Sneak exercise in when you can, find a buddy, and stick to a plan.
You’ve decided to recommit to an exercise program. Good for you! Now what? You might be wondering how to get started, what exercise you should do, and how you’ll ensure that this is the time where you’re going to make it a habit. If you’ve always wanted to become a regular exerciser, trainers K. Aleisha Fetters, MS, CSCS, Manning Sumner, NSPA, with RSP Nutrition, and Jessica Cifelli, CPT, walk you through how to do it.
1. Create a Fitness Plan
"The first step is making the decision to start," says Sumner. “Once you make up your mind that you’re ready for a change then you must implement a plan and commit to that plan, no matter what," he says. That could be five days a week at 6:00 a.m. before your workout can get interrupted, or, three days a week at 7:00 p.m. but make sure it’s realistic and that it becomes a priority.
2. Find Your Motivation
As humans, we’re motivated by intrinsic and extrinsic factors. Intrinsic motivation is doing something for the pure joy of doing it at that moment, like binge-watching a TV show. Extrinsic motivation would be doing something for an external reason. I’m going to work out because, my doctor says I need to lose X number of pounds, or, I’m going to work out because I have a wedding coming up. “We set the goals and then we can't stick to them because we don't have the motivation that is motivating enough,” says Fetters. She suggests identifying an intrinsic reward with exercise, like feeling energized after a workout, and focusing on that feeling after you’re done with the exercise. Then, the next time you feel like skipping your workout, call to mind how good you felt afterward and use it to motivate you.
3. Start With Your Interests
“I suggest starting simple and trying something you've always been curious about once or twice so you don’t get overwhelmed,” says Cifelli. That could be getting a one-week pass at your local gym and seeing if you enjoy that space, or, signing up for a fitness class program and sampling different workout classes you always wanted to try. "Find a workout that you want to do and enjoy doing and you’ll be more likely to stick with it," says Cifelli.
4. Plan to Exercise Even When You'd Rather Not
There are going to be mornings when you want to hit your snooze button and skip your workout. There are going to be afternoons when you’re tired, hungry, or simply don’t feel like going to the gym. "Expect these to happen and work out anyway," suggests Sumner. “Don’t base your decision to exercise on how you ‘feel’ because there will be many days you don’t feel like doing it. Base the next workout on the commitment you made to yourself,” he says.
5. Find Exercises You're Good At
“Work on something that plays to your strengths,” suggests Fetters. “Maybe you have really good lower body strength. Maybe you should exercise on the bike and tell yourself that you can crush it. It's challenging but doable,” she says. "Doing workouts you’re good at reinforces that you’re awesome, and you’re capable of doing these things," says Fetters. You might be a natural on the dance floor and find that dance classes excite you. Someone else might love to get into the pool and swim laps or do water aerobics.
6. Sneak Exercise In
Carving out 30 minutes to an hour for a workout can seem daunting when our schedules are crammed with meetings, activities, and tasks that seem like higher priorities. Break it up throughout the day. Commit to walking 10 minutes at lunch—that’s only five minutes in one direction and then turning around. Tell yourself that you’ll do 25 squats every time you brush your teeth. Walk up a flight of stairs at the office to use a restroom or water fountain on another floor. Go for a 10-minute or longer walk after dinner—it’s good for your digestion, too. Do a short stretching routine before bed. All of these little exercises throughout the day add up to calories burned and healthy movement that’s good for your circulation.
7. Work Out With a Trainer
And no, it doesn’t mean they’ll yell at you. Consider hiring a personal trainer in your hometown, find one at your gym, or even use an online trainer. You could follow an app or use streaming services for fitness programs where you’ll get fresh workouts to build strength and stamina.
“Anything you're consistent with is something that will work for you,” says Cifelli. “If you have the means to work with a trainer or take classes that are maybe a little bit more pricey and they work, that's probably the best option,” she says. But if you don’t have the finances to make that happen, look to online programs for a fitness routine that will keep you exercising regularly.
8. Ignore the Negative Voices in Your Head
“Most people fail at becoming exercisers because they focus too much on that voice inside their head telling them they are too tired, sore, or they can’t do it,” says Sumner. “As soon as you hear those negative thoughts, stop them by saying the opposite out loud. I am not tired, I am grateful for this opportunity, I can do this. Our words form our habits,” he says. You might also want to give that negative voice a name (that isn’t yours) to identify him or her and tell them to shush. When the voice says, “Skip your workout, have a glass of wine instead.” You can tell yourself, Oh, that’s just lazy [Sally] trying to get me to quit again. I won’t give her the satisfaction of giving in to her. I’m going to complete my workout and have fun doing it.
9. Find a Workout Buddy
Working out with a partner—whether it’s meeting a friend for a morning walk or saying hello to your gym buddy in your group strength circuit class—can help keep you accountable so you’re more likely to stick to your fitness routine.
“For many of my clients, working out with someone else is something that they look forward to and it keeps them excited and it builds in social time. There are actually studies where people exercising together get more endorphins,” she says. Other studies found that people who hung out with fit friends were likely to get healthier, and even people who embarked on weight loss plans with others were more likely to stick to the program.
If you find that you’re more likely to stick to your fitness plan when you sign up for group classes or make plans with a friend, then this strategy can help you stay motivated for the long haul.
10. Stop Getting Caught up in Fitness “Shoulds”
Sure, you’re reading this and telling yourself, I should become a regular exerciser, but it’s important to tap into other reasons for exercise, says Fetters. “Fitness is about really listening to your body and making every workout about taking care of your body as opposed to punishing your body,” she says. “I think having a more versus less mentality is important and to approach exercise as a way to feel good as opposed to trying to fix what society has called an ‘imperfection,’” she says.
11. Tell Yourself That You Are an Exerciser
“If I say I'm a couch potato, it's a self-fulfilling prophecy,” says Fetters. That means you’re going to sit on the couch. Instead, tell yourself that you’re an exerciser. Say, ‘I am strong. I am adept. I am a runner. I am a lifter. I am great at dancing.’ “If you tell yourself that, you're going to actually want to put in the work and keep doing it,” she says.