If it were easy to stay motivated to work out, then we’d all have rock-hard abs. Alas, the drive to get out of bed for an early morning sweat session is elusive, except for those infectiously positive and perky fitness trainers and instructorsor so you thought. Even they need some encouragement once in a while. We asked four inspiring exercise experts to share what motivates them both in and out of the gym and studio. Their advice could be the extra nudge you need.
Your favorite instructors are great teachers, but they’re still students, too. “Just like my clients, I oftentimes need to be told what to do when it comes to my exercise routine,” says Annie Mulgrew, program director at CityRow in New York City. “I’ll take a class at my studio or another studio with an instructor friend,” she says. “I always feel better afterward!”
Mulgrew says group fitness is more than just a workout, but an opportunity to see what other instructors are doing and get new ideas. “We’re still consumers of group fitness.”
Treat yourself every day
To stay on track with a healthy, balanced diet, Mulgrew says she gives in to temptation one time every day. “If I allow myself a treat, I’m way less likely to overindulge or binge,” she says. “One glass of wine is perfect, but a whole bottle? Derailing.”
This smart eating strategy is the reason many authorities say trendy or restrictive diets simply don’t work. You end up craving the self-banned food even more, increasing your odds of binge eating or falling off the wagon completely.
Pump up the jams
Music can be an incredibly powerful mood booster. In fact, research has shown that listening to happy or sad music can actually directly alter the way you perceive the world—powerful stuff!
Los Angeles-based personal trainer Astrid Swan harnesses the power of music to get her ready to take on the world. “No matter what the situation is—an early wake-up call, sprints on the treadmill, or just having a life moment, music brings me back to me,” says Swan. Need a quick jolt? She says to turn up the dial “on the volume and on your workout.” One song that always works for this fitness pro: “Stronger” by Britney Spears.
Give yourself a pep talk
Whether it’s a family member’s words of encouragement that have stuck with you, or lyrics from a familiar song, keeping a mantra, catchphrase or motto handy when you need a boost of confidence or determination can work wonders.
For Swan it’s simply “Let’s go! I’ve got this.” “If I’m going into a meeting, or totally dying during a workout session, I’ll say it [to myself],” she says. “I say it to my clients, too! ‘You’ve got this. You just have to believe’.”
Plan a post-workout meal
Having a food in mind for your post-workout nosh will motivate you to crush your sweat session. Erin Bulvanoski, trainer at KORE New York, says it helps her really work for that snack she’s craving. “I love finding a great smoothie shop after class,” she says. “It’s something I get excited about.” That said, don’t overdo it—remember these tips for avoiding a post-workout binge.
Connect with friends
A workout buddy holds you accountable for the time and effort you put into your workouts—research proves it. Plus, socializing as you sweat can make exercise more fun.
Bulvanoksi says she enjoys staying connected to and touching base with her favorite clients. “I love inviting my friends to join me in class, too,” she says. “The more people I have to look forward to see, the more I feel motivated to be at the top of my game.”
Practice being mindful
The art of being in the moment, blocking out all the external day-to-day stressors that can get in the way is sometimes easier said than done, but this kind of mindfulness is something Daniela Iannone, personal trainer and instructor at Prime Cycle in Hoboken, New Jersey truly believes in and follows.
“For many people in my class, the 45 minutes they spend with me is the only time during their day that they have to themselves,” Iannone says. “I tell them to give that to themselves and focus on the task at hand. Where your mind goes, your energy goes with it.”
Surround yourself with positive people
Mulgrew says spending time with positive, hard-working co-workers and friends makes her want to follow their lead. “If I’m having a rough day, my team keeps me focused on the good, and helps me power through,” she says.
It’s nice to surround yourself with friends who have similar interests, but Mulgrew says it’s just as important to be with people who are doing things you want to be doing. If you see other people living healthfully, those actions could become habits for you, too. “If you have someone helping you to stay consistent, it’s a game-changer,” says Mulgrew.
