — most regular gym-goers have to fight this at some point. Just set tangible goals and don’t be afraid to add some novelty to your exercise sessions.


By Tom McKinley, author of Winning the Fight to Be Happy and Make the Right Decisions Early.


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