So many people struggle to stick to an exercise regime.
Though unsubstantiated it wouldn’t be outlandish to say that we all know at least one person who, perhaps after hearing about the myriad health benefits associated with regular exercise, resolves to get a regular sweat on.
Or there’s the case of the casual acquaintance who, after catching a side glimpse of their sizable belly in the mirror, suddenly signs up to the local gym.
But irrespective of what prompts action the narrative is nearly always the same: they start off with good intentions and for a while maintain admirable motivation, enthusiasm and commitment.
Then something happens. Something gives.
And soon the good intentions fade, consistency declines and fitness is forfeited for less strenuous activities: such as the couch (if that can be called an activity).
According to Health Psychology only a mere 12% of UK citizens consistently exercise.
Why is it, then, that so few people successfully maintain exercise consistency?
As a health and exercise professional I’ve wrestled long and hard with that illusive question. This should come as no surprise considering it is the single most frequent problem I’m ‘contracted’ to resolve.
Those countless hours spent deliberating over how to help clients keep consistent in their training have not proved entirely fruitless.
Over the years I’ve compiled a compendium of helpful hacks that can make exercise more accessible for those with a hectic life or those people who just don’t really enjoy it. If implemented and trialled for a prespecified period of time, any one of these hacks can increase exercise participation and thus improve your general physicality and health.
Below you will find 5 hacks that can do just that.
Fitness Hack #1: Form a Fitness Friendship
A great way to improve exercise participation is by partnering up with someone who exercises regularly. This is an age-old method that has been known to yield positive results in the exercise apathetic.
By partnering up with a friend or mutual exercise enthusiast you will be more inclined to attend training sessions through fear of letting your partner down. Also, when motivation unsuspectingly deserts a fitness friend can confer some of theirs – and vice versa.
In addition, by striking up a healthy training partnership you will be more inclined to diversify your training regime. Chances are that your training partner will prefer different forms of exercise to you and you to them. Thus, you can each take it in turns designing the training sessions.
The benefits of this approach are manifold. For example, by broadening exercise engagement you stand a better chance of developing a diverse physicality. It’s not uncommon for trainers to become comfortable with their favourable form of exercise.
This inevitably results in fitness imbalances; and by training the same muscle groups the chances of sustaining an injury becomes more likely. Furthermore, the trainer, because of the imbalance, becomes weaker in the areas neglected.
Let me give you an example.
I’ll be the first to admit that I have my exercise preferences. I love cardio training, endurance activities and circuits. What I’m not so keen on is strength training. Coincidently, a friend of mine was the polar opposite – he loved all things strength and abhorred cardio.
On realising that I was missing out on the benefits strength training has to offer, I convinced my friend to form a partnership where one of our sessions each week was to be dictated by the other. By doing this we had to try something new and thus forced out of our respective comfort zones. The initiative worked well and we both enjoyed a boost in performance not to mention noticeable body compositional changes.
So, with that said, see if you can form a fitness friendship.
Quick Fitness Hack Use your own weight for resistance instead
Listen, let’s be honest with each other. In all truthfulness nobody needs a gym or fancy training facility to keep fit. A daily dose of CV topped with a generous sprinkle of calisthenics will more than suffice to keep your body – both inside and out – lean and healthy. It’s a misleading and erroneous myth that we can’t forge robust, functional physicality without a gym.
I submit that a respectable level of fitness can be developed and maintained by engaging in regular outdoor cardiovascular sessions – running and cycling – and bodyweight circuits. Also, to compound the variation of exercises, you can use your local environment as a training facility. For example, conclude your run by performing a series of bodyweight AMRAPs at your local park.
Fitness Hack #2: Habituate Exercise
Not going to deny it, bit of a no-brainer this one. But though obvious it is devilishly difficult to implement. This accounts for why when I go on my habitual early morning run there’s no one else out. Just me, the dark, the cold, and that wily fox who’s hightailing it back home to bed.
