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My secret for finding workout motivation

As a former personal trainer, I know all the tricks. What works best for me: crazy-patterned workout leggings.

An illustration of three pairs of wild-patterned workout leggings Credit: Reviewed / Tara Jacoby

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Confession time: I’m a former personal trainer and semi-competitive runner and I struggle with workout motivation. Come to think of it, it’s because I used to be those two things that I took for granted the need for motivation: I basically lived at the gym and I always had a race to train for, which meant structured workouts I had to do—no excuses.

Now that I’ve more or less retired from that phase of my life, it’s become all too easy to wake up for an early-morning run, negotiate with myself as to why I should go but why I don’t want to (usually because I slept poorly), and roll over to doze back off. Sound familiar?

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How to get motivated to work out

A woman running on a track and a woman landing a box jump
Credit: Jared Mestre & Jessica Skolnick

Back in the day, I didn't need much motivation to work out. (Ah, nostalgia.)

Having been in the training biz, I know all the tricks. I have forever scheduled my workouts on my calendar as appointments that I ostensibly shouldn’t break. I found a running group that meets the same days and times every week; I tracked down yoga classes on a schedule I like; I buddied up with a friend to meet for twice-weekly strength workouts. Back when I was racing, I structured entire seasons around key races, knowing that having regular goal-oriented deadlines for my workouts to build toward would keep me honest.

All of that works great in concept… until you give yourself permission to slip. With all the races canceled in 2020 and ‘virtual’ for 2021 (coupled with an age-related slowdown in my overall pace), I no longer run to hit a specific goal time. So when the alarm goes off, in the moment, it seems like no big deal to skip. Then a few weeks go by, and I’ve barely run at all… no bueno. Same goes for being “too busy” to make my yoga class or things coming up for my strength-training partner or me that force us to “catch up later in the week.”

I saw the vicious cycle in myself. I wanted to stop it. And so, I went to my closet and dug out my collection of crazy-patterned workout leggings.

Why workout clothes matter

four pairs of crazy printed leggings on a woman's body
Credit: Reviewed / Amy Roberts

That's me modeling a small sample of my collection of crazy workout leggings.

When I was a trainer in a gym, I had to wear a uniform every day, consisting of a black branded T-shirt and solid-black leggings. I hated it—I’m not one to dress monochromatically in general and, well, uniforms are boring. So when I went out on my own as a group fitness instructor, I stocked my workout wardrobe with all the colors. Capris in every pattern and coordinated solid-colored tank tops became my new uniform and getting dressed every day became joyful once more. (I apparently was onto something—"dopamine dressing," wherein you wear what makes you smile, is a serious trend.)

But I also regarded my funky leggings as my "work clothes"—ones that I wanted to keep looking (and smelling) nice and not mess up by wearing them for my own grueling sweat sessions, like track workouts or CrossFit. And, sure, I have a collection of actual workout clothes that I like to wear, too—mostly bike shorts from Old Navy or Amazon that cost less and I view as more disposable.

In my desperation to get my fitness groove back, I had to accept a reality check: I am no longer a personal trainer. I don’t teach group fitness classes. And I'm not racing anymore. Those clothes have sat, unworn and unloved, in my closet.

So I dug into storage, blew the proverbial dust off the pile of crazy capris, and mentally Kondoed which gave me the most joy: ankle-length leggings festooned with palm trees. (I live on a tropical island, after all.) And those were the pair I laid out to wear in anticipation of my next workout. It worked! I felt energized just putting them on and kind of excited to show them off in my yoga class.

Where you can buy crazy leggings

Two piles of folded colorful workout leggings
Credit: Reviewed / Amy Roberts

This isn't even all of them.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that investing in some wild-print clothing will turn you from a couch potato into the Energizer bunny. But if you’re someone who gets jazzed by what you wear and maybe doesn’t mind a little positive feedback in the form of compliments on how cool your pants are, why not give it a try?

You also don’t have to spend a fortune at, say, Athleta, Nike, or Lululemon to get fitness clothes that are fun and functional (those brands hew toward solid colors anyway). The best workout leggings we’ve tested, from Colorfulkoala, come in some great designs and cost $30 or less per pair. Places like TJMaxx, Marshalls, and Sierra (which are partner companies) carry a good selection of discounted name-brand workout clothes from last season (who cares?), and—pro tip—you’ll find more options for activewear on TJMaxx.com, Marshalls.com, and Sierra.com than in their brick-and-mortar stores. Even Old Navy sells printed leggings, albeit not as bold as I prefer.

If you want to splurge, scope the offerings at Constantly Varied Gear (CVG)—my latest fave are the Knockout leggings that harken to old-school Batman comics—or InknBurn, which includes actually useful pockets on all of its leggings.

Whether you go loud and proud or prefer to blend in with stalwart solids, putting on your workout clothes is the most important first step—dressing for success is a very real thing.

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Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.

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