How to stop hating exercise: Let’s explore your thoughts

Want to stop hating exercise?

It’s incredibly common for people to dislike moving their bodies, and completely understandable when consider how we’ve learned to think about it.

Here we’ll explore the common thoughts about exercise, how that causes you to dislike it, and some tips for reframing your thoughts so you can develop a more positive relationship with movement.

Common ways of thinking about exercise (and how this fuels the hatred): 

Exercise is associated with penance for eating

Do you use exercise as a way to deal with food guilt? Do you think “I’ve been so BAD with food, I better hit the treadmill”? Do you feel like you can never have a rest day from exercise because you NEED to burn off the food you’re eating?

You’ve set exercise up as penance and punishment.  

You do not need to compensate for eating.  We do not need to earn our food.  We need and deserve food simply because we are alive and it’s what keeps us alive!  

(If you feel uncertain about what, when and how much you should eat, rather than looking for a set of rules or a diet plan, learn more about intuitive eating.)

Secondly associating exercise with punishment is incredibly unhelpful. Who enjoys punishment? How can we associate movement with enjoyment if we’re connecting it with guilt, shame and punishment all the time?

Exercise is seen as a calorie burning tool

I urge you to forget about how many calories you might be burning with each exercise session. When we make calorie burning the goal of our movement it compromises our ability to listen to our own bodies.  Calorie counting can make us exercise longer or harder than is best for our body right now, leading to over-training, fatigue and injury.  

Making calories the goal can also urge us to choose activities we wouldn’t normally.  I know so many people who choose running even though they hate it. Forcing ourselves to do exercise we dislike only reinforces the displeasure.  

Practice letting go of calorie burning and it will greatly improve your relationship with exercise.  You might need to ditch your wearable fitness tracker, stop looking up calorie burning counts in apps or online, and cover the calorie counter on cardio machines if you’re at the gym.  

Exercise is seen as uncomfortable

Exercise is simply sustained movement. It doesn’t have to be fast, sweaty, or leave you sore.  I’ve heard so many people say that particular activities ‘Don’t count’.  Count towards what?  (That’s a diet mindset in action, and you know that diets don’t work).  All physical activity ‘counts’ towards your health.

Unfortunately there’s a popular notion to ‘go hard or go home’ that’s incredibly untrue. Sure, go hard if you love it. Go hard if your body is ready for it. But forget the idea that if you’re not going to go hard then you shouldn’t bother at all.

A walk, a paddle in the pool, a leisurely cycle, gardening, or a dance around your lounge room all count. They all have benefits for your mental and physical health so of course they count. If you only classify hard, lung burning, shaky legged movement as exercise then it’s no wonder why it’s something you dislike. Only a small percentage of people love that feeling. You don’t need to feel guilty for not agreeing with them. 

Exercise is seen as something for ‘other people’ 

Have you said “Oh I’m not a runner”, or “I’m not a sporty type” or “I don’t do exercise”? I urge you to take a good look at that self-definition. If you were criticised, shamed or bullied over physical activity in your past, this might be deeply ingrained self-talk. Getting active might feel totally out of your comfort zone.

I assure you that you don’t have to be athletic to find movement you enjoy. Try activities that don’t rely on a skill, or try activities you can do alone and without concern for other’s judgement. Focus on what you can do (and don’t hate doing). You might feel like your skills, experience, size, age or physical ability makes exercise something that’s not for you, but try focusing on movement you CAN do.

Perhaps even letting go of the term ‘exercise’ and replacing it with ‘movement’ or ‘activity’ may help.

Perhaps even letting go of the term ‘exercise’ and replacing it with ‘movement’ or ‘activity’ may help.

 Exercise is seen as a performance

If you look at Instagram and Facebook, exercise is eye-popping yoga poses on beaches, sweat-free selfies, huge weights, huge kilometres and other scantily clad, colour coordinated moments. Exercise is not a performance. You don’t have to look good, wear a particular outfit, keep up with anyone else, look a certain way and you certainly don’t need to share photos of you doing it. (Although you can if you want to and it helps you feel good about moving!)  

Remember there’s no medal for best exercise selfie, hottest yoga outfit, and unless you’re posting photos there’s not even any audience to perform for!  If you’re trying to match the staged world of ‘social media exercise’, movement will never feel truly enjoyable because we can’t be fully present and authentic.

Exercise is seen as another ‘chore’ to fit in

I really don’t enjoy cleaning (I’m sure I’m not alone on this one!) It has to be done, so I begrudge it as something I need to squeeze into my week. I know that’s how so many people view exercise.

But now think of something you adore doing – whether it’s reading, baking, playing guitar, gardening, seeing live music, singing, colouring, sewing, woodwork, playing with your kids – you LOVE doing that thing. Sometimes you forget how awesome it makes you feel, and you get distracted and bogged down with day to day tasks, so you don’t spend as much time doing that thing as you’d like to.

If you were to slow down a little and practice being more mindful, you might realise there were some events, obligations, work tasks, television hours and other commitments that you could say no to. You could make a little more room for doing those things that make you feel amazing and more fully YOU. Imagine if you prioritised those moments of flow and joy and let the other stuff fall around it.

If you’re doing exercise you don’t like, it will feel like another chore to fit in. If you find movement that you love, then it will be one of those pursuits you enjoy prioritising for your own happiness.


I hope this piece helps you to view exercise in a new way. May you find movement you enjoy so much that you miss it when you don’t do it. If you would like to explore and improve your relationship with movement, I’d love to work with you.


by Jodie Arnot

Jodie is a registered counsellor with a Masters in Counselling from Monash University, and 20 years experience as a fitness professional. She provides counselling via telephone, Skype, and in person, and is passionate about helping women to improve their relationship with their body.


Intuitive MovementJodie Arnot