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 a recent study 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.
I have identified a number of reasons that account for why this problem is so prevalent, persistent and, for some, impenetrable. Those reasons include:
Time constraints (which, by the way, is such a copout excuse)
Lack of training ideas which inevitably leads to boredom/apathy
Low self-efficacy – catch-22: self-efficacy will never increase unless a person puts in the practice
Lack of self-discipline
Fluctuating levels of motivation
Just not keen on keep fit
Feel embarrassed going gym due to perceived inadequate physical abilities and/or overly sensitive of appearance. Again catch-22: abilities and/or appearance will never improve/change unless physical participation is persistently pursued.
These are just some of the excuses I’ve encountered over the years. The list could be considerably longer but I’ve only identified the most common.
However, if, for whatever reason, you struggle with maintaining a consistent fitness regime, and you’ve succumbed or are succumbing to one of the above excuses, you’ll be glad to know that I haven’t just identified problems, I’ve also discovered a number of solutions.
It is those solutions that are the concern of this article. For the next ten minutes or so I aim to share with you five tried and tested tips that can help you keep on keeping fit.
So, without further ado, let’s get fit!
Tried and Tested Tip #1: Design and Implement an Exercise Programme
Such a simple idea yet so effective. The power a programme can exert is comparable to that of a To Do List: and according to research people who use To Dos are on average up to three times more productive than their non To Do using counterparts.
It’s hard to pin down precisely why a scrap piece of paper is so effective at prompting action, but that it does is not up for debate. Whenever I make a To Do List of things that need to be done, I am considerably more conscientious of completing tasks. And rare is it that any To Dos are left unfulfilled.
An exercise programme is as equally as effective as a To Do List because that is precisely what it is: a list of exercises to be completed over a specific time period: 6, 8, 10 or 12 weeks. Once you have designed your programme, which I will show you how to in a moment, each completed session would be crossed off as though it were a To Do.
Though undeniably anachronistic (nowadays everyone wants an app or a smart watch or fit bit), this approach underpins an exercise regime with structure and consistency; an exercise programme acts as a blueprint or map to follow. Consequently, he or she who takes the time to compose a programme will likely see a significant increase in rates of participation.
Right, hopefully I’ve won you over with the merit and worth of an exercise programme and now you’re hungry to create your own. Below you will discover an easy to follow step-by-step guide of how to design an exercise programme.
How to Devise an Exercise Plan
Identify your preferential modality of exercise: gym, running, circuit classes. It’s important to start off with a form of exercise that you find enjoyable . . . or dislike the least.
Once you’ve identified your preferred mode of exercising you need now to consider for how long you are prepared to engage in the exercise. If your training goal is to pursue a healthy lifestyle and get your hands on some of the amazing benefits exercise can confer, then between 30 to 45 minutes per session will suffice.
After deciding on the type of exercise and the duration of engagement you must determine the weekly frequency: 2/3/4/5/6/7 x per week. If this is the first exercise programme that you have developed, it is advisable to start off with 2 to 3 weekly training sessions and incrementally increase the frequency across your programme.
When you have established the duration of each session and decided on your weekly training frequency, it is now time to choose the length of your programme. Typically exercise programmes span 8 weeks. However, this isn’t an immutable law and you can opt for fewer weeks, say 6, or more: 10 or 12. Irrespective of how many weeks you select, what is important is that your programme possess a start and end as it is the desire to reach the destination – i.e. completion of the programme – that keeps the fires of motivation burning bright.
At this point you should have a) identified a range of different methods of exercising that you plan to populate your programme with; b) decided how long you will exercise for; c) determined the number of weekly sessions; and d) settled on the duration of your programme. If you have satisfied all four points then it is time to plot where you plan to actively participate in each exercise session. When you have inputted the sessions you must decree that, come hell or high water, they are immutable; set in stone! To make life easier for yourself consider utilising the Hungry4Fitness Become Your Own Personal Trainer Exercise Programmes.
Now we have reached the point where we must dispense with the theory and get practical.
Tried and Tested Tip #2: Identify Barriers and Break Them Down!
At its essence, a barrier is something that slows, impedes or prevents progress. A common misconception is that barriers always possess a tangible quality, say the highly tempting fast-food outlet next to your place of work, or the inability to access a gym. However, barriers are more often psychological as opposed to physical.
