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7 common barriers to exercise and how to overcome them


Motivation to exercise is probably one of the most common barriers to exercise. Going for a run can feel like a massive slog sometimes.

If scientists could bottle up motivation and issue it in a magic pill, I’m sure many of us would have a monthly prescription!

There are many times when I have avoided exercise or running because I just didn’t feel like it. I made up all the excuses in the world not to go, despite knowing that I always felt better after a workout or a run.

As exercise and running has become a bigger part of my life, finding this motivation has become a lot simpler.

Don’t get me wrong, I still have those days when it feels like the hardest thing in the world, but I’ve become better at training my brain and getting it into a place where I want to exercise or run.

I’ve also found those techniques that work for me. Everyone is different, and you’d be surprised at how many people feel the same way, in that they struggle to find motivation when life gets in the way.

So, what are some common barriers to exercise and how can you overcome them?

Common barriers to exercise and how to overcome them

“I don’t have time”

This is by far one of the biggest reasons many people don’t exercise.

Whether it’s work or family life that gets in the way, balancing running and exercise alongside your other life commitments is all about forward planning.

When life gets busy, a good way to make time for running is to schedule it like any other appointment in your diary.

This way you can fit all your other tasks and activities around this slot. This is especially handy when you have a full-time job or a family.

A few years ago I was finding that people at work were putting meetings in my calendar between 4-6pm.

Although fine, it meant that I couldn’t leave on time some days to go for my evening run when I got home from work.

So I ended up blocking 5-6pm out in my calendar so I could make time for my run.

If you struggle to go for a run in the evening due to work or family commitments, consider scheduling your runs in the morning before you go to work or at lunch times.

It has been proven time and time again that running and exercise actually makes you MORE productive, so if you’re thinking of becoming a morning runner, or morning exerciser, now is the time!

“I lack motivation”

Another common barrier to exercise is motivation. There are days when you simply cannot be bothered to get out of bed and go for a run or workout.

I could write endless blog posts about motivation – it really is a funny thing and it’s different for everyone.

One of the best ways to find your running mojo is to become accountable for your runs. You can do this by joining a running group or running with a family member or friend.

Running with friends or with a running group can be so much fun and you end up meeting like-minded people in the process! You’ve also got less excuses not to go when someone is doing it with you.

Running Parkrun is another fantastic way to start a regular running routine. I love Parkrun because it’s free and gives you a great reason to get up on a Saturday morning.

Before I found Parkrun, I would often procrastinate on a Saturday morning and delay my weekend run to a much later time in the day.

Now I look forward to my run every Saturday, and by 10am I can say I’ve ran 5k.

One of the best things for me about running and exercise is the high I get afterwards.

It’s really like nothing else and it turns into a drug after a while – you come to expect this amazing feeling when all the post-run endorphins run through your body.

Next time you struggle to motivate yourself, think about how great you’ll feel afterwards.

Music is also a great way to get you out the door.

Pick some of your favourite running/workout songs and get those playing as soon as you hit the pavement.

Podcasts are also a good thing to listen to on longer runs. Learning whilst running is the new thing!

Another good tip to give you extra motivation is to keep track of your runs via a running app and reward yourself after each run.

It’s a huge motivating factor seeing the progress you make week by week.

“It’s too cold and wet”

Yes. I know we have crappy weather in the UK. The grey rainy days just make you want to snuggle up in your house with a big duvet and your favourite TV show on repeat on Netflix.

Unfortunately your training plan doesn’t stop for the odd rainy day. If you’re training for a 5k, 10k or half marathon, the key is consistency and keeping your momentum week in, week out, despite the weather.

For those long winter months, make sure you buy running gear that will keep you warm and dry. The key is layers! Layer up and head out the door – you’ll soon warm up and running in the rain can actually be fun!

“I don’t feel well”

This is something all runners come across at one time or another in their running journey. It’s also something that unfortunately you cannot ignore.

If you feel unwell, the most important thing you can do is listen to your body and rest. Your body needs time to recover and get back to optimal health before you attempt another run or workout.

Similarly, if you’re injured, don’t push or pressure yourself to workout or go for a run.

You’ll probably end up making it worse, therefore increasing the amount of time you’re out with an injury. If in doubt, I suggest you see a PT or a fitness professional who will be able to advise on next steps.

“I’m worried everyone is looking at me”

Chances are they probably are looking at you, but not for the reasons you think.

Most likely they are looking at you and admiring you for getting out there and improving your fitness and wellbeing. Some people who don’t regularly run or exercise are probably looking on in envy! Oh, the green-eyed monster!

Over the years, I’ve come to care less about those people who stare at me whilst I run. I just try and focus on my run and the fact that I am doing it for myself, and no one else, no matter what they think.

You’re bound to feel self-conscious when you first get going, but this will soon pass and will become the least of your running worries!

“It’s too hard – I can’t do it and want to give up”

You’ve probably heard the saying: “If it were easy, everyone would be doing it”.

Running and exercise is all about pushing your mind and body outside of your comfort zone. It involves you pushing yourself week by week beyond your limits to achieve the next major milestone.

If life was meant to be lived within your comfort zone, you’d never achieve or learn anything!

When you’re a beginner runner, the journey ahead seems impossible, but I promise you will get there and it will get better!

We were all beginner runners once in our lives – the key is to set yourself realistic and achievable goals. This is why the Couch to 5k programme is so popular worldwide because it’s all about setting SMART goals for your training plan and combining running with walking.

You don’t have to be the next Paula Radcliffe to love or get into running.

“I don’t feel confident enough”

Everyone was a beginner once in their life, whether that be in running or any other sporting activity like football or tennis.

Mo Farah wasn’t born a long distance runner, nor was Andy Murray born a Wimbledon champion. They both put in years of blood, sweat and tears to get to where they are today.

Confidence comes with practice and hard work.

Once you start to get more runs under your belt, you’ll soon become more and more confident and you’ll then start to work towards the next major milestone.

I truly believe that everyone has it in them to run – all you need is hard work and a positive attitude and you will do it over and over again.

Health and fitness is very much a journey. You’ll probably look back on yourself in a few months or years and think: “What was I moaning about?”

Another way to think about it is how lucky you are to even be able to run at all. Running, however simple it may be, is a huge gift and the fact that your body can do it is amazing!

Caroline Geoghegan