Working Out When You Don’t Want To

Guest Author: Clayton Taylor, BA Psychology SFSU, NASM-CPT

       What can we do when it’s clear we should exercise, but don’t want to? Below is an outline and brief description of exercises and techniques that can be performed in your living room or in your desk chair. These tools can be used as needed. Click on links for access to further resources.

  • Meditation

Heh, I’ve long wanted to begin an article about working out by recommending something other than actually working out. The reality is however, that meditation may very well be the single most important exercise on this list. Mayo Clinic describes meditation and it’s benefits more effectively and with more authority than I, but basically, practicing meditation can be a way to reduce mental ‘noise’ and serve as a kind of resting reset for our body and mind.

How to Meditate – NY Times

7 Ways Meditation Can Actually Change the Brain – Forbes

  • Kegel Exercises

Kegel exercises are well known to have far-reaching benefits for women’s sexual health. What’s less commonly known is that Kegels provide significant benefits to men as well. These benefits range from improved sexual function to promoting fecal continence (Mayo Clinic, 2018 – 1). Women’s health benefits are similar, with an emphasis on bladder control (Mayo Clinic, 2018 – 2). Learning to do Kegel exercises has another plus: it teaches us to tense and release.

  • Tense and Release
    Tense and release, or better known as Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR), is a technique that’s used effectively in treatment for anxiety and insomnia, as well as relieving pain and high-blood pressure (WebMD, 2018). Essentially, it is the same process as Kegels, but applied systematically and mindfully throughout the rest of the body.

How to do Progressive Muscle Relaxation – AnxietyBC

Tense and Release for teens – Anxiety Canada Youth

  • Warm-up arm rotations and walking in-place
    Yup, just like in PE class. Extend your arms to the sides, making a t-shape with your body, then rotate your arms in small circles for 60-90 second or until compelled to release, then switch directions. Then repeat this process making larger circles with your arms. In conjunction with walking in-place, this exercise will help to warm your muscles to the appropriate temperature for light anaerobic work.


  • Pushup from knees
    Perhaps the best-known strength exercise in the world, pushups can simply seem like too much when you don’t want to workout. Modifying the pushup so that your knees are on the ground instead of your feet lightens the intensity and can be a great way to trick your brain into thinking it’s not actually working. Coupled with slow, consistent execution, these modified pushups can be further adjusted to sufficiently challenge all levels of athleticism. Other variations (discussed below) can be used as well to adjust difficulty.


  • TV squats (yay!)
    This one’s always my personal favorite.  Stand in front of the TV, and do squats (or lunges). Training authority Jonathan Goodman describes in detail ways to vary your workout. Variations numbers 5 (time), 6 (weight), and 12 (range of motion) in particular are effective ways to get more out of these exercises.


  • Stretching (only when warm)
    Stretching is an important tool that allows our bodies to recover properly. Once we’re warmed up, these techniques can be used as often as is beneficial. Stretching helps protect our bodies from incurring unnecessary damage during your workout, as well as out in the world. Benefits range from increased flexibility and range of motion, to helping with back pain and stress (Lindberg, 2018).


  • Cardio (as desired)
    Adding a cardio component serves to further balance and intensify your workout. For many, it is an integral piece of an effective workout plan. But sometimes, we just plain don’t want to. If you find yourself here, don’t distress! It’s okay. Normal even. Limit or even eliminate it from the program this time if it’s helpful. Just remember, participating in cardio can turn a good workout into a great one.


  • Repeat as needed.


Once through, this circuit offers substantial reward. Repeated and modified to challenge each individual, it presents a foundational skill set that is the basis of the best and most challenging workouts the world has to offer.  

These tools can be mixed and matched as is desirable, but it is important to remember that together, they create a nearly full-body workout that can be increased in intensity to any level, providing a framework for people of every level of athleticism. Whether you’re a beginner or a decorated Olympian, these skills can help you to work out, even when you don’t want to.

Clayton Taylor trains at Tri Valley Trainer inPleasanton, CA. He holds a BA in Psychology from San Francisco State University and is certified with the National Academy of Sports Medicine.



all websites accessed Dec 2018

Goodman, Jonathan. 13 Ways to Vary Any Exercise. Accessed Dec 2018.

Lindberg, Sara. Medically reviewed by Daniel Bubnis, MS, NASM-CPT, NASE level II-CSS. Stretching: 9 Benefits, plus Safety Tips and How to Start. Accessed Dec 2018.– 1– 2



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