6 Tips for Making and Sticking to an Exercise Regimen

This is the third in a series of posts on the theme of physical fitness — the not-so-secret weapon of high performing individuals. 

Once upon a time, January was the time of year where gym membership sign-ups would swell, due to all the New Year’s resolutions that people would make, only to be squandered within 90 days, when people revert back to their old habits.

Nowadays, in our media-saturated, self-referential meta-commentary heavy culture, January has  become the time of year when everyone talks about what is described in the previous paragraph, where we are inundated by tips and tricks to making those resolutions stick, and/or less-helpful diatribes about how pointless the effort is, etc. etc.

So in keeping with the media season and  style — but maybe with a bit more substance — here are 6 irresistibly snackable tips that are loaded (nay, overstuffed) with expert fitness advice.

In a nutshell:  This is about creating a pattern of exercise that (a) provides the maximum benefit for the minimal investment, and (b) has a good chance of taking hold and sustaining itself. 

1. Schedule it in.

  • Look at your schedule, and take the time to make a self-appointment for exercise. Remember from How often and how much should one exercise?, you should do resistance training three times a week, and cardiovascular activity five times a week.
  • Make sure you have a flexible work out schedule. Life happens, and sometimes you can’t workout when you schedule it. Make sure you have other open slots that you can move your workout to.
  • Multitask – Try working out while watching TV. You can put a treadmill in front of your TV. Many workout facilities offer TVs in front of their workout machines. Put some music in. One thing I enjoy doing is listening to an audio-book or podcast while working out. Some libraries subscribe to OverDrive, which is a large archive of ebooks and audio-books. Find out if your library has something like that… or explore the world of free (or paid) online content, podcasts, open courseware, etc.  To date, I’ve probably spent hours on an elliptical whilst surfing Wikipedia. As human beings we no longer have an excuse for calling ourselves ‘bored.’
  • Social time – If you promised to spend some time with someone, ask to see if they would be willing to do something active. Throw a Frisbee around, take a bike ride, play tennis, go out dancing.
  • For Cardio, pick two days you want off, and work the other days. It seems like a lot, but half an hour a day isn’t all that much.
  • For Resistance Training, you want to be working out about every other day, and rotating muscle groups. This way your arms and chest can recover for several days while you work other muscle groups on other days. For example, Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays for resistance training. Just work in an hour’s workout on three days of your schedule.
  • In order to stick to your regimen, routine is key! Once you make a habit of exercising (do it for at least two weeks) getting it done will feel less like a chore and more like it is part of your schedule.

2. Combining Cardio and Resistance Training

Five days of Cardio exercise, and three days of resistance training is equal to eight days. That’s about one more day than possible! Luckily, it is pretty easy to combine cardio and resistance training. Here are some options:

  • Circuits – Circuit training is resistance training but with high-intensity aerobics. This involves rapid movements with a very short time in-between exercises
  • Supersets – Supersetting is an advanced training method in which you do two exercises, one after the other, with no rest in between.
  • Decrease your rest time
  • Add in small amounts of cardio between each set. One popular option is to do is fast step-ups. Find something you can step up on, and go up and down on that step at a very quick pace, switching lead legs every 20 steps. You’ll find the sweat can really pour on between the step ups and the resistance training.

3. Write it down!

  • Writing it down keeps you accountable. Make sure to record how long you exercised, and on weight training days record how much work you do. How many Reps and Sets did you do?
  • Keeping an exercise journal helps you push yourself harder. If you don’t know what you did last time, you run the risk of not working hard enough and wasting the time you spent exercising, or you can work too hard and hurt yourself.

4. Pain is good, torture is not.

An important question you must ask yourself is are you the kind of person who is more laid back, or do you tend to push yourself too hard?

  • Laid Back – The point of exercising is to build strength. You build strength by straining it to the point that your muscles tear open. Make sure you are working hard enough to avoid wasting your time. Your muscles should hurt just a little bit the day after you work them, and then hurt a lot more the second day after being worked. If you don’t feel sore from resistance training, you did not lift enough weight.
  • Too Hard – If you push yourself too hard, your body is going to hurt terribly. And you’ll unconsciously condition your subconscious to think that working out is painful and therefore bad for your body. You’ll find excuses and won’t workout. A friendly squeeze on the shoulder should not put you on the ground (it should hurt a little though).

5. Recruit a work out buddy

A buddy can help you keep accountable. It’s much easier to show up to a workout session if you know that someone is expecting you to come.

You’ll also be amazed at how a little encouraging peer pressure can help you achieve new heights (and weights).  A little yelling — provided that it comes from a place of love and respect — can even help.

Stretch Goals:  You're going to feel a little pressure...

6. Find your own place to exercise

Find a safe place you can exercise without feeling judged, but also a place where you can avoid interruptions. Work and family interruptions are really adept at killing a workout session.

Bonus Tip, #7. Condition your Mind

Going back to the subconscious point in number 3, make sure you associate working out with good and pleasurable things. Your mind should not just associate working out with pain. Find ways to reward yourself after a workout (but don’t ruin your progress either).

When looking for cardiovascular activities, find one that you really enjoy. Running, bike riding, tennis, racquetball… there are endless options. Try out different things until you find “your thing.”


Stay tuned for the next post in this exercise series: Resistance and Cardiovascular Training


Posted on January 10, 2014, in Exercise, Life and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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