However, if you can habituate an exercise routine so that it becomes almost an automated programme that you run without thinking, you’ll dramatically improve your levels of participation. And in turn significantly improve your health. Having been at it for many years I’m now so conditioned to complete a 4-mile run in the morning that I’m 2-miles in before I’ve even woken up.
How, then, do you attain this lofty state of self-indoctrination? Well it’s at this point where we dispense with theory and consider practical application. But be warned, there’s no quick fixes and conditioning yourself can be both a challenging and highly frustrating, 2-steps-forward-1-step-back process.
Perseverance often pays off though.
So, it might be worth proceeding as follows. Firstly, establish a time in your day where you can boundary at minimum 30-minutes. Now I personally recommend making this as early as possible (I go for my run at 5:15am). The reason being is because fewer distractions or responsibilities are likely to filch our time away from us early in the day.
Let’s say that you’ve successfully bounded 30-impenetrable minutes, now you’ve got to decide what physical activity you plan to perform during that time. If at the moment you lack fitness, and you know there’s no way you could sustain 30-continious minutes of cardiovascular exercise, consider instead enjoying a relaxing walk. After a week or two you might feel ready to introduce some light jogging – perhaps 5-minutes of light jogging followed by 5-minutes of walking. Eventually you will aim to run for the entire time.
Prior to progressing on let’s take stock of what we’ve covered thus far.
At this stage in our exercise habituation strategy (which I’ve just decided to name it) you should have established two things. Thing 1: a bounded and obstinately protected period of time – 30-minutes in the morning. Thing 2: the type of exercise that you are to perform during this period of time. If you have yet to settle these two things do not proceeded to the final stage of the strategy!
Now, assuming that you have settled the above two things, we’ve finally arrived at the most difficult stage in our strategy – to wit that of implementation!
‘Tell me then,’ I hear you asking, ‘how am I to implement this, what did you call it, exercise habituation strategy?’ To be perfectly honest with you, there’s not easy way around this one. You’ve simply got to set an alarm for the appointed time, say 6am, and when it sounds get the hell out of bed, slip on your slacks and sneeks and hit the tarmac before procrastination drags you back under the sheets.
Quick Fitness Hack Find solutions to exercise while at work and when travelling
By my desk I have a 24kg Competition kettlebell. When I’ve had enough of staring at that bovine-brain-inducing screen (so about every 5-minutes), I pop out a couple of sets of swings and snatches. Yeah, my colleagues think I’m nuts, but I don’t give a damn; health and fitness supersede social kudos!
When I go on holiday, or have to travel for whatever reason, I always pack a couple of pairs of training shorts and tops. I do this because no matter where I go, I always ensure to engage in at the very least 1 hour of exercise.
And as I mentioned in the first Quick Hack, to keep in shape and the ticker ticking over doesn’t require a fancy pants, all singing all dancing gym. A gentle jog followed by 10 X 100 metre sprints and a bodyweight circuit will do the job. And what’s great about those exercises is that they can be performed most anywhere and for free.
Fitness Hack #3: Make Exercise Accessible
Legend has it that Bruce Lee had a piece of exercise equipment in every room of his house – even the toilet! In his basement a multigym and a punch bag. In his garage a wooden dummy (a training tool used primarily by Wing Chun practitioners). In his living room a gripper device designed to develop forearm strength . . . and so on.
Though the ubiquity of exercise equipment throughout Lee’s house was probably more the result of his fitness fanaticism, he still clearly understood that, to improve and develop one’s physicality (and combat skills), you’ve got make training opportunities as accessible as possible.
People who take this approach tend to excel.
Perhaps the single most important strategic component of any personal development endeavour is that of firstly identifying then breaking down barriers to participation. The more obstacles that stand in your way of, say, taking part in physical exercise, the less inclined you will be to do it – unless, of course, you are super motivated.
