Strategies for sticking to your workout routine

Even the most seasoned exercisers will struggle with motivation from time to time.

Q: Despite my best intentions to stick to an exercise program, there are days when the last thing in the world that I’d like to do is exercise. I get going for a while and start building momentum when I just seem to stall on some days.

What can I do get myself out of this rut when it happens?

A: The first thing is acknowledge that this isn’t unique to you. It’s nothing personal. Everyone has days where they would rather do something else, even if that something else is “nothing.” I love training and being active, but, there are days when I really, really don’t want to work out. Here are some ideas that have helped me, and my clients, get “unstuck” when the motivation to get moving is lacking.

1 — The 8 minute Rule. Whenever I don’t feel like working out, but I’ve planned a workout and might even be working to achieve a specific goal, I’ll commit to working out for just eight minutes. At the eight-minute mark, I’ll decide to continue or to scrap the session for the day. In my experience, there are very few times that a workout will be abandoned after breaking a sweat, getting blood pumping and moving some “feel good” hormones around the body and brain. When it does happen, I’ll consider that a day of rest might actually be the better choice.

2 — Change SOMETHING: location, equipment, duration or intensity. There are days when I look forward to a long, leisurely workout at the gym. Usually on the weekends when I don’t have anything pressing and can socialize a bit with other members. There are other days, however, when my schedule is tight and my mind is full. I’d rather just skip my exercise on those days. What I’ll do instead is workout at home using dumbbells, with a time limit, while listening to a favourite album. Or, I’ll head to the park on the way to an appointment to exercise outdoors in nature with resistance bands. Sometimes, I’ll go for a bike ride or snowshoe and focus on the activity rather than the exercise. Regardless, it always feels fresh and new and interesting as opposed to the “same old routine.”

3 — Link the activity to something else. A TV show, an errand, a date or a podcast. An old trick for people who might not really love working out is to do it in front of the TV. It doesn’t work for me, but, if you are a fan of a certain show, commit to only watching it if you are also exercising. My preference is to listen to a podcast while doing a power walk. If an errand can be completed by walking, running or biking, I’ll ditch the car and get a workout in while picking something up from the store in our neighbourhood or mailing a letter.

4 — Become someone else’s date, or even their leader. For some, setting up workout dates works well. It’s tough to cancel a workout when you know that someone is depending on you to go for a hike or to do some circuit training, yoga or weight lifting.

When I was the owner/ trainer of Adventure Boot Camp for Women, we noticed an interesting phenomenon. Because we had such a wide range of participants (from completely sedentary newcomers to seasoned athletes) people worked independently at different levels. The more experienced campers, however, always helped and encouraged the newcomers to the point where they felt confident enough to help the next crop of beginners in the weeks and months to follow. In other words, it is very hard to not show up for a session when someone else is looking up to you for guidance and support.

5 — Go public. Several years ago, I was part of a Hamilton Spectator series called “Spec Fit.” A group of local trainers were assigned to work with a reader for several weeks of training and coaching. Their goals, challenges and results were then written up in the newspaper as a wrap up at the end of the program. My “cadet” was a breast cancer survivor who was approaching middle age deconditioned, overweight and overwhelmed. In the end, she made such great changes that people were referring to her as “The Winner” of the series, even though Spec-Fit wasn’t a contest.

What she told me was that everyone at her workplace knew that she was part of the series and, as a result, she was constantly reminded to eat more healthfully, get her workouts in and stay focused on her plan. Chances are that you’ll be more likely to stick to your personal exercise regimen if others in your life know what you’re trying to do; even on the days when you’d rather just spend the day on the couch.

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