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7 Ways to Commit to Exercise for Good
Stop thinking of exercise as something you do to get in shape for a one-off, crazy fitness adventure, and start motivating yourself to work out as a long-term investment in good health.
Making plans to exercise regularly is not a problem. Following through—that’s another story. Here’s the thing: When there’s a marathon to be had or a 24-hour adventure race in your future, you are the first person in the gym at 5:30 am and the last face out the door at closing time. But if you’re not having the crap scared out of you by an impending 200-mile Ragnar Relay, you find yourself struggling for workout motivation.
It’s easy to think of exercise as situation-specific—and equally easy to blow it off when a situation isn’t on the horizon. But a long-term commitment to working out is the only way to take your game to the next level. Follow these pro tips to help you reach your goals faster and set yourself up for a fitness relationship built to last.
“Like anything in life, committing to fitness can involve some discomfort,” says Marni Wasserman, a coach from Mile High Run Club in New York City. “Be very honest with yourself when you talk about wanting to get fit or lose weight—it isn’t an easy ride.”
If you’ve seriously fallen off the exercise wagon recently, take your time climbing back on board. You’ll soften the shock to your system with baby steps. “Start with a walk, swim, jog or playing with your kid—something accessible that gives you a sense of accomplishment,” says Gideon Akande, a fitness and wellness coach and iFit elite trainer. “That little taste of success means you are more likely to come back and do a little more.” Even if it hurts.
Indoor cycling isn’t the only way to burn fat, and yoga is not the only way to gain flexibility. Don’t force yourself to take on an activity you don't like just because it's popular or promises mega results. “Choosing an exercise that you loathe doing is not a good fit, no matter how effective it is,” says Bethany Lyons, founder of Lyons Den Power Yoga in New York City. “You deserve to get fulfillment out of every moment of exercise. If you choose something you actually enjoy doing, odds are that you will be more inclined to stick to it.”
Break It Down
Don’t obsess over marathon-length sweat sessions (especially if you’re not training for a marathon). Small doses of exercise can be equally valuable. “Sustainable fitness doesn’t mean 60-plus minutes per day or nothing,” says Julia Gytri, a coach at Rowgatta. “It means you do the best you can with the space, equipment and energy you have.” Maybe that’s a few planks before your morning shower or a mile jog with the dog after work. “Twenty minutes of anything still counts,” she says. Plus, mini workouts allow for quicker recovery since you're not taxing your body as much each time.
Staying the course with your workouts is something to be proud of. Reward your efforts with a treat—one that doesn’t involve huge quantities of sugar or alcohol. “Rewards can be a slippery slope into justification for not-healthy behavior,” says Lyons.
Instead of opting for the world’s largest donut after your workout, treat yourself to new gear, like a cool pair of training kicks or badass leggings, or get a massage to soothe your (newly ripped) muscles. “Rewards should reinforce your healthy decisions,” she says. (Although, if donuts are your thing, an occasional show of self-love via chocolate glazed is okay: You don’t want to feel like you’re punishing yourself, says Wasserman.)
Invest in Growth
If you’re feeling your commitment to fitness starting to plateau, it’s time to reach back into that bag of holy-sh*t challenges. From running an ultra to signing up for the CrossFit Games, “picking a concrete goal with a set deadline creates a highly motivational sense of urgency, giving us a ‘why’ to keep working out when things get tough,” says Wasserman.
To prevent that boom-then-bust cycle you’ve gotten into with previous event-focused training, choose a goal that’s big enough—with a long enough lead time—that you’ll be pursuing it for months, not weeks, in advance. Then, “keep things realistic by hitting one small improvement or victory at a time during your build up,” says celebrity trainer Kira Stokes. “If you set expectations too high, it can lead to frustration and giving up prematurely.”
Hold Yourself Accountable
With or without an event in your future, a long-term relationship with exercise means showing up when you say you will and pushing hard when you agreed you would. This can be hard to do on your own, which is why friends are everything when it comes to workout consistency.
“Think of your friends as an extension of your Apple watch, Fitbit or built-in health tracker on your phone,” says Stokes. “Before we all went digital, it was always other humans holding us accountable and nothing can beat that.”
Research confirms it: Working out with a friend increases the frequency of your sweat sessions, according to a study in the British Journal of Health Psychology. Pre-arrange meeting times at the gym, sign up for classes together or agree to a regular weekend jog.
Getting into a routine with exercise takes time. “Don't be discouraged if things still feel tough after a few weeks on a regular schedule—that's normal,” says Wasserman. “It will get better the longer you stick with it.”
Keep practicing and stay patient. And every once in a while, dial it down a notch. Taking a step back from your fitness relationship will help you stay motivated for the long haul.