I think that the reason why so few people are able to observe healthy lifestyle habits – that is, consistently exercising and adhering to healthy dietary principals (to name two) – is precisely because they fail to adequately engineer their environment so that it facilitates participation.
What might this look like in the real world?
Well, let’s suppose that you’ve identified in yourself an inclination towards taking the easier option. Basically you’re a lazy git who’ll find any excuse to get out of going gym. Cold, dark rainy nights are just the ticket to an evening on the couch in the comfort of take-away curry and Coronation Street omnibus.
By implementing Fitness Hack #3 you might look to break down the above barrier by building a home gym. So when you get back from work and you really can’t be bothered to get suited and booted for body pump, cus the weather’s something biblical, you could chuck your kit on and go into the next room where an indoor rower and kettlebell await.
This approach, of course, can just as easily and effectively be applied to any lifestyle habit. For example, if you’ve recognised that you have a poor diet – you lots of processed foods – you could reverse this hack by making unhealthy foods less accessible whilst at the same time making healthy foods more accessible. If you know you’ve got an incurable predilection for biscuits don’t keep them in the house!
Quick(ish) Fitness Hack: Walk and stand more at work. Scratch that. Walk and stand more full stop!
According to a poll conducted by an independent research group, the average Briton spends over 30 hours a week couch potatoed in front of their TV. And for the vast majority of people exercise constitutes as getting up off the sofa and walking to the fridge; or walking from the car to the workplace.
In short, we have, as a nation, become horribly unhealth and lazy and dependent on modes of transportation and other ‘time saving’ technologies. As a consequence, we are on the whole far less active than were our more mobile ancestors. This has resulted in a new epidemic that goes by the name of sedentarism.
Sedentarism, in the words of the Oxford English Dictionary, is defined as ‘the habits and routines associated with relatively low levels of activity and movement, leading to health-related problems such as obesity.’
But the good news is, even if you see shades of sedentarism in yourself, introducing more activity into your life is relatively straight forward – see list of ideas below.
Spend as much of your days as possible in the horizontal position. On account of the heart having to pump harder to circulate blood, the body uses more energy when we are standing.
Always take the stairs, never the escalator or lift.
Walk when possible.
Buy a cheap exercise bike and pedal whilst watching TV.
Fitness Hack #4: Enter an Event
I’ve always found entering an event to be an excellent way of electrifying my exercise regime. The thought of competing against myself and others in a public forum, the fear of performing poorly or, even worse, failing to finish for lack of preparation, these dreary prospects act like whips and spurs driving me forward.
Now the event doesn’t have to be worthy of an elite level endurance athlete, such as a marathon or Ironman. Depending on your physicality and experience a local 5k run for charity will more than suffice.
What matters is that event poses a physical challenge, you have to pay to enter it and people will see you fail (the desire to avoid this humiliating outcome acts as a strong incentive to put the training in – a psychology thing). See below a list of starter challenges:
Half marathon (all three for Cancer Research UK)
Supersprint triathlon: 400m swim, 10k bike, 2.5k run
But if you’re the sort of person who needs a real challenge before you get fired-up, go nuts and knock yourself out with something hellishly brutish. See below a list of events that fit that bill:
Double Ironman: 5mile swim, 228 mile cycle 52.6 mile run
Enduroman (London to Paris Ironman): 87 mile run, swim the English Channel, 181 mile cycle to Paris
Marathon de Sable (aka the toughest foot race on earth’): 156 miles across the Sarah Desert
These are the sort of events that feature on peoples’ bucket lists; scribbled somewhere in-between: ‘last one round with Mike Tyson’ and ‘swim with a great white shark’.
By entering such an event – any event! – you’ll not only have an immense physical and psychological challenge to aim for, which will certainly supercharge your training, but when you emerge victorious you’ll achieve something few ever have or could. And in the process you’ll earn yourself serious bragging rights.
Quick(ish) Fitness Hack: Get your kit on!
