Hands up who has made a New Year’s resolution to get fit?
Perhaps your campaign to get fit has already started with the Strava app downloaded on to your phone and your fridge cleared of prosecco and cheese to make room for coconut water and spinach.
So many of us start the year full of resolve to improve our fitness, eat more healthily and drink less alcohol. And to be honest, after all the excesses of Christmas and New Year, it’s kind of a relief to be eating vegetables instead of chocolates and mince pies.
But then somewhere towards the end of January, the novelty of “getting healthy” can wear off. The runs you are logging 5 times a week on Strava can dwindle down to one or two, because February is so flipping cold. Everyone gets bored with no drinking after a few week, so it’s back to a cheeky glass or two after work and the odd boozy Sunday lunch. And summer is still ages away so there’s plenty of time to get back on track…. Oops, there goes your resolve to get fit running away fast than anything you ever logged on to Strava.
So how do you avoid your fitness campaign grinding to a halt before it properly gets started? Here are my top tips to help you stay committed for the whole of 2019 and beyond.
First and foremost, you need to actually enjoy the process of getting fit in order to stick with it. Yep, somehow exercise has got to be enjoyable for you.
You may need to try a few different things to find what you enjoy. Over the years, I’ve gone through periods of being really into swimming, body pump, spinning, running, weights, boxing, HIIT and, more recently, pilates. But Zumba and other dance-based classes have never appealed. Have an open mind, try some different classes and get a friend or family member to go along with you. If you’re thinking about hiring a PT, ask them what sort of training methods they use and tell them what you think you want to try. They’ll soon let you know if deadlifting 100kg is not suitable for your first session. Variety is key to preventing boredom so mix things up rather than doing the same gym workouts or doing the same running route.
If you are very unfit or overweight, it’s quite possible that you won’t feel a rush of enjoyment the first time you start exercising. This is especially true if you sign up for a gym class which is fairly high intensity. Being pushed too hard when you are just starting out can be very demoralising and demotivating (and you also risk injury), so make sure you start off gently. Try power walking, ideally outdoors to get the benefit of being in the fresh air. You can incorporate some hills to challenge yourself a bit more and after a few weeks, try doing a few bursts of jogging. See how that feels. If it feels ok, make the jogging intervals a bit longer. Exercise gets easier and more enjoyable as you get fitter. Trust that the process will result in progress. And feel proud of yourself for actually getting out and doing it!
It’s also worth thinking what you want to get out of your exercise sessions beyond just the physical workout. If you are like me, exercise is precious “me time” so I tend to be fairly solitary when doing my workouts. Other people love the camaraderie of classes and the opportunity to make new friends. Whether you get much needed “me time” or a fun social interaction, it all adds to your enjoyment.
As with most things in life, you need to have the right mindset about exercise for it to become a regular and enjoyable part of your life. Here are few things you can do to get your head into a more exercise-friendly place-
Start thinking about exercise in a more holistic way
Shift your focus away from losing weight or changing your body shape and focus instead on the way exercise makes you feel. I’m talking less about the way you feel during an exercise session (hot, sweaty, tired…) and more about the way you feel afterwards. Even if you don’t get the hit of endorphins to begin with (but this will come once you get fitter!), you will get the sense of accomplishment that comes from having pushed yourself and the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve done something really positive for your body and your mind. The benefits of exercise on your mental health are often overlooked. But it’s proven that exercise can help reduce stress and tension. And try to put aside any negative thoughts about how your body looks. No one is perfect and we all have things we’d like to change. Your body is an amazing thing, wobbly bits and all, so treat it with love and respect.
Use affirmations and visualisation
I am a big believer in the power of affirmations and visualisation. Come up with a list of affirmations relating to your fitness goals and get into the habit of saying these affirmations out loud. You can try the following “I am healthy; I am fit; I am strong; I am energised” or make up your own. Then close your eyes and visualise yourself doing a power walk, swim or whatever your chosen exercise activity is. See yourself powering through it, motivated and full of energy. This might sound a bit hippy-dippy but these are techniques that elite athletes use and they do work!
Set yourself realistic and manageable goals
I can’t call myself a PT without mentioning goals!! Rather than resolving to lose 2 stone, get a 6-pack stomach and run a marathon, set yourself some SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-based) and write them down. The following goals could apply to someone who’s fallen out of the habit of regular exercise but wants to get back into it:
- To exercise for 30 minutes 3 times a week during January and February.
- To complete a 5km park run in less than 45 minutes by the end of March.
- To do 20 good form press-ups and to hold plank position for 30 seconds by the end of February.
Reward yourself for meeting your goals
Come up with a list of small weekly rewards that you can treat yourself to if you’ve kept on track with your goals during the week. If you are trying to lose weight, then steer away from food-based rewards. Instead, opt for little luxuries like buying a new magazine and spending an hour reading it instead of doing household jobs. Once you’ve hit your goals for your first two months, then give yourself a bigger reward such as getting a massage. Then make some new goals (and rewards) for the following two months. Keep your goals under review and revise them as your fitness levels improve.
While it’s important to stay focused on your goals, don’t stress too much or (worse) give up completely if you can’t meet them. We all get busy, sick and injured from time to time. Take some time out to deal with whatever comes up, but get back on track as soon as you can.
Once you’ve got your head in the right place, here are some practical things you can do to help keep you on track:
- Plan your exercise sessions at the start of each week – on Sunday night, sit down and plan when you are going to do your week’s exercise sessions. If you have a ridiculously busy week, try to find some small chunks of time when you can squeeze some exercise in. You could get up half an hour earlier a couple of mornings during the week or use your lunch breaks to get a couple of quick sessions in. And here’s a little tip – if you are going to exercise first thing in the morning, make sure your exercise clothes are laid out and visible as soon as you wake up. It’s much harder to hit the snooze button when your kit is all ready and waiting for you.
- Get your family members and friends on board – make your family and friends your support crew. Ask them to encourage you and help motivate you. If you’ve got a busy family life, discuss your goals with your spouse or partner and agree when will be your time to exercise. That way you are less likely to get a spouse or partner disappearing off to the pub just when you want to go to your spin class.
- Buy some new exercise clothes – bin the baggy t-shirts and shapeless joggers and invest a little bit of money in exercise clothing that you feel good in. Choose garments that flatter your physique and you feel comfortable in. If you are running or doing anything else high impact, make sure you have proper shoes (and ladies, a decent sports bra).
- Create music playlists and use apps – music can be incredibly motivating so make a playlist of your favourite music and plug your headphones in while you exercise. There are also loads of apps which keep a track of your activity and these can be really motivating. I also have an interval timer app on my phone which is great for HIIT workouts.
- Have a plan B – I recommend having 2 to 3 types of exercise that you can do in any given week. That way, if you really can’t face your early morning run or swim, you can swap it for a power walk, a spin class or some yoga. And have one type of exercise activity you can do at home (such a yoga DVD or downloaded workout), in case the weather or other logistics mean you can’t get out to exercise.
- Get a PT – a good PT will keep you motivated, as well as create workouts that will help you reach your goals.
Remember, the only bad workout is the one you didn’t do. Here’s to a fit and healthy 2019
If you need help with motivation and commitment to exercise and healthy eating, I offer 1 to 1 personal training sessions and nutritional advice which can be done in person (if you live locally) or via Skype.