1. Peg exercising to a weekly goal, not some faraway outcome.
Even though things like “lose 10 pounds” or “run a 7-minute mile” sound pretty motivating, goals like that usually take at least a few months of working out consistently to achieve any noticeable progress. And being constantly disappointed that you still haven’t met your big goal isn’t great for your ego.
Instead, frame your exercise goals as weekly to-do’s, rather than overarching outcomes, suggests personal trainer Rob Sulaver, C.S.C.S. That way, if you make your goal to exercise X times per week, every week you work out X times you’ll feel accomplished and motivated to keep going, which means you’ll eventually hit your bigger goals.
2. Don’t make your fitness routine all about weight loss.
Sustainable, healthy weight loss typically can’t be accomplished by any one behavior; in fact it usually requires changing your diet, sleeping more, rethinking the way you exercise, managing stress, and adjusting other lifestyle variables.
Thinking of exercise as just a weight loss tool usually leads people to create fitness routines they probably won’t stick with, says John S. Raglin, Ph.D, professor of kinesiology at Indiana University. So instead of thinking of fitness as a way to lose weight quickly, think of it as super important part of the puzzle that works best once you make it a habit.
3. In fact, you should probably think of working out as something you do for stress relief, increased energy, and better self-esteem.
Raglin explains that while the body composition changes can be frustratingly slow, the emotional and overall wellness benefits from exercise come pretty much immediately. Like, as quickly as 15 to 20 minutes into moderately intense exercise. Even though you might need to go super hard or extra long to get stronger, faster, or change your body, feeling like a total fucking rockstar can happen every single time you exercise, in just minutes. So, think of working out as something you do to feel better in life.
4. Acknowledge all the mental hurdles that will probably get in the way.
“This is the year I fall in love with working out, do it every day, and never hate a moment of it!” is a lie that lots of people tell themselves, especially around the new year. In reality, everyone occasionally struggles with the motivation to exercise. Even regular exercisers are sometimes like “Are you serious right now?” when their alarms go off in the morning.
But acknowledging those dips in motivation and preparing yourself for them will take away some of the pressure to be exercising constantly and loving every minute of it, says NASM-certified personal trainer Jessi Kneeland, founder of ReModel Fitness. “Be kind to yourself … Our bodies want to move but it’s hard when there’s so much pressure,” she says.
5. Allow yourself to have rest weeks. Yes, weeks.
Shit happens — like traveling, schedule changes, work craziness, basically just life in general — and that’s going to throw off even a consistent exerciser’s motivation. “It’s a natural cycle: Motivation is high, then starts to decrease, then we recommit and it’s high again,” Sulaver says.
With that in mind, plan time off from working out as part of your exercise routine. For example, you can plan to take a full week or 10 days off every other month to rest your body and enjoy a mental vacation from the routine of working out. This will make you less likely to feel the need to bail at random times. (And by the time your exercise vacation ends, you’ll probably be psyched to get back to it.)
6. Get to know your inner critic so you can learn when to tell it to STFU.
Is your inner voice a Regina George who points out all your “flaws” every time you change into workout clothes? Or is it a Debbie Downer who’s always reminding you what a freaking hassle it is to pack a bag and get yourself to the gym?
“We all have that voice that beats us up or loudly expresses our insecurities,” says Sulaver. “[You need to] figure out how to muffle the negative voice and hand the mic to the positive one.” That’s the key to staying motivated and continuing to push through a workout or stick to a routine, even when your inner voice is telling you to give up.
7. Don’t worry about being good at a thing, worry about having fun with it.
To get fitter, you don’t necessarily have to be good at your activity of choice, you just have to like doing it so that you do it consistently. Say you ran cross country in high school and know that you’re good at running and you’re actually pretty fast. But you hate it. Like you dread it. Don’t make it your primary fitness thing! You’re way better off doing the thing you’re not great at but really love, says Erica Giovinazzo, manager and coach at BRICK Los Angeles.
8. Straight up just don’t allow yourself to watch your favorite show unless you’re exercising.
If you work out on a treadmill, elliptical, or stationary bike, or do bodyweight workouts at home, Raglin suggests choosing a show you love and only allowing yourself to watch it while you’re exercising. It’ll address that whole motivation thing and make the workout session itself a little more bearable.
If you don’t work out in front of a screen (first of all, congratulations), you can also try making the show your post-workout reward (where it’s still a thing you only do if you’ve worked out that day).
9. Make sure your ~lifestyle~ is aligned with your fitness goals.
It’s tough to find the energy to work out if you’re hella hungover or you’re not getting enough sleep or you’re working way too much. Sticking with exercise won’t happen if you’re compartmentalizing the fitness-y parts of yourself into just the few hours a week when you’re in the gym, says Sulaver. You’re more likely to stick with it when it’s integrated into the rest of your life — which might mean cutting back on happy hours or brunches or choosing extra sleep over Netflixing.
10. And, yeah, if you’re looking for real body changes, a diet that supports your fitness routine will make that a lot easier.
There’s nothing more frustrating then feeling like you’re working out all time time but not getting any fitter. But a really common way to torpedo your fitness efforts is to eat an unhealthy or unbalanced diet. (Check out our previous reporting on tweaking your diet for fat loss and building muscle.) And of course they should be delicious and fun to eat. Just make sure to “complement your butt-kicking workouts with a balanced diet. Otherwise you’ll wonder why you’re working your butt off but not seeing any results,” says Giovinazzo.
11. Take tons of notes on your progress.
If you get in the habit of recording the details of every workout — like notes on weight lifted, distance covered, number of reps, amount of time it took, etc., you’ll notice that you’re getting faster and stronger and fitter in small ways all the time. “Progress is so gradual that sometimes we don’t realize how much more fit we have become unless we write it down,” says Giovinazzo. “Note it and celebrate your success!”
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