How to Beat Your Exercise Barriers

How to Beat Your Exercise Barriers

By wlr Contributor Christina Neal Personal Trainer and Accredited Life Coach

Think exercise isn’t for you, simply because you weren’t ‘sporty’ in your school days? Christina Macdonald reveals why changing this belief and finding a sport you love could see you embracing fitness – and loving it! 

Would you like to start exercising, but worry it isn’t for you? Perhaps you feel you’re just not the ‘sporty type’ – especially when you think back to those bygone school days of hideously embarrassing PE knickers, slogging miserably around a cross-country course or being picked last for team games. But fear not – you certainly aren’t alone. 

Many people think they simply aren’t ‘sporty’, due to long-held beliefs that date back decades. 

The good news is things have changed! There’s such a variety of different fitness classes, workouts, sports and activities out there, that even if you weren’t sporty at school, that doesn’t have to dictate who you are today. 

The key is in changing your mindset, making sure you find a fitness regime that suits your personality and then fitting it into your lifestyle. 

In short – making fitness fun! Here’s how to beat your mental exercise barriers, to ensure a fitter, healthier you…

Change your mindset

If you’ve spent decades telling yourself ‘I can’t’ when it comes to exercise and sports, it’s only natural that you’ve started to think this is a fact. 

When you repeat this negative mantra over and over to yourself, it can seem like an enormous barrier to overcome: ‘I can’t exercise’; ‘I can’t run’; ‘I can’t do team sports’. 

‘Saying “I’m not sporty” is a statement that many of us carry from school, which then follows us throughout the rest of our lives,’ says Executive Performance Coach Kate Tojeiro, author of the book, The Art of Possible and director of X fusion (  

However, telling yourself you’re not sporty is not a fact – it’s simply a belief. And beliefs can be changed.

‘Instead of thinking that you can’t, ask yourself, “Why not?”’ suggests Kate. ‘You have to shift your mindset to: “I’m going to give this a go”. 

Remember, sport is so many things. It’s a bit like people saying they aren’t arty because they can’t draw. Art isn’t just drawing – art is in everything – buildings, cars, music.’

So, just because you hated netball at school or weren’t coordinated enough to keep up with an aerobics lesson, it doesn’t mean you aren’t sporty – it simply means you haven’t yet found the right sport for you yet. 

Believe in yourself

One of the most common barriers to exercise is confidence – or lack of it. 

If you find you lack self-belief or you’re very self-conscious, you could try visualisation. 

Take a few minutes each day to sit quietly, close your eyes and imagine doing your chosen exercise. 

The mind is a powerful muscle, so once you have engaged it to think positively and really ‘see’ yourself exercising, it will be easier to persuade your body to follow!

‘Visualisation is a very powerful tool,’ says Kate. ‘So, if you want to start running, close your eyes and see yourself doing it. Visualise running around your local park, envision the sun on your face, the sight of the trees. Perhaps see yourself running a race, crossing a finish line, receiving a medal. If you can visualise it, you’re nearly there.’

Make it fun!

Another barrier to maintaining an exercise regime is the belief that exercise is hard, boring or something you ‘should’ do. But it doesn’t have to be this way! Exercise can be fun, exciting, inspiring and exhilarating.

‘It’s about finding what’s right for you,’ explains Kate. ‘Go running. Try cycling. Learn to water ski. Find kickboxing classes. Join a netball club. 

Find something you actively want to do or learn, and go for it!’

Let’s face it, if you feel happy, you’re far more likely to enjoy it, gain confidence and stick with it. 

Also, think about your personality type… 

If you’re a party animal

If you’re sociable, then make exercise a social event. Don’t hide away at home on a solitary exercise bike! 

Instead, join an exercise class or a running club and mix with others. Making friends and chatting while you work out will keep you motivated. 

If you’re a lone wolf 

Busy exercise classes will be your idea of hell! Go solo; head to the park for a brisk walk or run, or exercise at home. 

If you do use the gym, try to go when it’s quiet – usually mid-afternoon or in the evenings after 8pm. 

Mum of two, Geri Gornell, aged 50, uses exercise to help combat stress. She tried using busy gyms at first, but hated the noise and ended up enjoying solo runs. 

‘I prefer the quiet solitude of running,’ she says. ‘It’s just me, the sound of my feet on the ground and my thoughts. It’s like moving meditation.’

If you feel self-conscious 

Avoid the gym or exercise classes until you feel more confident. 

Find a workout plan you can do at home, such as a workout DVD, or try your own home circuits routine, which you can do without any equipment: warm up by jogging on the spot for three minutes, then perform a circuit of bodyweight exercises, such as squats, box press-ups (on your knees), triceps dips and sit-ups. 

‘I’ve tried gyms before and I just don’t like them,’ says mum-of-two, Claire Chamberlain, aged 35. ‘I feel self-conscious, and felt especially awkward after having my baby girl before I’d lost the baby weight,’ she says. ‘So I started doing exercise at home in front of the TV while the baby was napping. Exercise DVDs allow me to fit exercise in when I have short periods of time, without feeling self-conscious in front of others.’ 

If you’re competitive 

Find a goal to work towards. Sign up for an event, such as a 5K run or a swimathon, and ask a gym instructor to devise a training plan for you. 

Encourage friends to enter the same event for a bit of friendly competition. 

Think of each workout as taking you a step closer to getting fitter for your event. 

If you get bored easily 

Variety is the spice of life, so avoid repetitive exercise plans where you do the same routine each time. 

Mix things up. Have a cardio day, a weights day and on the third day do something different, such as yoga or Pilates (provided you enjoy it, of course!). Variety will be the only way to keep you motivated. 

Be realistic 

Finally, make sure your new exercise routine is realistic. 

At first, you might feel so keen that you start exercising every day. 

However, what with work and family commitments, this quickly becomes unrealistic, usually with the end result that you give up entirely, thinking you just haven’t got the time to commit to your fitness. Many people set unrealistic exercise goals like this. 

Try to remember that a little can go a long way. 

If you have a seriously busy work, family or social life, you probably won’t have time to exercise every day – but that’s OK! 

Don’t set the bar too high – it’s better to exercise three times a week for 30 minutes and stick to it, than vow to exercise daily and give up after the first week because you didn’t have the time. 

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends we exercise three to five times a week for between 20 and 90 minutes each time. 

So even just 20 minutes three times a week will lead to improvements in fitness, as well as the weight loss you’re looking for if you combine it with a healthy diet. 

So don’t try to do too much, too soon. Keep it realistic, start slowly and if you miss a session for whatever reason, don’t beat yourself up. Accept it and keep going with your next session – don’t give up altogether. 

And remember, the key to starting, maintaining and – most importantly of all, enjoying – your newfound exercise regime is to think positive!

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