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7 Steps to Sticking with a Workout

BY: Shannon Jewitt |

Woman doing crunches

Trying to find the drive to get fit presents a dilemma: the biggest factor in getting motivated to exercise is just truly wanting to do so. "First and most important, you have to want to make changes," says Ryan Markle, owner of R&N Fitness in North Pole, AK.

But that doesn't mean all is lost if you've struggled before with sticking with a workout. There are concrete steps you can take to spark that drive. Below you'll find seven steps you can follow to kickstart your new exercise routine, and to keep it going when you feel yourself faltering. Think of it as a primer on how to get fit.

1. Examine why your last effort didn't succeed.

Perhaps, like Liz Kindel of Fairbanks, AK, you've had difficulty sticking with a fitness plan. "I would make plans with friends to work out, but would become too tired and cancel," she says. "Other times, I would have a consistent routine but would take a few days off—because 'I deserved them'—and would fall off the wagon."

Or maybe your story is more like Ryan Keser's, who struggled with insecurity when she first started working out. "I would let the flimsiest of excuses get in the way because I didn't want to go," she says. "I didn't want people to see all my business jiggling around."

Whatever the case, the first step for getting on track is identifying what's blocked you from succeeding before.

2. Make an adjustment.

If, like Kindel, you have trouble maintaining a routine, there are a few changes you can make:

  • Switch your workout time to the morning if getting your act together after work has been difficult (or vice versa).
  • Schedule your rest days in advance so you're not deciding each day whether to work out or not.
  • Change up your workouts to avoid burnout.
  • Devise a consistent reward so you're not coming up with ideas on the fly. For example, perhaps you're only allowed to watch a certain trashy TV show if you're on the treadmill.

And if no amount of convincing can make you believe that no one at the gym is judging you, gather up some equipment—a yoga mat, hand weights, kettlebells—and work out with videos at home until you feel confident enough to take your exercise beyond your living room.

Woman lifting weights in Crossfit gym

3. Try a new workout.

For some people, finding the right workout makes everything else snap into place. Here are a few ideas:

  • Zumba is great for sociable people who want their workout to feel fun.
  • CrossFit appeals to people who enjoy competing to set personal records.
  • Kickboxing and martial arts are good for learning self-defense skills while you work out.
  • Spinning work best for people who don't mind high-intensity workouts, including both cardio and strength-training components.

If you still aren't sure where to start, consult a personal trainer. They'll be able to point you toward exercises that suit your interests and goals and teach you how to make them as rewarding as possible.

4. Start slow.

There's no easier way to set yourself up for failure than so exhausting yourself that you never want to go back. "You don't have to spend hours on end in a gym to make a change," says Markle, the trainer. "Just go outside for a walk every night or do some sit-ups and push-ups before bed every night, and add one rep every week."

And don't be frustrated if it takes more time than you expected. Keser was first inspired to lose weight in January 2010, but it took her until April to figure out what worked best. "It took me those four months to come up with a plan that was manageable and sustainable for me," she says.

5. Set realistic goals.

Achieving small successes can keep you motivated to stay on track. For this part of your fitness plan, you'll have to evaluate—perhaps with the help of a trainer or a doctor—exactly how fit you are to begin with.

If you're totally new to the exercise thing, an appropriate short-term goal would be integrating strength training into one of your three weekly cardio workouts. A long-term goal could be to climb the stairs to your office without huffing and puffing. If you're starting from a fitter baseline, you could aim to hit the gym six times a week in the short term and strive to compete in a marathon in the long term.

People on pull-up bars

6. Keep it fresh.

Your workout routine shouldn't stay the same. You'll inevitably get bored of it and, worse, your muscles will eventually adapt to it, so it will no longer be as challenging or as rewarding.

Kindel, for example, makes a point to change her surroundings. She goes to Planet Fitness for her morning cardio routine and is also a member of R&N Fitness, where she receives personal training from Markle, who is also her fiancé. "To switch up my environment every so often, I train at the military gym on the local Army base," she says, which has different equipment from her other gyms.

For her part, Keser, an assistant principal, leads boot-camp-style workouts for her teachers twice each week. The boot-camp sessions are just one element of her workout routine, though. To stay motivated, she mixes things up by adding in a run or cardio a few times a week, plus yoga classes.

7. Listen to your body.

Although all these suggestions may be helpful, don't be afraid to disregard the ones that don't feel right. Listening to your own body and your own sense of its strengths and limitations is the best course of action, and the best way to avoid derailing your fitness motivation.

"Don't listen to anyone's advice. By that I just mean that you really have to do what works for you," says Keser. "People always have a lot to say about how to 'fitness,' but ultimately it's about choosing the pieces of other routines or things that work for you."


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This article was originally published in a slightly different format, and has since been updated by our editors.