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4 Excuses for Not Exercising That Are Not Good Enough

By Alexander VanHouten, Master Trainer & Life Time Education Specialist

“I could see you sweating from the desk. I had to come see what you were training so hard for.”

“I just had a baby, and I’m getting my muscle and strength back.” High five and rock on, I say.

I hear it every day. People who have legitimate reasons that could keep them away from the gym, yet they’re here anyway.

“Your clean and jerk form is amazing! How long have you been doing Olympic lifts?”

“It’s been about five years. It was my goal ever since the accident. They told me I would never walk again, so I decided I was going to learn the clean and jerk and prove them WAY wrong!” Sweaty bro hug. That’s what the human spirit is all about!

Sometimes, when I have a few minutes, I walk out on the fitness floor just to be inspired.

That’s right –  even as a trainer, not all of my fitness inspiration comes from internal motivation. I’m inspired by every story of someone who’s made it a point to set aside the time, muster the energy, overcome the pain, and prioritize consistency.

“What’s on the menu for your workout today? Your mat says yoga, but your shoes say treadmill.”

“Treadmill warm-up. Yoga class after. Keeps me sane in my hectic work schedule.”

And yet she makes the time in that hectic calendar because somewhere inside of her, exercise is important enough to do so. What’s her story?

Why can some people make it happen while others simply don’t?

All of us have an important reason to challenge our bodies with exercise whether we know it or not. In the grand scheme of life, movement is necessary for physical resilience, functional movement maintenance, stress regulation, and brain plasticity.

Get busy living or get busy dying. Use it or lose it. We’re not getting any younger.

And yet every person I know, whether he/she realizes the significance of exercise or not, has his/her personal obstacles ready to spout (or squash). Do you find yourself making any of these justifications for skipping your workout?

You’re Low on Energy.

We’ve all been there. You just don’t feel like it. For months or even years, however, the very thought of exercise just makes you more tired. You look at kiddos running around and misbehaving in the grocery store and try to remember a time when you were that full of life. It’s depressing.

And this is just the time when you most need to get it done.

In fact, in 2006, a landmark meta-analysis (a compilation of hundreds of studies’ findings) showed that even just 20 minutes of low to moderate intensity movements (weights or cardio) gave participants an immediate boost in energy that was significantly greater than that experienced by those who took a nap or took a prescription stimulant (like those prescribed for ADHD).[i] Surprised?

Even more telling was the study covered several groups: healthy adults, cancer patients going through chemo (talk about adrenal fatigue!), those with chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease, etc.… Moral of the story: EVERYONE gets an energy boost from exercise.

Having trouble getting started? Just get to the gym or on the road or wherever your 20 minutes needs to be spent. The energy, sunlight, and ambition will take over from there. Two weeks of consistent effort will find you surprised at the energy you have.

Don’t let energy be the reason you skip your exercise!

You’re in pain.

Unfortunately, nearly 50% of our adult population experiences chronic pain daily.[ii] And for many, exercise makes it flare up. Not cool.

There really is nothing harder than looking chronic pain in the face and knowing it’s going to hurt worse for a short time. Still, exercise anyway because you know that in the long run, you can’t afford not to.

It used to be that doctors prescribed bed rest for any kind of pain. Though my heart goes out to you, I want to challenge you to make your pain a motivator rather than a buzzkill.

Aside from an acute injury recovery situation, all recent research suggests that being sedentary makes chronic pain worse over time whereas exercise can diminish it.[iii][iv]

We’re finding now that in addition to correcting postural deviances through increased strength and improved length-tension relationships throughout the body, exercise increases one’s pain threshold over time. [v]

Not only will you become stronger in the muscles that are supposed to support your joints (head/neck – lowering headache probability, glute/core – lowering back/hip pain, chest/shoulders – lowering rotator cuff pain), but you’ll also decrease your pain perception overall.

In effect, the brain adaptations of consistent exercise act as a 24-hour pain pill but without the side effects and with many additional benefits for you.

If your program is consistently causing you pain without progress, it may not be right for you. Connect with a professional to get some advice on what movements and intensities your body needs to be performing to reap the benefits, not the consequences, of exercise!

Pain shouldn’t be the reason you don’t exercise. Give a good (ideally professionally guided) routine four weeks, and see how much better you feel.

