A few years after I started personal training, one client came in extremely frustrated with herself. She couldn’t seem to stick to an exercise program. She was good for a while, then one thing or another happened, which made it very hard to start again. This kind of “yoyo, on/off exercising” left her frustrated and at her wits’ end. She could see others around her almost seamlessly creating and sticking to an exercise routine – so, she wondered, what was missing for her?
In this article, we explore what it takes to start an exercise program and stick to it. We’ll talk about setting realistic expectations, expanding our definition of “fitness” and “exercise,” embracing change & failure, and much more.
At the end, I’ll leave you with own my nugget of wisdom on the topic, which has worked wonders for me and my clients.
Set realistic expectations
Do you do a lot of traveling as part of your job? Do you have lots of evening and weekend commitments outside of work and family? Are you a young family raising kids?
We have had it drilled into our brains that unless we exercise for one hour every day, it isn’t good enough. Which only sets you up to fail because, unless you have a very set professional and family schedule, this kind of schedule can be very difficult to maintain and create.
That being said, I do think that creating a rhythm and flow is important because as humans we tend to work better when we establish some sort of routine (and we feel like things are hectic when that’s missing).
To start, look at your schedule, your commitments, and then create as much of a pattern out of that as you can. For example, maybe it’s Mondays, Wednesdays and Friday evenings at 6pm. Or perhaps you’re more fond of (and can commit to) weekend adventures.
So what do you do when your schedule really is that ever-changing? When you simply can’t commit to anything? Well, you’re in luck because that is exactly what I have to deal with every single week. So every week, at the start, I lay out my weekly tasks and to-dos, as well as pre-plan which days will work to squeeze in my exercise. Timing doesn’t matter, duration doesn’t matter (although I do aim for 45min-1hr). During the week I make changes if needed (because invariably something will ALWAYS come up), and at the end of the week, I review how it went. As long as I end up with 4-5 days a week in which I did something, I’m happy.
Some people write things down in their calendar.
Others find impromptu pockets of time when they can squeeze in a walk or a short workout.
Bottom line: Instead of feeling defeated, start getting creative.
What does it mean to “exercise”?
If your idea of exercise is “going to the gym” and it has you bored out of your mind, you need to expand your definition of what it means to be active. (After all, bicep curls can only be exciting for so long.) When that happens, it’s very easy to feel “stuck”. Something that worked is no longer working, so…now what?
Personal story: This exact thing happened to me a couple of years ago and it absolutely felt like a mid-life crisis (who was I as a personal trainer, if I didn’t like the gym??) Ultimately, I took a leap of faith and started checking out exercise classes, yoga, and outdoor activities (hiking, walking, jogging, biking and rollerblading). Immediately I felt a renewed sense of joy when moving my body.
Ultimately, fitness is a means to an end – what is it that you want your strength and power to allow you to do? How do you want to move your body? Once you start thinking in those terms, your world expands.
Here are some ideas to help you expand your definition of fitness:
- Check out your local Active Guide – if not to commit to anything, at least to give you an idea of what’s out there for you to try.
- Think in seasons rather than weeks or days. Focus on outdoor activities in the spring and summer (hiking, biking, rollerblading, walking, gardening, outdoor swimming), and leave indoor activities for the rainy season (gym, indoor swimming, fitness classes).
- Move away from equating fitness with a structured exercise program. Any movement counts. This includes house chores, cleaning, or running after the kids (but keep in mind that you need something higher intensity too!)
- Plan a vacation that involves movement not just lounging around
Most importantly, remember that getting bored with something is normal. And good. There is nothing wrong with you. You’ve just changed, or have outgrown the activity you’ve been doing. Instead of feeling defeated, start exploring and you are bound to discover something new
Accept (and embrace) change
Major life events (such as marriage, a new baby, a new job, moving, divorce, or losing a loved one), will often have a dramatic effect on our lives and routine (including exercise!)
Imagine you’re an active young couple who loves their hikes and weekend adventures, and now a new baby has you pretty much house bound. Or you started a new job with different hours, and now you can no longer attend your favorite fitness class.
While this can cause you distress, life is dynamic and always changing, so therefore your fitness regime needs to be as well!
If you’ve moved, check out the fitness studio across the street. If you’re a young couple with a baby, create a schedule where you take turns doing your favorite activities.
Do what you enjoy
I remember a conversation with a friend where she asked me my opinion on weight training.
“Very important”, I replied. “It’s important that we challenge our muscles in this way, to keep them from atrophying”. Then she confessed to me that she didn’t really like weight training. Instead, she loved doing yoga! I could sense the budding sadness in her voice, feeling like yoga (an activity that she enjoyed) wasn’t good enough.
That was a pivotal “foot in my mouth” moment, because it reminded me just how much we rely on “expert” opinions of what we should and should not be doing.
Key word “should”.
If you’ve found an activity that you enjoy, please keep doing it. You are moving your body in a way that you love, and that is awesome! It means you found a rhythm that works for you!
Bonus tip: If you do something you enjoy, you are more likely to keep doing it!
Accept set-backs and start again
We teach our children that it’s ok to fail. We are also really good at comforting our peers when they are going through a set-back. But when it comes to ourselves, our bar is sooo damn high.
In anything – life, career, family – there will be times when you’ll feel like you’re on top of the world, and other times when you feel like you’re stumbling. Fitness is no different.
I already talked about major life events as an opportunity for change, but there lots of other things that can derail your progress: injuries, getting sick, traveling, holidays – just to name a few. They disrupt our patterns, our flow, and this is when we start to stumble. When our rhythm is disrupted, it can be difficult to find it again.
Here’s a reminder: the topic of this article was how to make fitness a life-long habit. Which means set-backs are bound to happen. It’s unavoidable. And yet, it still takes us by surprise when it happens.
The crucial thing is to start again. Yes, you might start back weaker, you might tire faster. You might get frustrated with yourself. But the alternative – simply giving up and stopping, is far worse.
Always accept that life will happen; and always just start again
BONUS: Wisdom nugget
Remember that nugget that I promised you at the beginning of the article? Here it is:
In order to make fitness a life-long habit, you have to accept that it will never be perfect. There will always be disruptions, injuries, set-backs. But there will also be also new discoveries, great memories, and ultimately a path to a healthy and long life.
Focus on the latter, and you re on your way to make fitness a life-long habit! ?
Let’s work together!
My super power is helping individuals create a fitness regime that fits their lives, and they can stick to long term. If that sounds like something you want to work on, I would love to work with you! Reach out to me through my website, or email me directly: [email protected] and let’s help you make some long lasting changes!