January is the month that most people decide that damn it, this is the year they’re finally going to get in shape.
So the gyms get really crowded with people trying to start a new habit and get their health on track once and for all.
The only problem is, most of those people are doing it all wrong.
They get an expensive gym membership, then proceed to go to the gym 3-4 times a week for the first two or three weeks. And they feel good, they feel like they’re making progress.
But then—something happens. Maybe they get discouraged that they haven’t made as much progress as they would have liked in that two weeks (haven’t lost two pant sizes, gained 5 pounds of muscle, etc.), or maybe life just gets in the way.
Whatever happens, by the end of the month, the gym is nice and quiet again, and those people who said they were finally going to start a workout habit give up until the next New Year rolls around.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. There are a few simple—and very doable—ways to start a workout habit that results in long-term success.
So whether you’re starting from scratch or just need a few reminders on how to be more consistent with your workouts, here are some simple ideas on how to start a workout habit that sticks:
If you want to establish a lifelong workout habit, you should never go from working out zero days a week to working out six days a week for an hour or more a day.
In fact, you should do just the opposite. If you’re a beginner, you could start with some easy, fun classes with friends, just to get into the habit. If you’re more intermediate, you should make a commitment to do HIIT two or three days a week at first. Any more than that and you’ll quickly get burnt out.
“If you want a habit to stick, start so incredibly simply that you can’t fail. Later, you can iterate on the habit until it’s at the level you really want. But start easy.” – Leo Babauta, Zen Habits
Schedule your workouts
I’ve said this one before, and I’ll say it again: the very best way to start a workout habit is to simply put it in your schedule.
Scheduling your workouts at a consistent time not only mentally prepares your body to work out at that time a certain number of days a week, it also takes the decision making out of the process so you no longer have to decide if you’re going to work out or not—you already know you’re going to, because it’s in your schedule.
Just make sure to treat your workouts just like you would any other appointment—as non-negotiable.
Get geared up
I don’t know about you, but the moment I’m actually wearing my workout clothes, I suddenly feel more like working out, no matter how much I was putting it off before.
There’s just something about putting on fitness clothes that seems to trick the mind into thinking, “well, I already have the clothes on, I might as well get this over with, right?”
So if you’re really struggling to start a workout habit, reminding yourself to at least put on your workout clothes a few times a week might just be the push of motivation you need to get started.
Give yourself rewards
Giving yourself something to look forward to—such as a really yummy protein shake, a half an hour reading a good book, or a relaxing epsom salt bath can be just the motivation to get you off the couch and into your workout gear.
It’s even more motivating if you give yourself bigger rewards (such as a new pair of training shoes or a dinner out to your favorite restaurant) after a big milestone, like getting your first pull up or working out a certain number of days a week.
Just make sure you’re not eating a cupcake after every workout, or you may just end up negating all the hard work you put in.
Create a ritual of it
Rituals take all the decision making out of habit forming, meaning you no longer have to think about whether you’re going to work out or not—you just do it.
So, for example, instead of waking up to your alarm and wondering whether you’re going to work out that morning, you’d have a ritual instead that might consist of waking up, eating a quick snack and downing a pre-workout shake, answering a few emails, working out then drinking a protein shake on the way to work.
This way, your body and mind will expect to work out each weekday (or whenever you plan your workouts) and you’ll be much more likely to establish a lifelong fitness habit.
Whatever you do, remember you can do this. You are better than your excuses.
Too tired? Too busy? Too unmotivated? You can push through it.
Starting is always the hardest part. So start now. Make 2014 your year.
I believe in you, athletes.