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Science How to Stay Motivated To Work Out, Based on the Research

Intrinsic motivation is the cheat code with these five science-backed ways to stay motivated to work out.

Icon of figure standing on top of a mountain and woman performing yoga on a beach indicating intrinsic motivation and accomplishing goals

Willpower comes and goes, but cultivating intrinsic motivation—finding a way to love working out—is an ironclad way to stick with your exercise for the long haul. Pulling from the decades of work in psychology and behavior change, here are five powerful ways to boost your motivation, based on the research.

Icon of figure jumping for joy and heading reading "Find your fun" to stay motivated

Having fun with your exercise program is important if you are trying to stay motivated to work out. In a study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, researchers studied the level of exercise enjoyment and persistence of exercise in 575 participants. They monitored the participants for six months and discovered that those who found exercise more enjoyable were more motivated and were still exercising after six months. 

“You’ll often hear me say, ‘Don’t just do it because I’m telling you to do it, do it because you are present in this moment and feel what you’re creating for yourself,'” says Gabby Sansosti, Tonal coach and certified personal trainer. “It’s not always easy to show up but… it will be easier to knock out your workout if you create joy and excitement around it.” 

Everyone’s idea of fun is different, so your likes and dislikes are important. The more you build your own preferences into your routine, the more autonomy you will cultivate. And autonomy is tied to consistency in your program over time. 

Try it: Think of exercise as customized self-care. Explore a variety of activities, workouts, and even exercises to cultivate your preferences. Pair your workouts to different music styles, find out what makes your workout feel like a party.

Icon of figure and lightbulb and heading reading "Try something new" to stay motivated

Research shows that mixing things up and trying something different may increase interest and motivation in the exercise. Consider adding a new move to your rotation, trying a different modality like Pilates or yoga, or switching up the intensity and throwing in some HIIT intervals. Mastering new skills and adding variation to your workout routine will help you gain more motivation and may actually increase your total physical activity levels throughout the week. 

“Gaining a new perspective helps us expand our minds and open them up to new opportunities and points of view,” says Trace Gotsis, Tonal coach and certified personal trainer. “Shaking things up from your norm is the perfect recipe to break through any plateaus you may be experiencing or take you out of autopilot if you’re just coasting through your usual routine.”

In a vast review of the literature published in Psychology of Sport and Exercise, researchers found how someone feels during exercise is strongly associated with whether they enjoy their workout, which we know is, in turn, linked to motivation and commitment. The study concluded that the feel-good emotions of exercise differ according to the intensity and depending on the individual, suggesting that switching up the difficulty of your workout may help you enjoy it more. 

Try it: Switch up your routine by challenging yourself with a different mode of exercise, instructor, or intensity. Pay attention to when you feel good during your session because those feel-good vibes help you identify which workouts will help you stay consistent.

Icon of hands clapping and heading reading "Recognize your progress" to stay motivated

Pat yourself on the back once in a while for all of your hard work. Feeling confident and capable in your abilities and mastery of movements can be a powerful driver for motivation. In a study published in Frontiers of Psychology, researchers surveyed determining factors in exercise motivation in over 1,600 participants. Perceived competence positively predicted the exercise intention meaning the more confident participants were in their ability to perform the exercises and complete the workout, the more motivated they felt to engage in exercise. 

“We must celebrate our wins,” says Coach Gabby. “Self-love translates to self-confidence and that confidence is going to guide you to truly become your strongest. Between the stats that Tonal offers and the actual strength you can feel building inside of your body from showing up, you are set up to recognize your progress, which will keep you motivated and eager for more.”

Try it: Take some time to reflect on what you’ve accomplished in your fitness routine – whether that’s mastering a new move, getting through a tough workout without tapping out early, or seeing small gains in strength over time – this feeling of competence can bring your motivation to a whole new level.

Icon of figures high-fiving and heading reading "stay connected" for social support to stay motivated

Connecting to others during your fitness journey can be essential in maintaining motivation. Research shows that cultivating social connections and support is linked to improved engagement and long-term commitment. Utilizing digital platforms can offer a virtual community and accountability.

In a peer-reviewed study, researchers found that individuals with the highest interaction on social platforms geared towards exercise had the highest sense of community, self-efficacy for exercise, and social support.

“A supportive community fosters joy, and joy practices help contribute to long-term health,” says Liz Letchford, Ph.D., Tonal Coach and certified athletic trainer. “A community provides a safe place to vulnerably share our struggles and receive the support we need to reach even the loftiest of goals.”

Try it: Talk to your friends about your goals, find an accountability partner, jump in the Official Tonal Community, a live class, or try a virtual partner workout. Any way you can build relationships with others with similar goals, the more motivated you will feel. 

Icon of figure summiting a mountain and heading reading "tap into intrinsic motivation" to stay motivated

Intrinsic motivation is the ultimate goal to lock in a behavior for life. Intrinsic motivation is performing an activity because you find it inherently rewarding. This can come from feelings of enjoyment, excitement and interest, mastering a skill, and personal accomplishment. In a large meta-analysis, researchers found that intrinsic motivation was associated with long-term exercise adoption.  

“Figure out your why,” Coach Trace says. “Why are you doing this? What are you trying to accomplish? Establish, verbally or visually, what is going to be the driving force to get you to show up each and every time with the determination you need to push yourself to new limits. Hold yourself accountable to it… Commit to yourself. You are all the motivation you need.”

Try It: Based on the Self-Determination Theory, intrinsic motivation can be cultivated by building autonomy, competence, and connection – if you satisfy these psychological needs, you are likely to enjoy your exercise and continue exercising.