Psychological barriers tend to present a far greater conundrum to the would-be success seeker. Unlike their physical counterparts, psychological barriers – that is, barriers that exits in the mind – can be irritatingly illusive and prohibitively difficult to breakdown. Such barriers include negative self-talk, the absence of motivation and low self-efficacy, to name the most prevalent.
Before a barrier can be broken down it of course must firstly be identified. Intuitively obvious though that sentence may be, identifying barriers can for some present a significant challenge.
Through fear that I might be entering the realms of psychology, a subject of which I am woefully ignorant, I will quickly conclude with a few words of encouragement. By being open and honest with yourself and reflecting on previous failed attempts at weight-loss, you will undoubtedly unearth any barriers that could block the road to success.
Once you have unearthed them you can now take the necessary action needed to remove them.
Below you will find a list of commonly reported barriers to exercise engagement. From the list one barrier has been selected for dismantling.
Lack of motivation
As with all barriers the process is pretty much the same. First, the barrier must be brought into the light of conscious awareness. Once it has, once you have clearly identified the barrier and can see it for what it is, a strategy of how to break it down, surmount it or circumvent it, must be formulated. When that strategy has been conceived you must TAKE ACTION!
Barrier-breaking Action Plan
Identify the barrier (or barriers) that presently stands in your way of maintaining training consistency. (If you predict that a barrier could present itself once you begin re-engaging with exercise, consider a pre-emptive strike – that is, follow through with the action plan and develop some strategies so that they’re ready to be deployed should you bump up against the barrier in the future.)
With the barrier – either actual or hypothetical – identified, you must now spend time strategizing methods of razing it to the ground. If the barrier is indestructible, as some indubitably are, this is most emphatically not an excuse to throw in the towel. Instead you must consider how the barrier can be circumvented. To do this might require a radical reconsideration of how you approach an exercise programme. But if doing so means you can continue to improve training consistency then do so you must.
Once you have devised a strategy to overcoming your barrier you should, prior to implementing it, gather any resources you may need. Any attempt to tackle a barrier without adequately preparing is likely to result in failure. And failure can weaken and wear resolve which in turn erodes confidence and self-efficacy. It is for this reason why you mustn’t rush headlong into a barrier but dedicate time to drawing up a battle plan and preparing resources. Sun Tzu, In The Art of War, identifies ‘preparedness’ as one of the five essential factors for securing victory.
You have now arrived at that most decisive of moments; the one that requires you to implement your strategy. Step 4 demands that you take action. But what if my strategy fails me? The answer is simple. Scrape yourself off the floor, dust yourself down, go straight back to Step 2, reformulate a new strategy ensuring to identify the failings in the first, and carry on. Repeat until you succeed. Truly, that’s all you can do.
Tried and Tested Tip #3: Hire a Professional – But Pay in Bulk
I’ll be honest with you, of all the tips discussed in this article, this is my least favourite. Besides the fact that personal trainers, like professional chefs, makeup artists and fashion advisers, shouldn’t exist – as a vocation – it is not, for the vast majority of people, a sustainable long-term intervention.
For people on minimum wage, or those who are considerate on what they spend their cash, forking out £30 quid on a personal trainer can only ever be a short- to medium-term solution to mitigating flagging training motivation.
But in truth, even for people with more money than sense, a PT should never replace intrinsic motivation. They – the PT – should support their client through the process of establishing an exercise regime (see Tip #1). Also, as opposed to working in a motivational capacity, the relationship between PT and client should be didactic.
That is, the PT educates their client, showing them how to exercise properly and safely and effectively. In addition, the client should learn from their PT tactics and strategies for overcoming training apathy.
However, if you feel that soliciting the services of a personal trainer will improve your exercise participation, which it does many thousands of people, it’s best to block book a minimum of 10 sessions.
Because you’re more likely to attend each session, that’s why. Having worked as a personal trainer for a number of years, I speak from experience when I say that clients who pay in bulk tend not only to participate more consistently, but they also achieve their health and fitness goals.
Not surprisingly really, there’s a strong correlative link between doing and achieving.
Tried and Tested Tip #4: 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 for people who suffer from a dearth of training motivation.
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.
The aim of this article was to share ideas of how to stay consistent in your training. The four tips outlined above can deliver surprising results and they have helped scores of struggling trainers both past and present.
If they are implemented and acted on they will support you in your ambition to maintain consistency.
(As we are very interested in user feedback at Hungry4Fitness, I 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.