You can have the best exercise plan and fitness instructor but it’s all worthless if you aren’t motivated.

When it comes to motivation, internal passion trounces intimidation any day of the week. This way of thinking aligns almost perfectly with a model of behaviour called self determination theory (SDT)

Proponents of SDT have conducted numerous studies on exercise adherence over the years and the results are remarkably consistent: the less internally motivated you are – that is, the more you are working out because you think you should and not because you really enjoy it – the less likely you are to stick with it. In a study published in the International Journal of Sport and Health Science, researchers classified 486 exercisers on a motivation scale. This included people who were intrinsically motivated to exercise and those who need some external motivation to start moving. The results: six months into the study, the intrinsically motivated people were three times more likely to still be exercising than their externally prodded peers.

Other motivators you would think would work, don’t. Studies have found that people who exercise to keep their doctors happy tend not to stick with it. Sweating solely to look more attractive to others works even less: in a 1997 study, scientists found that those who signed up for an exercise class for vanity reasons were less likely to attend than those who signed up for fitness reasons. Indeed, the only thing that comes close to matching pure intrinsic motivation when it comes to perseverance is what SDT researchers call “identified” motivation – that is, people who have come to truly believe exercise is worth doing because it’s good for you and the benefits are valuable. “Identified motivation can be nearly as powerful as intrinsic motivation,” says Dr Philip Wilson, an SDT and exercise researcher.

The Lesson

Ignore the stuff you’re supposed to do and put your passion behind the stuff you like to do. Now, go play. Quick tricks for injecting the fun back into fitness

Play gym rat

Grab a medicine ball. Lie on your back with your knees bent and arms extended behind your head. Keeping your arms stiff, curl up and throw the ball to a partner sitting three metres away in the same position. He catches the ball, lowers himself, curls up and throws it back. Whoever misses gets an R. Then an A, then a T. First guy to spell “rat” loses.

Bet the Burn

Hop on a treadmill next to a friend and see who can come closest to guessing the number of kilojoules he’ll burn during the session. The rules: your guess can be higher, but not less than, what you actually burn. The treadmill display screens should be covered with a towel until the end. Keep going until a predetermined time on a clock, when you can both see.

Crush your max

Number of players: two or more. Using a six-sided die, assign three exercises – the squat, dead lift and bench press – to different numbers. For example, if you roll a one or two, do a squat; a three or four, a dead lift; a five or six, the bench press. Now roll. The exercise that comes up is what everyone does. The first person to heft 10 percent more than their current maximum weight wins.