Science-Based Psychological Tips to Boost Fitness Motivation

Motivation is such a fickle thing. One day you’re overflowing with it, the next it’s nowhere to be found. Now that the cold is settling in, the warmth of the bed seems more inviting than it’s ever been. Fitness motivation—or motivation to do anything at all honestly—has become even more elusive. 

The road to fitness seems so straightforward when you’re mapping it out. You identify your goals, think about a workout program and plot your schedule around your designated gym time. You prepare your gear and maybe even do a bit of meal prep so you don’t have to worry about food later. Now that you’re all set up all that’s left to do is the workout.

Photo grabbed from Tirachard Kumtanom

Then the time comes. It turns out it’s not that easy after all. It’s after-work hours and you want nothing more than to zombie-walk your way home and crash for the night. Or your alarm rings at 5 AM, and you open your eyes, but the bed’s gravitational pull is so intense that you never really manage to crawl out of it. 

Making plans to exercise is easy. It’s in the follow-through where people get stuck.

Motivation is a tricky business, and it’s the X-factor to any self-improvement plan—fitness or otherwise. It’s the difference between a fun workout session and a miserable one. For people who have a good grasp of how it works, finding fitness motivation is only a matter of harnessing that knowledge to their advantage. 

In this article, we’ll help you equip yourself with the knowledge you need to keep yourself motivated. This article explores a few workout motivation tips and the psychology behind them so that you can adapt them to other facets of your life.

  • What is motivation?

    Motivation is the why behind a person’s actions. The processes that occur under the surface are rather complex—involving social, biological, cognitive, and emotional forces that drive behavior.1 

    There are two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. The simplest way to explain them would be that intrinsic motivation is process-oriented while extrinsic is outcome-based. Intrinsic motivation comes from the enjoyment of doing an action, while extrinsic motivation comes from the desire to get something out of it.2 

    praise is extrinsic


    Both types of motivation are not exclusive to each other, even though one always predominates. When you think about it, fitness motivation is most often extrinsic. People work out to lose weight, build muscle, hit a personal record, or prepare for competition. These are the outcomes of working out—you can’t get them unless you stick to your goals consistently over a period of time. 

    When people talk about extrinsic motivation, the first thing that comes to mind is rewards and acknowledgment. However, it’s not just that. When you do a task for anything other than because you enjoy the process, that is extrinsically motivated.

  • Ways to Boost Your Fitness Motivation

    The best way to adhere to any plan is to leverage both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation to drive yourself towards your fitness goal. However, intrinsic motivation is difficult to cultivate. It requires changing mindsets and old habits to accommodate the new goal. 

    Thankfully, a good understanding of extrinsic motivators can help you create habits that will boost your fitness motivation. Here are some ways you can use extrinsic motivation for your fitness goals.

  • 1 Find people you like to work out with.

    We know that going to work out in groups is fun, but have you ever wondered why? It’s because being in a group stimulates greater endorphin boosts, making working out a fun social activity.3,4 Working out in groups can help you adhere better to your workout plans. Since you make plans together, you can’t cancel your workout as easily as if you were going alone. That provides a solution to the times when your Friday fitness motivation is just about to fizz out.

    Training with friends can boost fitness motivation.

    Moreover, the people we surround ourselves with influence our attitudes and behaviors towards exercise.5 Having like-minded people to work out with makes it easier to maintain your fitness motivation. That’s not the only reason however. Being part of a group generally positively affects your performance. 

    People tend to perform better in non-cognitive tasks when in the presence of other people. In other words, having people to workout with can help you go faster and harder in the gym.6 Whether it’s a partner, a small group or an entire class, the point is people innately seek affiliation and belonging and being part of a group addresses that need.7 

  • 2 Set actionable workout goals

    Goal-setting is inherently linked to task performance. You can’t do anything without planning to do it beforehand. And task completion combined with feedback, tends to result in consecutively better performance.8 

    Goals give you something to shoot for during a workout. These goals direct you towards a certain point of completion (i.e., to finish your workout program). With this in mind, vague goals such as “work out at the gym” just won’t cut it.9 

    Instead, the goals you set must be specific, clear and adequately challenging. “Break my personal record in jump rope” would be a good example of a specific, actionable goal. Feedback or affirmation must then reinforce the successful completion of the goal.10 This feedback doesn’t have to come from an external source—it can be a self-assessment of your own performance.

    If you’ve ever worked out with a coach or a mentor, you know what the feeling is like. You map out the day’s workout plan, push to complete it and receive feedback and acknowledgment in the form of a high-five or a slap on the back. Such affirmation provides a rush of fulfillment that can do wonders for your fitness motivation for future workout sessions.11  

  • 3 Track your progress

    Setting goals is the essential first step to achieving them. Monitoring progress isn’t emphasized as much as it should be, but it is just as important as setting them. Studies have shown that monitoring progress has positive effects on performance.12 Aside from letting you know how far you’ve come, it improves your chances of achieving your goals.

    Photo grabbed from Marko Klaric

    If you’re looking to boost your fitness motivation, you may benefit from tracking your workouts or plotting them out on a calendar. Visual reminders of how often and how hard you’ve been working out give you an objective view of how well you adhere to your goals. It can also drive you to amp up the effort when you’re getting off-track.

    Jotting it down or using a mobile fitness app both work to track your progress have the same effects. However, the method of progress tracking with the highest likelihood of goal achievement is when you tell people about your progress. It may be because doing so subjects you to judgment from others, and for many people, the fear of judgment can be a very effective motivator.13   

  • 4 Love what you are doing

    If we had to pick the best fitness motivation quote, it would be “fall in love with the process, and the results will come” by Eric Thomas. People who work out because they like working out are intrinsically motivated. Their motivation to workout comes from their want to move rather than their desire for its results. They may enjoy spacing out while moving their bodies, love the feel of their muscles burning, or feeling relaxed as they stretch their bodies past their usual movements. Intrinsic motivation is powerful because it is rooted in a person’s identity.14

    Intrinsically motivated people are the best at adhering to their goals. Unfortunately, given the nature of intrinsic motivation, it is challenging to cultivate it in one’s self and impossible to impose on others. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, though it does require a bit of cognitive reframing to achieve.

    Rather than looking forward to what benefits you may gain from working out, focus on keeping yourself in the present. The perfect activity for you is one that you can enjoy with good company, and you won’t have a problem with fitness motivation if you look forward to every workout.

  • Join the Family

    In Person

    If you’re not sure where to start looking, then here’s a suggestion: try out martial arts. Boxing and Muay Thai are fun activities you can enjoy at any fitness level, and the best thing about them is that they’ll keep you coming back for more. The Fight Centre in Logan, Brisbane is a good place to begin if you’re around the area. Click here to sign up for a free introductory class and experience the hype for yourself.


    If you’re not from around Brisbane, you can still enjoy quality instruction from our world-class team of instructors. Click on this link to find out more about The Fight Centre’s online Boxing program.