Listen to your body
Your body could be telling you things you may not want to hear. Mulgrew says that sometimes her body wants to push her out of her comfort zone. “So I look around at other people at the gym or in class and tell myself if they can do it, so can I.”
Other times though, your body might be warning you to stop. “There’s nothing wrong with taking a break, and there’s nothing less motivating than an injury,” says Mulgrew. “If my body feels too fatigued or I feel discomfort in my muscles or joints, I back off. Staying safe and healthy allows for longevity, and that’s really what it’s all about.”
Get in those steps for the day
You signed up for spin class only to realize it was at the location across town. Instead of dreading the commute, make good use of that time! “Sometimes to get motivated for class, I force myself to run, walk, or bike there instead of taking the subway as a way to get my blood flowing and endorphins up,” says Bulvanoski.
Studies have shown that exercising outdoors (or in this case, taking the scenic route to class) offers bonus benefits like improved mood and, weather permitting, an extra dose of vitamin D.
Think about what you can accomplish right now
You might have a larger goal in mind—dropping pounds, training for a marathon—but it’s crucial to remember all the baby steps it takes to get there.
During her high-intensity classes, Bulvanoski asks clients to set goals for themselves that they aim to complete during the hour-long class, and she sets one for herself, too. “Tangible things to achieve are always a stronger motivator to be at your best,” she says.
The floor-to-ceiling mirrors surrounding most studios are not there to torture you. Sure, you may feel a little awkward while you’re getting the hang of a particularly challenging move, but looking in the mirror can help perfect your form over time.
The mirror helps show Bulvanoski just how hard she’s working. “Seeing my muscles work is a huge motivator,” she says. “The more fun and fitted I can get my workout clothes, the more I can clearly see the goals I’m trying to achieve—and look good [while] doing it!”
Drink more matcha
A caffeine jolt before the gym may enhance exercise results. In anInternational Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolismstudy, trained athletes who took in caffeine pre-exercise burned about 15% more calories for three hours post-exercise, compared to those who ingested a placebo. If you’re not much of a coffee drinker but still want a quick caffeine fix, try matcha, a powdered form of green tea. “A matcha green tea latte with almond milk is my go-to,” says Swan. “It’s my only caffeine intake, so I get a surge of energy!”
The spotlight on matcha has grown brighter recently, and for good reason. Because you are drinking the whole tea leaves (instead of only steeping them) matcha drinks are a more potent source of nutrients than traditional teas. Matcha is rich in antioxidants that may protect against heart disease and cancer, as well as help regulate blood sugar and blood pressure.
Scroll through your news feed
“Sometimes I check in on fitness hashtags on Instagram to see what other people are doing,” says Iannone. “Seeing bodies in motion and images of strength motivates me.”
Remember the point is not to compare yourself to others (everyone’s health journey and physique is different). Instead think about what or who inspires you to get moving and believe in yourself, and then follow instructors, trainers, or studios on social media for some fitspiration. It’s not a bad idea to follow your favorite magazines either (cough, @healthmagazine).
Think about how you’ll feel after
“I work out for my sanity, not vanity,” says Swan. “Workouts are my therapy. I know if I don’t get to release those endorphins, I’m not as carefree.”
Exercise has long been shown to have lasting mental health benefits well after you complete a workout. Activity (even just a walk around the block) is said to reduce stress, boost your mood, and improve self-esteem. Those awesome psychological effects should be motivation enough to get you up and out.
It’s all too easy to get caught up in your own problems, frustrations, or never-ending to-do list, but Iannone finds it helpful to back away from complaints and consider what she has to be thankful for. She reminds herself and her clients that they each have the basic ability to move. “Be grateful that you have two legs that work,” she says. “Don’t take that for granted.”
It’s this gratitude that keeps Iannone moving forward each day. “I think about people who can’t move, and it puts everything in perspective for me.”
Set the mood
What wakes Iannone up in the morning? Techno. Admittedly not a morning person, she says she prefers energetic music in the early hours to pump her up. “Music is fuel for your body,” she says. “Feed the excitement and passion to keep going forward.”