I owe thanks to a friend for this one. He said to me once, when I was lamenting over my lack of motivational willpower, ‘If ever you don’t feel like exercising here’s some advice that never fails. On those days when you’d rather face the firing squad than the treadmill just slip into your training kit and sit around the house. I give you ten minutes before you’re out the door and on the way to the gym.’
I must confess, when he told me this I could not hide the incredulous expression on my face. But by god it works – and every damn time too. Now I don’t profess to understand the complex science behind this technique, yet it somehow seems to exert a mysterious motivational force that just makes you want to exercise.
So here’s what you do. When you don’t feel like getting a sweat-on, get your kit-on instead and then merrily go about your business as normal; whether that’s doing the dishes, the dusting, or some other type of menial housework. Soon, very soon, the motivational monster will strike and you’ll find yourself itching to get active.
Fitness Hack #5: Fitness Test – and often!
Fitness testing can be like pouring kerosene over your training intensity. The desire to advance on a personal best or establish a respectable initial performance can cause a conflagration of fitness – leaving us literally burning to improve.
When I decided to embark on a campaign to shave a few seconds off my long-standing and quite stubborn 10k row time, I began training like a man possessed. This saw my weekly overall row distance increase twofold. I went from rowing 30k a week to nearly 80k!
Also, and this is another positive outcome which tends naturally to spring from the ambition to improve on one’s PB: I began researching best training methodologies.
In my bid to hold 1:50/500 (that’s 1 minute 50 seconds per 500m for 10,000m) I had to put in some serious training. That’s a given. But this also required that I broadened my exercise approach. I must admit, I can be bit blinkered seeing only cardiovascular training as means of physical development.
However, if I stood any chance of holding my target pace I knew I’d have to develop pushing and pulling strength – which meant deadlifting, and lots of it.
This is the double positive of fitness testing – viz. not only does it demand a significant spike in high-intensity training but that you explore weaknesses in your physicality that could impede performance. Thus out of necessity you will start to rectify fitness imbalances.
The desire to better a PB transcends exercise preferences: I can’t stand deadlifting but I’ll do it if I know it will increase my chances of emerging victorious from the test.
So, if you want to supercharge your training, consider conducting a fitness test . . . or advancing on established PBs. This method is almost guaranteed to fan the flames of your fitness regime.
There we have it, 5 Hacks for Improved Fitness. Hopefully you have been left inspired to adopt one of the above hacks. If you have this article has achieved its aim. Remember, you stand a much better chance of making and sustaining positive lifestyle changes if you gradually introduce the intervention into your daily routine.
Also, don’t let your enthusiasm get the better of you and try to implement more than one hack at a time. If you do, you’ll probably relapse with inside a week. To avoid this outcome, follow the 10 step process below:
Step 1: Select a hack that you would like to implement.
Step 2: Identify where in your day or routine you could include it.
Step 3: Decide how many weeks you plan to try the hack for.
Step 4: Plot the weeks out on a calendar.
Step 5: After each successful day of implementing the hack pen a green ‘tick’ on the calendar.
Step 6: Proceed in this fashion until you have maintained the hack for the prespecified durations.
Step 7: Note at the end how the hack has improved your health.
Step 8: If you have noticed that the hack has improved your health, however slight, consider implementing it long term.
Step 9: Once the hack has become habituated, which can take months, consider trying a new one.
Step 10: Repeat the steps.
Still hungry for more? Well why not wrap your lips around these 5 Health Hacks!
(As we are very interested in user experience here at Hungry4Fitness, we would be very grateful if you could take a few seconds out of your day to leave a comment. Thanks in advance!)
Adam Priest is a former Royal Marines Commando, personal trainer, lecturer, boxing and Thai boxing enthusiast.
Marks, D. F. Murray, M. Estacio, V. E. (2018) Health Psychology: Theory, Research and Practice. Sage Publications. UK.