Exercise can be helpful for people with ADHD. In fact, it has a similar effect on the brain and body as common ADHD medications. But, if you have ADHD, you know how difficult it can be to stick to a schedule, focus, manage big emotions, and finish tasks that you start. We've been taught that those are all necessary to have an effective workout routine.
Quite the catch 22, right? Before you throw in the proverbial towel… know that you can absolutely begin and maintain a workout routine as an adult with ADHD. Let’s dive into six tips and get you feeling great.
An all-or-nothing mindset isn’t good for anyone, but it’s especially toxic when it comes to fitness.
Lots of people with ADHD create unrealistic workout goals for themselves when they first start out. This can set you up for failure and hurt your confidence before you even get going.
For example, if you set a plan to work out five times per week but only make it to the gym three times, you may feel discouraged and give up altogether.
Instead of setting all-or-nothing fitness goals, create small tasks for yourself that will build your confidence and comfort around exercise. The key is making them DOABLE! Start small and focus on today.
You can begin by deciding what is a realistic plan based on a typical week. What is the absolute bare minimum you want and could exercise? Perhaps one hour per week. Then, set a maximum workout target –maybe four hours per week.
Once this routine becomes easy it could be time to increase your weekly target so that you’re challenging yourself more and not getting bored.
Boredom is one of the biggest obstacles for adults with ADHD when it comes to sticking to a workout routine. It’s time to ditch the notion that a workout means going to the gym for an hour, running miles and miles, or repetitive cardio.
Instead, pick a fun or adventurous workout that you enjoy (maybe for you that is running). It doesn’t matter if it’s dancing with your friends, a walk around your neighborhood, or chilling with some yoga. All that matters is that you actually do something.
Does the thought of doing the same workout multiple times in a week have you ghosting your plans? That’s okay. It’s normal when a workout that started off as fun is boring after you do it three times per week. Try to do something different every workout session to prevent boredom.
Do you have that nagging voice in your head that tells you that you aren’t doing enough? It can be easy to listen to the voice that says, “you’re not doing enough” and give up altogether. Ignore that voice. Tell it to screw off.
It takes practice to let go of the mindset that you need to be perfect all the time. Remember you’re growing more every day. Every step counts, and as long as you’re doing something, it’s better than nothing!
That inner critic can lead to procrastination, which means that you will probably find an excuse not to work out if you’re just walking on the treadmill day in and day out. (Another reason to create some variety in your exercises.)
Try visualizing your progress. Maybe for you, this means seeing the stand ring closed on your Apple Watch or getting to make a checkmark in your planner or habit tracker.
A big reason adults with ADHD struggle to maintain a workout routine is they try and go at it alone. Working out with a buddy can help you feel more motivated and inspire you to follow through on your commitment.
If you get easily bored no matter what you’re doing, a workout buddy can help you stay interested and consistent. Plus, you’ll have someone you can share your goals, frustrations, and victories with!
Reach out to a friend who works out regularly and ask if you can join them. Knowing that they are counting on you to show up will motivate you to stick to your routine and the mental stimulation can prevent boredom.
Don’t have a friend that you can call up? Some other ways to get an accountability partner might be getting a virtual workout buddy that you Facetime or message during a workout. Or you can get a fitness coach to help keep you motivated and on track.
The ADHD brain despises structure (but thrives with it), especially when it comes to activities that you view as chores. To add flexibility to your routine, schedule several “backup workout” times throughout the day.
If you say you're only going to work out at 6 am and sleep through your alarm - guess what you’re going to feel bad for missing your workout. Then the pesky inner critic pops in and the next thing you know you’re swearing off your whole fitness journey.
A backup schedule will give you two or three more opportunities to make up for it during the day. Boom instant second chance to get in some movement and feel great.
Start by listing three times during your day that you can work out – for example, 6 am, 3 pm., and 6 pm. That gives you three opportunities to work out during the day, and you only need to show up for one.
Another idea is having extra workouts on hand. Maybe you don’t have time today for your 2-mile walk, or just don’t feel like doing it. But… you could fit in a handful of sits ups and squats while bingeing on Netflix.
Rather than setting yourself up for frustration with an inflexible routine, having backup plans in place will help you go with the flow.
Accountability is essential for functioning as an adult with ADHD. By changing your attitude around exercise and building accountability into your routine, you can overcome your own objections and develop an exercise routine that works for you.
Working out with a fitness coach (aka personal trainer with bonus skills) is one of the best ways to create accountability and keep you motivated for the long run.
A fitness coach is passionate about your success and here to help you through all your ups and downs. Exercise doesn’t have to be a chore. In fact, it should be something you really enjoy!
When you train with a CoPilot coach, you have access to one-on-one support through unlimited chat and video calls. Whatever your questions or concerns are, our coaches are here to help you through them!
Best of all they create a custom fitness and nutrition plan for you. Need a different workout because you’re getting bored? No problem. Message your coach and the next thing you know you’ve got a fresh routine and are one step closer to feeling great!
Miranda Risser is a freelance health & fitness writer based in South Carolina. When she’s not writing, Miranda can be found chipping away at her to-be-read pile, testing out new recipes, or logging miles with her two mini Australian Shepherds.