Let's be real: There are times when it can be hard to get yourself to work out — or even get off the couch. You know you'll feel great afterward, but sometimes putting in that initial effort is the biggest uphill battle.
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When that happens, finding sources of external motivation can help you overcome that part of you that just won't cooperate. Mantras — motivational quotes or inspirational sayings that are easy to repeat and remember — can be particularly useful.
They help college students cope with stress, allow runners to cover greater distances and aid overall mental wellbeing. And fitness-themed motivational quotes can have a similarly positive impact on your sweat sessions.
But just because a slogan rhymes or a saying sounds catchy doesn't mean it's actually correct. The inspirational advice you keep repeating might force you to drag yourself to the gym, but it might actually be bad advice — one that could lead to more pain than gain.
That's not to say fitness mantras don't work, but it's worth a closer examination of the ones you choose to use. Here's a list of some of the most common — and flawed — inspirational fitness quotes. If any of them sound familiar, now is a good time to reframe them.
1. ‘Pain is weakness leaving the body.’
Discomfort during a workout is to be expected. "[But] nothing you're doing should cause actual pain," says Josh Wolfe, a certified personal trainer in Nashville, Tennessee, and the founder of WolfePack Fitness. "It is important to be honest with yourself and identify the difference between pain and soreness."
If you experience a ripping or tearing feeling, or any sensations that are sharp and prolonged, stop what you're doing. That's the kind of pain you want to avoid. If it feels more like pressure or muscle fatigue, keep on pushing.
Instead: Sweat is weakness leaving the body.
2. ‘Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.’
There are more things to live for than how thin you are. As Wolfe puts it: "Nothing should 'taste' better than being happy."
You shouldn't withhold food from yourself or force yourself to burn off every single calorie you consume and then some. Maintaining a healthy relationship with food and fitness should be your goal, and one shouldn't be sacrificed for the other.
"This is often why people binge eat and break their diets," Wolfe says. "Build a healthy relationship with food and you'll find a happier and healthier you."
Instead: You gotta nourish to flourish.
3. ‘If you give up, you never really wanted it.’
Burning out happens, and it's totally acceptable to change your goals. Instead of getting down on yourself for "giving up," Wolfe suggests finding something new to achieve that's physically challenging but also stimulating.
If you used to love the gym but now find it hard to go, try swimming or Pilates. Sometimes putting yourself in a new environment and surrounding yourself with different people is all you need to jump-start your interest in working out again.
Instead: If you feel like giving up, change it up.
4. ‘Don’t stop when it hurts, stop when you’re done.’
Like the first entry on this list, this phrase taps into the "no pain, no gain" mentality. And as a reminder, nothing should hurt, Wolfe says. "There may be a burn or you'll feel the fatigue, but there are very few times to push through actual pain in the gym."
If anything, when something hurts, that should be the sign to call it quits. As Wolfe sees it, the gym is a place you go to avoid future aches and pains, not create them.
But if all you're dealing with is lack of motivation or fatigue, try tuning out the excuses in your head. Stop when your workout is over, not when things get a little uncomfortable.
Instead: Don't stop when you feel like quitting, stop when you're done.
Read more: 10 Ways to Tell Good Pain From Bad Pain
5. ‘Go hard or go home.’
You've probably heard people make proclamations about getting in shape by hitting the gym hard seven days a week. But that's a mistake. Setting unreasonably ambitious goals is a surefire way to set yourself up for failure.
Ambition is fantastic, Wolfe says, but you have to be careful not to let it backfire. "Something is always better than doing nothing when it comes to exercise."
Instead of having an "all or nothing" attitude about exercise, take baby steps, setting easy-to-achieve goals like spending 30 minutes at the gym at least three times a week. Don't forget that it's OK (and necessary) to take rest days between workouts to give your body time to recover.
Instead: Go at your own pace.
6. ‘After this [workout], we're getting pizza.’
There's nothing wrong with pizza or indulging in your favorite treat. (Wolfe's go-to is a sugary cereal and whey protein.) The key is to be thoughtful and intentional with what and when you feed yourself. An ice cream sundae tastes great, but it won't provide the nutrients required to help your body heal post-workout.
Foods rich in carbohydrates and protein replenish energy levels and repair muscle tissues. And don't skimp on hydration either. Make sure you drink at least 8 ounces to rehydrate yourself after a big workout.
Instead: Food is fuel. Choose wisely.
7. ‘The best revenge is a fit body.’
If you use this phrase to motivate yourself to work out after getting your heart broken, you're not alone. Wolfe says this is the answer a lot of new clients give when he asks why they've started to workout. After all, it's why he started getting into fitness.
"I started my journey after a break-up," he says. "It did bring attention from the opposite sex. However, I found that the attention from girls was not what I actually needed. What I needed most was the attention I was now giving myself."
Working out and staying fit should be a choice you make for yourself, independent of what others may think or feel toward you. But that's easier said than done. So if it's what you need in the short-term to the gym, that's fine. Just make sure you come up with something more sustainable and focused around you later.
Instead: I work out because I love my body, not because I hate it.