We all have friends who, despite hectic schedules, never miss a day at the gym. Who can’t stop talking about the next 10K. Who can’t stop smiling after yoga class. Sure, they’re a little, well, obsessive about working out. But we envy them! The good news is we all have the potential to become fitness-obsessed, says Tom Holland, a Connecticut-based celebrity fitness trainer, exercise physiologist and expert in sports psychology. Here are 10 proven ways to make exercise a habit.
Get up earlier
Right this minute, go set your alarm and lay out everything you need for your morning workout. (Switch on a lamp as soon as your alarm goes off, 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 has shown that people who exercise in the morning are more likely to stick with their workout than those who exercise later in the day. After all, if you get your sweat session out of the way first thing in the a.m., you won’t miss out if unexpected distractions come up later in the day. (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 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!” This is also about the time you’ll start to notice the difference in how you feel if you miss a day or two of exercise, and you’ll start to appreciate the natural high that comes after a good workout.
Find your niche
So you tried spinning and you hated it, or you hurt yourself on your first day of CrossFit. That doesn’t mean that all forms of fitness aren’t for you—so get back out there and try a different one. “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 on a trail run, or following the instructor in a Zumba class. “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,’ ” he says. “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 motivation and guidance, a personal trainer can help you set goals and develop a plan to make them happen. “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. “Investing just one or two hundred bucks can go a long way.” Plus, 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 teacher can make a fitness class feel more like a party than a workout, whether it’s Zumba, spinning or cardio kickboxing. “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. Even if you’ve never met them in person, following your fitness idols on Facebook, working out to their DVDs or reading their advice in magazines can all be powerful motivators to follow their examples.
Don’t overdo it
One way to put a stop to your new exercise habit before it even gets off the ground? 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, which can leave you sore and exhausted—or worse yet, with a real injury that will keep you sidelined for even longer. It’s normal to have some muscle aches and stiffness a day or two after working out muscles you haven’t used in a while, but if you start to feel sick or overly tired, you could be training too hard. Following a training plan or working with a personal trainer can help you make sure 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. If you thrive on statistics and numbers, you may find that using apps, computer programs, or wearable pedometers and fitness trackers can help you stay on track with a new routine. Whether you’re counting your daily steps or the number of calories you’ve burned, technology can help you challenge yourself to new personal bests every day. Plus, many of these programs can be integrated with your social networks, making it easy to let your Facebook feed know that you just ran three miles 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 thing about establishing a regular routine, whether it’s exercise or anything else, is to truly make it a habit—something you don’t even think twice about before doing, says Holland. This will come with time, but you can help hurry the process along by creating daily rituals that center around your workout: Sip a cup of coffee on your way to the gym in the morning, 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 you pumped up before you head out for a run. Before you know it, these cues will be signaling to your brain that it’s time to work out—not time to make excuses.
Plan a (fitness-focused) vacation
“Combining vacations with exercise is a great reward, and it helps people set goals that they’ll actually want to accomplish,” says Holland. “Say you want to go to Italy, so you sign up for a bike tour around the country while you’re there; well, now you’ve got to get in shape for it so you can have the best possible experience while you’re there.” Sign up for a destination race—the Paris Marathon, for example—or just book a trip that involves a lot of physical activity, whether it’s hiking or skiing.