How to stay motivated
We all have friends who, despite hectic schedules, never miss a day at the gym. Who can’t stop talking about the next 10K. Who can’t stop smiling after yoga class. Sure, they’re a little, well, obsessive about working out. But we envy them! The good news is we all have the potential to become fitness-obsessed, says Tom Holland, a Connecticut-based celebrity fitness trainer, exercise physiologist, and expert in sports psychology. Here are 20 proven ways to make exercise a habit.
Get up earlier
Right this minute, go set your alarm and lay out everything you need for your morning workout. (Switch on a lamp as soon as your alarm goes off, says fitness blogger Tina Haupert,so you wake up faster.) Working out at the same time every day may help you improve more quickly, a study from the University of North Texas found, and other researchhas shown that people who exercise in the morning are more likely to stick with their workout than those who exercise later in the day. After all, if you get your sweat session out of the way first thing in the a.m., you won’t miss out if unexpected distractions come up later in the day. (And while we’re on the subject, skip the snooze button:Research suggests that those extra few minutes in bed may actually make you more tired.)
Give it six weeks
There’s an urban legend that it takes 21 days for something to become a habit, but there’s little evidence to back up this claim. For exercise, it’s probably more like six weeks, says Rebecca Woll, manager of personal training at Equinox in New York City. “This is when you start to see aesthetic changes in your body,” she explains. “Once you see these changes you won’t want to go back to the old you!” This is also about the time you’ll start to notice the difference in how you feel if you miss a day or two of exercise, and you’ll start to appreciate the natural high that comes after a good workout.
Find your niche
So you tried spinning and you hated it, or you hurt yourself on your first day of CrossFit. That doesn’t mean that all forms of fitness aren’t for you—so get back out there and try a different one. “Find something that makes you tune out and gives you a release from your daily grind,” says Woll—whether that means focusing on the ground ahead of you on a trail run, or following the instructor in a Zumba class. “You’ll know you found it when you look at the clock and an hour flashes by without you noticing.” Holland agrees: “I always tell my clients, ‘I don’t exercise,'” he says. “I’ll go for a run or go to the gym, but I don’t think of it as exercise because that suddenly gives it a negative connotation.”
Hire a trainer
Whether you’re a total newcomer to the fitness scene or you just need a little motivation and guidance, a personal trainer can help you set goals and develop a plan to make them happen. “People think they can’t afford it, but they don’t realize that even just one or two sessions with a trainer can be so beneficial,” says Holland. “Investing just one or two hundred bucks can go a long way.” Plus, a good trainer will also hold you accountable and will motivate you to work your hardest, Holland adds. “It’s all about positive reinforcement and being there for the client when they need it.”
Join a club
Working out is more fun with friends—and it’s a lot harder to bail on when you’ve got other people relying on you. “I think that’s why groups like CrossFit and Weight Watchers are so successful,” says Holland. “It shows the value of the support system, which should be an integral part of any workout plan.” Your exercise club could be an entire gym full of people, a regular fitness class where everyone knows your name, or just one exercise buddy who makes sure you’re out of bed to meet her for your morning walks. Feeling ambitious? Start a fitness or weight-loss contest with your friends or coworkers, suggests Woll. “A little healthy competition always gets you motivated!”
Make it convenient
Think about when, where, and how your workout can best (and most easily) fit into your daily routine, says Woll. “You don’t want to travel far to get to a gym,” for example, she says, “or the likelihood of going will decrease immensely.” For some people, a gym near the office will help them squeeze in a workout before work or during their lunch break; for others, working out at home or at a gym near their house is more convenient. (And don’t forget about where you’ll work out on the weekends!) Plan ahead to make sure you can get everything you need—like clothes and shower supplies—to and from your workouts. Or take a tip from Haupert, who rented a locker at her gym so she could keep her things there all week long
Pay for it
“Being accountable with money is a good thing,” says Holland, “If you invest in a fitness regimen, you’re more likely to work harder to get your money’s worth.” (He’s learned that when he gives away training sessions for free, his clients aren’t nearly as motivated.) If you can afford it, joining an upscale gym or splurging on boutique fitness classes could be just the thing you need to force yourself to actually go. Or, bribe yourself with smaller investments—treat yourself to anew pair of running shoes or a new GPS watch, for example.
Don’t overdo it
One way to put a stop to your new exercise habit before it even gets off the ground? Getting hurt. Beginners (or people just returning to fitness after a long break) need to be careful about trying to do too much, too soon, which can leave you sore and exhausted—or worse yet, with a real injury that will keep you sidelined for even longer. It’s normal to have some muscle aches and stiffness a day or two after working out muscles you haven’t used in a while, but if you start to feel sick or overly tired, you could be training too hard. Following a training plan (like a Couch to 5K program) or working with a personal trainer can help you make sure you’re progressing at a reasonable pace.
Count your calories
It’s not directly related to exercise, but paying closer attention to what you’re putting into your body can make you more aware of how you’re treating it, overall. (Keeping a food and fitness diary or using a calorie-tracking app can also remind you of how a few more minutes on the elliptical can help balance out that extra scoop of guacamole.) Plus, a2013 Stanford University studyfound that people who adopt a diet and exercise program together are more likely to stick with both new habits than those who tackle an individual goal by itself.
Set attainable goals
“I think the vast majority of people set the wrong goals—ones that are too ambitious or that can’t be quantified” says Holland. Instead, it’s important to work toward smaller benchmarks, agrees Woll—losing six pounds in six weeks, for example, or to run a 5K in two months and a half marathon in a year, she says. “Your end goals will change as you reach them, but they always need to be set.” To keep yourself on track, keep your goal front and center: Sign up for a race and circle the date on your calendar, or hang up an old pair of pants that you’d like to fit back into three months from now.
Skip the gym
If getting to the gym every day isn’t conducive to your schedule (or you just hate the idea of going there, period), don’t force it. Thanks to workout DVDs, streaming online classes, and home exercise systems, it’s easier than ever to get a great workout without even leaving your house. “A lot of people really like the idea of exercising in the privacy of their own homes, and it can be much easier to fit into a busy schedule,” says Holland. Plus, when your workout is staring you in the face—your treadmill in the living room or your P90X chin-up bar hanging from a doorway—it’s a lot harder to ignore.
Make it a ritual
The most important thing about establishing a regular routine, whether it’s exercise or anything else, is to truly make it a habit—something you don’t even think twice about before doing, says Holland. This will come with time, but you can help hurry the process along by creating daily rituals that center around your workout: Sip a cup of coffee on your way to the gym in the morning, roll out your yoga mat in front of the TV when you wake up in the morning, or listen to a favorite song to get you pumped up before you head out for a run. Before you know it, these cues will be signaling to your brain that it’s time to work out—not time to make excuses.