How to make your fitness program stick for better long-term results.
Often the hardest part of adopting a healthy lifestyle that incorporates nutrition and a complete exercise program is sticking to it long-term. What point is there in losing a whole heap of weight only to put it back on in a few months?
Sticking to a program isn’t as simple as just doing it. It’s essential that you set realistic goals and have smart strategies because relying on willpower alone may lead to failure. Research suggests that willpower fades through the day the more you use it, so the secret to willpower may be to not put yourself in the position to need it. You can watch this video from Dr Ian Taylor from Loughborough University for more: www.youtube.com/watch?v=cXn68fepGaU
GOAL SETTING SHOULD BE
- Clear about why you are doing it.
- Specific in what you want to achieve.
- Realistic and achievable.
- Measurable and able to be tested over time.
An excellent way to make your fitness program stick is to make exercise time your time. Time to either invigorate you for the day ahead or offload the stress from your day. To blow the cobwebs out and do something positive to make you feel better about yourself. You don’t need to find it fun, but you should look forward to your chosen form of exercise for it to be sustainable. The hardest part is that you may have to stick with it for a good few months before this transition happens in your mindset.
WHAT’S YOUR WHY
Having clarity about why you want to do something is crucial for motivation, and turning a change into a habit. Saying to yourself that you want to be fitter is obvious. Tying your ‘why’ to your values is a more potent motivator. Being able to lift my kids again and swing them around was one of my goals. As well as being a massive motivator, being a better father has no end, so it is a great incentive to form new habits.
Linking your new activity to something you already do is helpful. This reduces the amount of thought that goes into doing it. For me, it starts with packing my bag for work. Packing my work bag is the cue to pack my gym bag, linking the two. I then go to the gym after work, so walking out of work and heading to the gym are linked. These actions have become habitual.
Having realistic expectations is also an essential factor. Rapid gains in strength and aerobic fitness when you start a new exercise program will slowly taper off. Despite the marketing hype out there of getting “ripped” or “shredded” in “## days,” significant weight loss or building muscle mass requires substantial time, effort and commitment, not a quick fix. Expect to measure improvements in months and years.
With your goal in sight, gradual change is the smart way to make progress. I found this out the hard way. Incremental change is both necessary to avoid injury during exercise, and it is just the way your body and mind works.
Generic programs that aren’t suited to your requirements, have unrealistic training goals, and create dramatic change often fail. These may not meet expectations or be too physically demanding leading to you giving up or becoming injured.
A well-constructed exercise program can make a massive difference to your life and ability to meet your goals. A highly professional coach or personal trainer is even more likely to have a hugely positive impact. They should be able to account for your individual goals and needs, advise you on proper technique for exercises, and monitor your progress over time by testing your performance and making adjustments to your program.
The program they come up with should elicit realistic results, be safe, be challenging, and should motivate you as it leads you toward achieving your goals. For more, refer to choosing a coach or personal trainer.
No two people are the same, and the training programs that will get us the best results will be different. There are, however, a few tips I’ve discovered that are useful for anyone embarking on a fitness journey. A huge part of being successful in achieving your fitness goals is to have a great plan and to implement habits so that a healthy lifestyle becomes second nature.
TIPS FOR ACTION
- Write down your macro (big picture) goals using the above goal setting strategies, including your why and making sure they are achievable.
- Create your micro-goals such as a weight lifting goal, running time, completing an introductory workout program, or being prepared for a future marathon or triathlon.
- Set up a program and make it habitual by putting it in the calendar and linking it to something else in your daily routine.
- Track your progress by writing it down, taking photos and videos. Looking back at how far you have come can be surprising and inspiring.
- Before and after progress-photos help motivate some people. Having a photo that represents your why can also help drive you when you begin to wane.
- Reward yourself for achieving your micro goals.
- Focus on your achievements rather than comparing yourself to others.
- Change your program to some degree at least every 3-6 weeks.
- Do what you enjoy or find a way to enjoy what you do.
- Find time to exercise that works best for you. Whether early in the morning before you’ve experienced too many demands or the end of your day.
- If exercising after work, pack your gear and go straight to the gym when you finish. Going home first can quickly deter you from wanting to go back out.
- If it helps, buy some new activewear that makes you feel good about your appearance and that you look forward to wearing.
REMOVE THE BARRIERS
- Minimize the effort and barriers to doing what you need to do.
- Remove temptation and keep it out of your sphere of influence e.g., don’t keep junk food in the house or walk past your favorite fast food shop.
- Find other enjoyment or satisfaction to link with your goals; exercise with a friend or family member, do group exercise, listen to a podcast or motivational music while you work out.
- If you’re not feeling it, go and do it anyway. If you do 15 minutes and feel much worse, then go home. However, the chances are that you will finish your workout and feel better by the end.
- Remove toxic people from your life whose negativity drains your willpower and motivation by you continually having to resist the temptation to punch them in the face.
- Cook in bulk and freeze.
- Don’t dwell on your failures or get hung up on missing a workout. Don’t feel guilty for being human.
More important than getting down to any particular body fat percentage or being able to lift a certain weight is enjoying feeling human.
“Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.” Winston Churchill
1. Effects of a supervised versus an unsupervised combined balance and strength training program on balance and muscle power in healthy older adults: A randomized controlled trial. Lacroix A, et al. Gerontology. 2016;62(3):275-88. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26645282
2. Adherence to a strength training intervention in adult women. Arikawa AY, O’Dougherty M, Schmitz KH. J Phys Act Health. 2011 Jan;8(1):111-8. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21297191
3. Self-selected resistance training intensity in healthy women: the influence of a personal trainer. Ratamess NA, et al. J Strength Cond Res. 2008 Jan;22(1):103-11. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18296962