Sticking with an Exercise Program, Part 1

The benefits of exercise have been well documented over the years. Exercise can help improve your mood, strengthen your heart, increase deep sleep, control your weight, make your body more efficient and boost your self-confidence, to name a few. With all of this information out there on the pros of exercise, why don’t more people engage in physical activity?

I’ve heard just about every excuse in the book. “I don’t have time,” “I don’t have money,” “After the New Year,” “I don’t like gyms,” “I don’t like pain.” The list goes on. The decision to start an exercise program is entirely up to the individual. But what about those who start a program and quickly drop out? Up to 50 percent of exercise participants will discontinue their routines for one reason or another, within one year. Health clubs bank on that fact so they can oversell the facilities. They know that most of their members will only come a few times the first couple of months and will never be seen again. The members not only stop going, but they keep paying their monthly dues because they will “go back” eventually. I’ve been involved with health clubs for as long as I can remember, as a member, then as a trainer, and now my practice is located inside a large health club. I see new members all the time, especially right after the New Year and right before summer. But most of the new faces are gone in three months or so. That’s why I see the same people all the time; I like to call them “lifers.” The “lifers” are the small minority of gym members that actually use the gym on a regular basis. They know the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and practice it. So what can be done to keep you from becoming a statistic! Here are a few suggestions and strategies for sticking with your exercise program.

Be realistic when designing your program. Either with a professional, or on your own, design your routine so you can follow it. For example, if you have never worked out before in your life, don’t go out and try to do plyometric exercises or stadium runs. Some movements are very difficult to perform and take a certain amount of strength, coordination and flexibility. People often become discouraged and quit because they think they look stupid performing these advanced movements. Keep it simple at first; warm up, stretches, push-ups, sit-ups, jumping jacks, etc.

Set attainable short-term goals. From my experience working with the general population, I have found that short-term goals (two to three weeks) work the best when it comes to compliance. Be as specific as you can. For example, “I will work out every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, at 5 p.m. at the gym.” Try to follow that, but also be flexible. If you miss a day, it is no big deal as long as you make it up. “If I miss a day, I will make it up Saturdays at 3 p.m.” As you improve your fitness level, you can start setting performance goals.

Vary the volume of your workout to your level. By “volume” I mean: intensity, frequency and duration. Rome was not built in a day. If you have been sedentary for a long period of time, don’t jump into a routine with a heavy volume, or expect to run a marathon your first month out. Control the level of your volume so you will stick with it. “No pain no gain” is not necessarily true. Exercise participants will quit if there is too much pain involved, especially at the beginning.

Buddies. Start your program with a friend or friends, but make sure that they are at your level of fitness. That way you can have the same routine and keep each other accountable.

It is much harder to skip a workout time when you know that there are people waiting for you! You can also try having a money pot with your buddies. For every time you cancel, a certain amount of money will come out of your pocket into the pot. 50 cents on up, it doesn’t matter. The money can eventually be used by all the participants for a party, a nice dinner, a prize, or can go to the person who has made it to every session. Use your imagination.

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