You just can’t find the time.

“I’m too busy to make it to the gym.”

I hear this all the time….

First, it saddens me because you are, in effect, saying you’ve prioritized everything above yourself, and you’re set on accomplishing it all at your own expense.

I’m genuinely sorry to hear this – especially because lack of physical activity inevitably shortens your life and dulls your mood.

But if that’s not enough for you to make it a priority, how about conclusive evidence that shows people who exercise are 15% more productive at work and in their personal lives than those who don’t?

Let’s do the math. If you work a 10-hour work day (that’s a long day!) with no exercise, you presumably get 10 hours’ worth of work done. But if you take an hour to work out and work only 9 hours but are 15% more productive than before, you get nearly 10.5 hours’ worth of work done!

What’s the mechanism here? Have you ever seen the movie Limitless?

In this action-thriller, the main character takes a pill that enhances everything about his cognitive processes. The world looks different to him – more clear, more brilliant. Best of all, he operates masterfully within it.

Like the “limitless pill,” exercise sharpens your ability to focus and extends that concentration. It increases your energy, enhances your mood, boosts your creativity, and allows you to handle stress better.[vi]

See “Why Your Brain Needs You to Exercise” for more about how it’s possible to hack your own efficiency rate with exercise.

Try just a week of prioritizing exercise and see how much more productive you are.

So, let’s all put the time excuse to bed, shall we?

You’ve failed at achieving your goals too many times.

I understand. Aside from chronic pain, fear of not seeing the scale change, appearing novice in front of a crowd of gym rats, or just plain feeling down on yourself can be the biggest obstacle for most people starting an/another exercise program.

Here’s some ninja advice: redefine success.

You want to lose weight by coming to the gym? Awesome. Weight loss can be an ultra-complicated process that takes months to accomplish in a way that’s healthy and sustainable. It’s quite possible that you won’t see the scale budge for a while if you’re doing everything right!

In the meantime, however, you’re reaping so many other benefits from your efforts that it would be a shame to not recognize and celebrate them while ON THE WAY to losing the weight you want to lose.

Try to MASTER a new exercise movement or modality, increase your strength, relish in the increased energy or decreased chronic pain, join an exercise community and consider yourself successful to have filled your social circle with supportive friendships. Watch your flexibility increase or get involved in a sports event (obstacle course, 5k, etc.) to give yourself another measure of success.

It’s amazing what successes you’ll realize if you bring other measures into focus.

And if your failures are an insurmountable barrier for you, come talk with a fitness professional. We can help you overcome the obstacles holding you back and support you along your journey!

The only true failure is giving up.

Instead, get it done!

Trainers are notorious for not letting you get away with excuses. I am no exception. Ask any of my clients….

However, anytime I watch the Death Crawl from Facing the Giants,[vii] I’m reminded of a simple truth.

Excuses aren’t something we make up to get out of something. They are the walls in our mind we can’t see around that block us from being who we really are.

I hope I’ve helped you knock a few of those walls down. Energy, time, pain, and failure are no longer good enough excuses, right? See you at the gym tomorrow.

If you want to learn more about how we design our programs to support fitness and performance using our Core 3 Training™ methodologies,

Download the Core 3 Training Manual.

If you enjoyed this article or learned something new, please share the post on your favorite social media channel. Thanks for reading.

[i] Puetz, T. Psychological Bulletin, November 2006. News release, University of Georgia.

[ii] Gallup 2011.

[iii] Daenen L1Varkey EKellmann MNijs J. Exercise, not to exercise, or how to exercise in patients with chronic pain? Applying science to practice. Clin J Pain. 2015 Feb;31(2):108-14. doi: 10.1097/AJP.0000000000000099.

[iv] Hospital for Special Surgery. Exercise Program in Senior Centers Helps Decrease Pain and Improve Mobility in Older Adults. 6-Nov-2015.

[v] National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Bethesda, Md.

[vi] John Briley. You Don’t Have Time Not To Work Out. Washington Post. July 5th 2005.


The posts on this blog are not intended to suggest or recommend the diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevention of any disease, nor to substitute for medical treatment, nor to be an alternative to medical advice. The use of the suggestions and recommendations on this blog post is at the choice and risk of the reader.
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