When it comes to starting something new—such as creating a workout habit—the hardest part is to stick with it long enough and keep a consistent enough schedule that it becomes a habit for life.
Because while it’s pretty easy to start doing HIIT, or eating healthy, or foam rolling after your workouts, sticking with it in the longterm is a much more difficult feat.
And we all know it’s only too easy to make excuses not to work out. You get busy. You’re too sore. Life happens.
And sooner than later, the excuses start to pile up. You end up skipping a few days, a week, maybe even a few weeks—and before you know it, you’re back at square one. It’s a vicious cycle.
In fact, learning to keep a consistent workout schedule is one of the subjects 12 Minute Athlete readers email me about the most. But it doesn’t have to be that difficult.
Because with a slight change of your mindset, some simple planning and a little motivation, you can start (and keep!) a consistent workout schedule—for good.
Here’s how to begin:
Create a ritual
One of the best ways to start any kind of habit is to create a ritual around the habit you want to create. And working out is no different.
For example, maybe you want to work out first thing in the morning before you go to work every weekday. You might create a ritual where every morning before work, you get up, eat a small breakfast while listening to the morning radio, take the dog for a quick stroll around the block, then do a workout, shower, and drive to work.
The idea is to get your mind and body so used to including a workout in your morning routine (or whatever time of day you like to work out) so you no longer have to think about it—it just comes naturally to you.
To give you a better idea of what this really looks like, here’s my weekday workout ritual:
- I get up around 7:15, eat breakfast, and work for a couple of hours.
- Around 10 to 10:30, when I start getting sick of sitting at my desk, I have a snack like some greek yogurt and a little granola, or maybe a half a banana and almond butter. I also drink a pre-workout energizer to get pumped up.
- I put on my workout clothes.
- Unless it’s pouring rain outside (my dog hates the rain), I take my dog for a 10 or 15 minute walk.
- I work out.
And my weekend/vacation ritual:
- Get up and put on my workout clothes.
- Immediately eat a small breakfast and down my pre-workout drink.
- Wait 10-15 minutes, then work out.
- Shower and go do something fun!
Mark it on your calendar
Another way to make sure your workouts are ingrained in your schedule is to simply put them on the calendar—just as you would any other appointment.
So, for example, if you want to commit to working out three days a week, choose the days—let’s say Monday, Wednesday and Friday—and put them in your calendar or phone for a scheduled time. Treat them just as you would any other appointment.
If something comes up, you can always reschedule your workout for another time/day (though I don’t recommend doing this often). But just as you’d never just skip or forget about an important meeting or your kid’s soccer game, this keeps you from skipping your workout or forgetting to work out altogether.
Commit for 30 days
Most of us have heard that it takes anywhere from 21 to 30 days to build a habit that sticks.
The key is to commit to the habit you want to create—such as doing HIIT 3x a week—and giving yourself a 30 day “trial” of doing that habit consistently. Tell yourself that if you want, you can go back to your old habits (such as not doing HIIT or exercising at all) at the end of your 30 days.
When the end of the 30 days is up, see how you feel. Do you feel stronger, more confident, more energized, fitter? My guess is that you’ll decide you prefer the way you feel after working out consistently, and not want to return to how you were beforehand.
If that’s the case, congratulations, you’ve created a workout habit.
When you first start working out on a regular basis, it’s never a good idea to commit to six days a week of ass-kicking workouts.
Why? Because before you know it you’ll be sore, exhausted, burnt out, and possibly even injured.
A better tactic is to start small—try out two or three days a week of HIIT for a few weeks or even a few months.
Only then, when you’ve stuck with the workouts for a while and feel like you’re motivated to do more, should you push yourself to increase the frequency or intensity of your workouts.
Baby steps now equal massive success in the long term.
Don’t make excuses
One of the biggest mistakes people make when trying to form a lifelong workout habit is constantly making excuses when something comes up.
People make all kinds of excuses for not working out—they’re on vacation, they’re sick, too sore, too busy, they’re too tired.
But while it’s certainly acceptable to take a day off here and there, letting yourself make too many excuses will break you of the habit and make it harder to stick with it in the long run.
And the solution is simple: just stop making excuses.
Traveling? You can still work out, even if all you have is a hotel room.
Tired? Exercise will boost your energy, so give it a go anyway.
Busy? You’ve no doubt got an extra 12 minutes—and you could probably use a break from your hectic schedule to exercise and take some time to yourself anyway.
I used to have an incredibly difficult time keeping my exercise habit after letting it go to the wayside for some excuse or another—so these days, I work out six days a week, no matter if I’m on vacation, swamped with work, sore, or even sick.
Excuses are for wimps. Don’t be a wimp.
You have to start
No matter how you go about it, the only way to really, truly keep a consistent workout schedule and establish working out as a lifelong habit is to start.
Start now. Not tomorrow.
And don’t quit. Never quit.
“Once you learn to quit, it becomes a habit.” – Vince Lombardi