How to push yourself in a workout

Working out is hard. In fact, I honestly cannot think of anything that is easy about it. If you think that it is easy for anyone – then the only one you are fooling is yourself. Personally, because I experience a varying degree of pain on any and all days, I need to talk myself into each and every workout. You think I am superhuman? Think again! What I have is mental toughness.

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I miss having a trainer. I miss being told what to do. I miss the accountability and the need not to think. Even after becoming a trainer myself, I continued working with my trainer – and I believe that made me an even better trainer for my clients.

I miss having someone screaming at me not to quit. I am the kind of person who does not get much benefit of the supportive cheerleading, “you can do it” feedback. I need the, “get your ____ of the floor!” and “why are you stopping?” feedback. And we all require different feedback – in different tones, intensities, delivery methods, and frequencies – and believe me, I do not scream at my clients (I am NOT Jillian).

After my national travels, I have landed in a small town where I know no one. I workout alone. I observe, looking for equally driven individuals to workout by my side, but I am coming up empty. I watch the trainers – nah, I am not impressed (I know, it does take a lot. I have thus far only been markedly impressed with two trainers I have worked with – David Brown and Aaron Feldman). So, without a trainer and without a workout partner – I must push myself.

Is this so bad?

I am actually learning a lot about myself. I have increased my self-efficacy because I am learning that I do not need to be dependent on someone else. The best part is that I have been making significant progress towards my 2013 goals. The primary means by which I am improving my self-efficacy – setting, tracking, and achieving these goals.

Further, I am increasing my mind-body awareness. This is incredibly important for me, considering my physical limitations and increased risks for injury – I MUST be body smart (we all should!). Over the years, I have gotten good at thought control, ‘ignoring’ the pain and pushing through. And because adrenaline is a natural pain killer – any pain I may have felt often subsides. With that said, I can be known to push myself too far to compete with others around me. By working alone, I am more aware of my bodily cues and working within my safe zones. Working within MY zones and ranges is likely correlated with my significant progress towards my goals!

The downfall

There is a lot to be said about having a great trainer or workout partner. Healthy competition will push you to limits you never knew. The biggest thing that I miss is having a trustworthy spotter. I feel like I have lost some strength because I often lift alone and there is no one there to spot me up – I do not take as many risks. Accountability, reinforcement – the benefits of working out with others are endless and worthy of their own post.

How to push yourself

It is helpful to keep in mind the purpose of your workout. WHY are you here? That motivator is powerful. But there are many ways to push yourself if you find yourself working out alone.

  1. Focus on the now. Do not worry about anything else. Focus on the movements, feel your muscles, feel the ground, and bring your mind to the moment.
  2. Track your progress. Keep a notebook and track your workouts. If you are running or biking, track your distance, speed, duration, incline/resistance. With strength training, track your repetitions, sets, tempo, and weight. Use these numbers to challenge yourself to do just a little more the next time you perform the workout.
  3. Music. Select music that makes you want to move. There are times I use no music at all, but more often than not I find that beat and I get lost in it.
  4. Use progressions. Start with simple and familiar exercises. Setting yourself up for success up front builds confidence and will allow you to take more risks down the road.
  5. Plan your workouts. If you have your plan, you are more likely to work harder. You will spend less time roaming the weight room. Having confidence and knowing what you are doing make the world of a difference.
  6. Ask an expert. I know these are tips to help you push yourself, but I believe that everyone should have at least a few sessions with a qualified fitness professional. This will familiarize yourself with the equipment and exercises – leaving less room for hesitation and uncertainty! And you may have guessed it – this build confidence.
  7. Reward yourself. It is important to reward yourself for all work well done. Every step forward is progress towards your goal. I will work for coffee!

The bottomline

This list is endless and these are just a few tips to get you thinking. We are not always lucky enough to always have a workout partner accessible. Nor can we all afford personal trainers for all our lives! Life is such a personal matter – and working out is a part of this life! I can give you hundreds of ideas, but if they are not meaningful to you are they really going to help? Yes, it requires some thought and preparation, but are you not worth it?

How do YOU push yourself?


Martin Ginis, K. A., & Bray, S. R. (2010). Application of the limited strength model of self-regulation to understanding exercise effort, planning and adherence. Psychology & Health 25(10), 1147-1160.

White, S. M., Mailey, E. L., & McAuley, E. (2010) Leading a physically active lifestyle: Effective individual behavior change strategies. ACSM’S Health & Fitness Journal, 14(1), 8-15.

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