Sometimes our greatest resistance is our own willpower. We all have friends who never miss a day at the gym. Their obsession becomes our envy. The good news is we all have the potential to match that dedication, says Tom Holland, a Connecticut-based celebrity fitness trainer, exercise physiologist, and expert in sports psychology. Here are eight proven ways to make exercise your everyday habit.
Get up earlier
Set your alarm and lay out everything you need for your morning workout. Right now. And, as soon as your alarm goes off, switch on a lamp, says fitness blogger Tina Haupert, so you wake up faster. Working out at the same time every day may help you improve more quickly, a study from the University of North Texas found, and other research shows that people who exercise in the morning are more likely to stick with their workouts. After all, if you get your sweat session out of the way first thing, you won’t miss a day if unexpected distractions come up later. (And while we’re on the subject, skip the snooze button: Research suggests that those extra few minutes in bed may actually make you more tired.)
Give it six weeks
There’s an urban legend that says it takes 21 days for something to become a habit, but there’s little evidence to back up this claim. For exercise, it’s probably more like six weeks, says Rebecca Woll, a personal trainer in New York City. “This is when you start to see aesthetic changes in your body,” she explains. “Once you see these changes, you won’t want to go back to the old you!” You’ll also start to notice the difference in how you feel if you miss a day or two of exercise, and you’ll start to appreciate that exercise-induced natural high.
Find your niche
Try a group exercise class or ask a trainer how to use a new piece of equipment. “Find something that makes you tune out and gives you a release from your daily grind,” says Woll – whether that means focusing on the ground ahead of you during push-ups, or following the class instructor. “You’ll know you found it when you look at the clock and an hour flashes by without you noticing.” Holland agrees: “I always tell my clients, ‘I don’t exercise.’ I’ll go for a run or go to the gym, but I don’t think of it as exercise because that suddenly gives it a negative connotation.”
Hire A Trainer
Whether you’re a total newcomer to the fitness scene or you just need a little guidance, a personal trainer helps you set goals and develop a plan of action. “People think they can’t afford it, but they don’t realize that even just one or two sessions with a trainer can be so beneficial,” says Holland. A good trainer will also hold you accountable and will motivate you to work your hardest, Holland adds. “It’s all about positive reinforcement and being there for the client when they need it.”
Become a groupie
The right instructor can make a fitness class feel more like a party than a workout. “Finding an instructor is like dating,” says Woll. “If the first one doesn’t work, keep looking. This person should make you want to come to the gym!” (Just be ready for some competition: Popular fitness instructors see their classes fill up fast, and maintain loyal followings even when they switch class times and locations.) You can even glean workout inspiration from celebrity instructors and trainers. Following your fitness idols on social media can be a powerful motivator.
Don’t overdo it
One way to end your new exercise habit before you find your groove? Getting hurt. Beginners (or people just returning to fitness after a long break) need to be careful about trying to do too much, too soon. It’s normal to have some muscle aches and stiffness a day or two after working out, but if you start to feel sick or overly tired, you’re probably training too hard. Following a workout plan or working with a personal trainer can ensure you’re progressing at a reasonable pace.
Get techy (and social)
For some people, the feel-good side effects of exercise are enough to keep them going. Others need something a little more tangible to get themselves up and out of bed every morning (remember: at that first alarm!). If you crave the numbers, you may find that using apps, computer programs, or wearable fitness trackers help you stay on track with new routines. Technology helps you challenge yourself to new personal bests every day. Plus, many of these programs can be integrated with your social networks, like letting your Facebook support network know that you just crushed a 3-mile run or checked in at the gym. Once your friends start asking you about your new exercise habits, it may be harder to let them fall by the wayside.
Make it a ritual
The most important factor in establishing a regular routine is to truly make it a habit – something you don’t even think twice about, says Holland. You can help speed the process by creating daily rituals that center around your workout: Sip a cup of coffee on your way to the gym, roll out your yoga mat in front of the TV when you wake up in the morning, or listen to a favorite song to get pumped before that 3-mile run. Soon, these cues will be signaling your brain that it’s time to work out – not time to make excuses.