When it comes to finding a workout for women, many of us find that multiple roles and seemingly never ending to-do lists are ways of life that can make engaging in regular exercise very difficult to manage. We know we should do it, but how can we fit workouts into an already full schedule? And even if we can squeeze them in, how can we find the motivation to actually get moving? And how much exercise is enough? At what point can we stop feeling guilty and start feeling better about ourselves and our bodies? 

Our series on designing the perfect workout for women and physical activity will help answer all of these questions, as well as providing you insights, thought prompts and skills to help you take ownership of your fitness life once and for all. So stop feeling guilty and start feeling empowered. This month is about you taking charge of your fitness journey and destiny! 

“I learned a long time ago that there is something worse than missing the goal, and that’s not pulling the trigger.” – Mia Hamm

The magic of “I want”

During my 10+ years as a fitness trainer I’ve learned that when women are asked why they want to exercise more, many reply with statements like these:

“Because I’ve got to do something.”

“Because I know it’s good for me.”

“Because I can’t let myself gain any more weight.”

While these types of reasons may be true, they are the farthest from motivating. This is because these reasons are related to extrinsic motivation—things we think we should do—as opposed to things we want to, aka intrinsic motivation. The quickest way to shift your point of view from extrinsic “I should” motivation to intrinsic “I want” motivation is to start the answer to the question of why you want to exercise more with “I want.” Here are some examples to get you started.

“I want to feel stronger and more energetic.”

“I want to feel good in my body and start dancing again.”

“I want to feel in charge of my health and in touch with my body.” 

“I want” statements also tend to lead to more specific, meaningful answers. If you want to be more active, try answering the why exercise question starting with an “I want…” three times. Post your answers where you can see them and let them start working their motivational magic on you. 

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it.” – Brene Brown

Unpacking your exercise baggage 

Nearly every adult woman has exercise and body image baggage. These are lessons and notions we have picked up during our lives that are now working to sabotage our current situation. Some of these beliefs we are consciously aware of and some are lurking in our subconscious minds. Here are three of the most common types of baggage women are carrying :
Exercise needs to be hard/60 minutes/aerobics/running/etc. for it to be effective and count.

I need to be in better shape in order and lose weight to start getting in shape.

I’m not good at running/weight lifting/exercise and probably won’t get better.

Thinking that exercise needs to be a certain way to be legit keeps us from starting where we are and making progress. The reality is that most activity programs should begin with light to moderate intensity and then build to a higher intensity if desired. Keep in mind that despite what popular gym culture tells us, moderate exercise is very effective for promoting health, longevity, a healthy weight and preventing injuries. “No pain, no gain” is NOT true for the human body, especially as it ages.

Another thing to keep in mind is that exercise is as much about building physical skills and confidence as it is about building fitness. When trying something new you will likely feel a bit shy and uncoordinated, but if you can ride out those feelings of discomfort and stick with it you will gradually gain confidence and competence. Getting a coach or trainer can help facilitate this process. For women in particular, feelings of competence are especially important for maintaining a fitness routine.

I recommend that before you jump into another exercise program, you take some time to list 5-10 things you believe about exercise and your body. For the most impact, write them down and try to figure out when you started to believe them. Maybe it was something your mother/gym teacher/first boyfriend/girlfriend, etc. said to you? Or maybe it’s a stereotype you picked up from popular media? You may be surprised about some of the negative associations you have internalized along the way. Getting this baggage out in the open is the first step to examining it and deciding if it makes sense or if it’s time to replace these beliefs with something better.

“One of the secrets to staying young is to always do things you don’t know how to do, to keep learning.” – Ruth Reichl

Enjoyment is not a bad word

Some people love intense exercise. You can find them at CrossFit Gyms, participating in  obstacle course races and running along the road with very serious looks on their faces. There is also a very large percentage of the population that does not enjoy pushing themselves to the limit and probably find the old Nike slogan, “There is no finish line.” to be depressing, instead of motivating. Our culture tends to celebrate the extremes and this is the case for exercise. When is the last time you saw a Gatorade commercial that featured low-impact water aerobics or moderate walking? 

One of the main reasons women drop out of exercise programs is because they are too difficult and the physical discomfort experienced with each session is too great. Humans are designed to seek out pleasure and avoid pain, which means if your exercise plan is too unpleasant you will likely drop out sooner than later. In my experience if you don’t like super intense exercise, it’s best to admit that and find a level of exercise intensity you do enjoy.

One way to start to figure out what you do like is to think of the activities you enjoyed as a child. This may have been riding your bike, swimming, exploring the neighborhood on foot, dancing, jump rope or some other playful activity. Another way to think about what you might like is to imagine what you would do on a day of vacation, if you could do whatever you wanted. If you are still stumped, a walking routine in a pleasant environment is generally a safe and enjoyable place to start. Challenge yourself to try new activities as you get curious about them and soon you will find what you love (or at least don’t hate).


  • Get clear on what YOU want from your fitness life. Write these personal reasons down and read them often.
  • Explore your fitness/body image baggage. What have you learned that’s holding you back?  
  • Start exploring what type of movement/fitness routines you enjoy. Enjoyment is the key to maintaining healthy habits. 

Stay tuned for our next article in this series on finding the perfect workout for women and fitness which will explore prioritizing, asking for what you need to succeed and appreciating small victories.