At some time or other I suspect all athletes find it hard to maintain the intensity of exercise. We’ve all been there; the days when you had planned to go for a run but didn’t have the resolve to do it. This is when an athlete’s psychological tools come into their own-helping you stay motivated and keeping the training on track.
As many of you reading this are probably aware, motivation is an extensive topic of research in sports and exercise psychology. Put simply, motivation is the drive which every human being possesses to perform actions, tasks and activities; in this case exercising. This article will demonstrate key tips and ideas on how to maintain motivation in exercise regimes as well as the research behind them.

Goal Setting

The first and, in my opinion, the most important way to maintain motivation is setting a goal. The reason why I, and many others, believe this is crucial is, without a goal, why do we exercise? Why do we bother at all? It is because we desire a certain outcome or reward. A goal could be to lose weight, to beat a personal best time or to train for an up and coming event such as a triathlon. Research has shown that setting goals is an effective strategy in keeping on track with exercise (Kaplan & Maehr, 2007). To create a goal you must:

• First write it down. This is to act as a constant reminder that you have given yourself a challenge. It also allows you adapt and change your goal to your requirements
• Make sure the goal is challenging, but also a realistic target. You may well believe you have the potential fitness of an Olympian, but set yourself stepping stones to get there.
• These stepping stones will short term goals in order to reach your long-term goal. An example of a long-term goal could be to “swim a kilometre in 20 minutes”. So in addition to your long term goal you can write down short-term goals such as “swim 500 metres in 15 minutes” and then increase the difficulty of the next short-term goal. Do as many short-term goals as you need in order to achieve the long-term goal.


This is another important concept which can be used in order to fuel the exercise drive. Hausenblas et al (1999) in their research found that, through the use of imagery, one can sustain their exercise behaviour and recommend using imagery to increase motivation for those who exercise. Research has found that the most used examples of imagery for exercising were bodily appearance and fitness (Giacobbi et al, 2003; Silbernagel, Short & Ross-Stewart, 2007). So if you’re the person who exercises to gain a good physique then:

focus on a positive image of yourself looking fitter
• imagine other environmental factors such as other people admiring your physique; perhaps on a beach on holiday
• imagine the emotions you will be feeling when you are happy with the way you look
• try looking from a different perspective, i.e. imagining what you look like from the third person

It is important to constantly feed yourself positive messages alongside imagery e.g. “I can do it”!


This concept can involve keeping training logs, online blogging and exercise calendars. Keeping track of your exercise progress is always a good tactic in maintaining motivation. It gives you a chance to register improvements as well as acting as a drive to push yourself harder.

Online blogging had become immensely popular over the last decade. Writing a blog can enable a person to express their thoughts and feelings and, in an exercise situation, can be used to write their training experiences. Miura and Yamashita (2007) found that if feedback is positive the blogger will continue to keep writing. In an exercise situation this could mean the blogger is more compelled to train more in order to add to the blog. Having the pressure of interested readers awaiting the next blog instalment could be that drive you need to keep on training. For those interested, there is an amazing book called ‘Can’t Swim, Can’t Ride, Can’t Ride’ by Andy Holgate which demonstrates blogging amongst other motivators in triathlon training.
Writing your own training log is similar to online blogging except it can be a more personal and private method. It can give users the opportunity to be more honest with themselves about their training progress. Some ideas which can be logged are:

• Training time/end
• Where you trained
• Distance covered
• Thoughts and feelings
• Energy levels and so on

Along with the influx of smartphones, exercise goers have the chance of downloading fitness apps which can log, monitor and even suggest training. Therefore these apps can act as an external motivator when exercising. Research has shown that the use of fitness app can motivate users to keep on with their training regime (Kranz et al, 2012). Be wary, however, of choosing an app which can correctly measure the effects of training.

Exercise Partner

Unlike interactive apps giving you the push to train, using another person to exercise alongside you is also an effective method of keeping motivated. Smith, Ullrich-French, Walker and Hurley (2006) found that having a friend to take part in sport and train with results in higher sense of motivation.
There are many benefits of having an exercise partner:
• It can act as friendly competition, pushing each other harder
• Useful advice can be given on improving technique and skills
• Encouragement can be given, e.g. benching the last rep in the gym
• Most importantly, it can be enjoyable exercising alongside a friend

To summarise, there are many different ways in which you can stay motivated to exercise. Hopefully some of the methods presented in this article can give you a few ideas. A habit has been found to range from 18 days to 5 months (Lally, van Jaarsveld, Potts & Wardle 2010), so be sure to follow your exercise regime through, and make sure you enjoy the benefits of exercise.

Here are some more in depth articles from ‘The Sport In Mind’ discussing some of the themes.

Goal Setting:
Training Partners:


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