Elle Woods may buzz about endorphins and working out making people happy in Legally Blonde, but let's be real: exercise isn't always all rainbows and butterflies. In fact, for many of us, lacing up our sneakers and sticking to a consistent workout routine can be a real struggle.
If the thought of stepping foot in a gym or heading outside for a jog makes you cringe, these former exercise-haters — now passionate proponents of a good sweat — are about to inspire you with the real-world ways they turned exercise from torture to a treat (or at least, something they didn't totally dread).
1. Finding the Right Workout Buddy
"Thanks to my general lack of knowledge and ability — and frustration about not seeing the results I wanted, I really hated working out," says Arielle Weg, of New York City, who found working out intimidating and discouraging for years.
A good workout buddy, though, changed everything. "My freshman year of college, I studied abroad and had a roommate who was SUPER athletic," Weg says. "We'd go to the park and do workouts, and exercise became a fun thing to do with my friend!"
Now, Weg has developed the confidence and love of a good sweat that motivates her to get moving before work every day by lifting weights and running.
Read more: 7 Reasons Your Gym Buddy Is Totally Awesome
2. Paying Attention to Nutrition First
For New Jersey-native Kristen Bowley, interest in exercise really started with an interest in food.
"I hated the gym, I hated exercise classes, and I was uncomfortable enough in my own skin," she says. However, after leaving a long-term relationship that revolved around eating out, Bowley started looking at her diet more closely.
"I started watching what I ate (and the portions of what I ate), started keeping a food journal, and eventually thought I should start exercising." It was a natural next step, and soon enough Bowley started running regularly and ended up running not one, but two half-marathons.
3. Associating Exercise With Something I Love
For Jesse Montes, a Californian who lives in New York City, spending a half-hour on the treadmill at the gym felt like downright torture. However, when a well-known brewery with a popular running club opened up in the city, Montes was intrigued.
"I decided to join the Mikkeller Running Club Manhattan Chapter for a run for the brewery's grand opening. I warned the captain that I would probably not finish," Montes says. "The positive feeling of running with a group of people motivated me, though, and has kept me running with the group whenever I get a chance to attend their weekly Wednesday evening runs, which are followed by post-run beers."
Since pairing running and beer, Montes has continued to run consistently — even finishing a half-marathon.
4. Focusing on How Exercise Makes Me Feel
Though Kristen Bowley's exercise journey involved lots of running race training at first, she ultimately found that focusing on the way exercise improved her daily life finally helped her truly enjoy working out.
"I really appreciate how different I feel, mentally and physically, on days that I exercise," Bowley says. "It's become a way for me to clear my mind." For Bowley, the everyday well-being means so much more than a finish line.
5. Finding a Sport That Challenged My Mind
Morgan Mandriota never felt athletic and loathed the idea of going to the gym. It wasn't until friends pushed her to join them for a Brazilian jiu-jitsu class that her relationship with exercise changed.
"I fell in love with everything about it," she says. "In addition to getting me in better physical shape, it stimulated me mentally, so it was the best of both worlds." Since then, Brazilian jiu-jitsu has become a hobby and lifestyle for Mandriota, a second home that comes with a good sweat and mental challenge, every time.
6. Switching From Cardio to Weights
Like many young women, Monica Lombardo of Roseland, New Jersey, thought working out meant cardio — and she hated it. "I made every excuse possible to avoid exercising," she says. "I barely survived 30 minutes of incline walking on the treadmill."
For Lombardo, though, everything changed when she ditched the satisfaction-less cardio and started strength training. "I was totally awkward losing my balance trying to do barbell reverse lunges for the first time, but I got such a different feeling from that kind of exercise."
Every time Lombardo woke up sore, knowing her muscles were growing and that her body was becoming stronger, she got more excited to keep working out. "For the first time in my life, I felt truly empowered. Confident," she says.
7. Turning to Instagram for Inspiration
For Lombardo, finding strong women on social media to look up to also helped foster her passion for fitness. "I remember coming across this super badass looking chick," Lombardo says. "She wasn't just beautiful; she was also shredded — and her account was full of her lifting weights. I thought, 'Wow, I wish I could do that!'"
When Lombardo needed motivation — or just a workout to do — her Instagram idols kept her going.
8. Trading in the Gym for the Outdoors
Medical student Paula Binsol always felt out of place in the gym, but the great outdoors made her feel reinvigorated and balanced. So, she made the world her gym — and exercise finally stuck.
"I love to walk outside, so I found a way to turn that into regular exercise by using apps to help me run 5K, then a 10K," says Binsol. Now, her outdoor workouts bring her comfort—and she loves stretching in the fresh air after a good sweat.
Read more: Take Your Next HIIT Workout Outside
9. Stopped Focusing on Weight Loss
For years, a focus on weight loss robbed exercise of all joy for Binsol. "The real turning point for me was embracing the idea that exercise is not just about physical fitness, but about emotional, mental and spiritual well-being, too," she says.
Binsol started treating exercise as the stress-relief she needed from work and studying, and the practice became more meaningful (and much easier to prioritize). "I chose to exercise for myself rather than to look good," she says. "I just wanted to feel great, and looking good became a nice cherry on top."
10. Exercising at Home
Nico Hernandez also loathed the gym and, by association, hated working out. However, when she found a dance workout program on TV, Hernandez turned working out into something fun she could do without leaving the house — or her comfort zone.
"Suddenly I was dancing four to five days a week without even a second thought," she says. Establishing a routine and love for movement helped Hernandez build confidence over time — and she's since added yoga and weight training to her at-home routine. "Still not a gym fan, but I love moving my body and seeing how far I've come now," she says.
Read more: How to Find the Best At-Home Workout For You
11. Holding Myself Financially Accountable
Though Johnathon Daugherty tried to get into a consistent workout routine time and time again, frustration about slow progress totally turned him off. Finally, though, Daugherty decided to put his money on the table.
"I decided to get a gym membership, and knowing I had that monthly cost kept me on track because I wanted to see that return on investment." The financial investment kept him accountable until he started seeing the strength gains and physical changes he craved — and actually started enjoying working out. "Now I feel motivated and like how I look," he says.
12. Hiring a Personal Trainer
"I used to hate exercise because I was overweight and embarrassed for others in the gym to see me struggling so hard," says Theodora Blanchfield. Working with a personal trainer, though, made Blanchfield's workouts more engaging and social and helped her realize how capable she truly was.
"He'd have me doing speed intervals on a treadmill," she says. "I decided that if I could do these seemingly impossible intervals, I could do anything." Soon enough, Blanchfield ran a 5K, then a 10K and got hooked on running. Since then, she's conquered a full marathon. "It's a huge part of my life and I can't imagine living without it," she says.