Although the beat gets her moving in the morning, lyrics help maintain her drive. In one of Iannone’s favorite songs, “The Fire” by The Roots, she loves the lyrics “I am the definition of tragedy turned triumph,” which she says remind her of overcoming adversity and not giving up.
They say when you look good, you feel good. Sounds like an excuse to go shopping! And Swan is definitely on board, “I’m not going to lie, a new gym outfit gives me motivation,” she says. “Brand new spandex or a killer sports bra is just like buying the perfect little black dress.”
More than just retail therapy, stepping into fun new workout wear could be just the boost of self-love you need in order to stick to a weight loss goal or rigorous training schedule. And new research suggests that dressing for an activity can actually boost your performance of a task. So hopefully if you dress like a tennis pro, you’ll play like one, too.
Take a breather
Sundays are typically rest days for Swan, but if you happen to find her in the gym that day, it’s not because she’s working out seven days a week. “I give my body a full day’s rest no matter what,” she says. “Physically, it’s the best time for your muscles to recover, and it’s so important for your muscles to be able to grow, but a full day’s rest is going to rest your mind, too. Allow yourself to decompress.”
Schedule rest days just as you would workouts to avoid overuse injuries and ample time for muscle repair. And remember, a good rest mentally and physically prepares you to bring your A game to the next workout.
Change your mind
There is no such thing as a quick-fix solution for your health and fitness goals, reminds Iannone, and she believe the first step starts inside you. “It’s not just about working out,” she says. “It’s about working within.”
The fitness philosophy by which she lives and teaches encompasses this theory: “Change your mindset to change your life!” you’ll often hear her screaming to a packed spin studio. “You have to approach fitness and life from a strong, positive, persistent place. Be brave in all that you do.”
You hate being hangry just as much as your friends hate to be around someone who’s irritable from a rumbling stomach and low blood sugar. Avoid that feeling and make sure you have the energy needed to take on your next workout by eating throughout the day. The key is to think small, satisfying snacks, not full, heavy meals.
Swan says she eats every three hours, which means she prepares for her day and any possible delays the night before. She chops fresh fruit and veggies, and grabs to-go almond butter, Greek yogurt, and raw nuts to put in a cooler she takes in the car.
Set attainable goals
Setting an extremely lofty, unrealistic, or unhealthy goal is just setting yourself up for failure or exhaustion, says Mulgrew. “If you don’t make the progress you want to see in the short-term, you could say ‘oh this doesn’t work, so I just won’t do it’,” she warns.
The key thing for her to remember and what she tells clients is that consistency and longevity are more important than a looming right-now goal. “My goal is to live a healthy lifestyle, and to be an active human,” she says. “Resting for a day or going for a walk, in the long run, doesn’t matter. There’s so much room for breaks.”
Grab a pen
A journal is a place for Iannone to hold her sudden inspirations. “I come up with phrases or mantras that pop into my mind, and write them down or create a [digital] poster to share with my followers online,” she says. Feeling unmotivated? Look back all those positive vibes you wrote before.
You might know that food journaling, or recording your food intake throughout the day can help you lose weight. But did you know regularly jotting down your feelings could have positive effects on your mind as well? Journaling has been shown to help manage anxiety, reduce stress, and prioritize your feelings by acting as a healthy outlet to express emotions.
You’ve probably heard an instructor tell you that if a move or class doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you. Not only are they referring to the physiological effects from exercise, but they’re also warning you against complacency.
Mix things up to avoid the same old routine or you’ll quickly become bored and unmotivated. “If I start to get bored, I know something needs to be adjusted,” says Iannone. “I take it back to the books, the images, and the music because that’s what works best for me.”
Do what you love
Although Iannone stopped formally practicing dance by the time she entered adulthood, that passion for movement and activity is what ultimately led her to pursue a career in fitness. “It was health-related and kept my mobile,” she says. “I get to see different people every day and stay moving. This work makes me better.”
Think about some of your favorite hobbies or activities. Even if you don’t turn that passion into a career like Iannone, it’s important to maintain your connection to what makes the best healthy, happy version of you.
This article originally appeared on Health.com.