How to Stick With Your Gym Routine

kickboxing workoutIt’s a new year, and the most common new year’s resolution is “lose weight,” while the more general “get fit” comes in at number five. Chances are pretty good that if you’re reading this, you want to hit the gym more in the coming year. And if you’re like most people, you’ll find it hard to achieve your New Year’s resolutions. That’s why I recently discussed how you can increase the chances of achieving your New Year’s Resolutions. Today, I want to drill down on fitness-related resolutions, and specifically, how to stay committed to exercise.

As you get older, regular exercise becomes less and less optional. What’s more, it gets harder and harder to break old habits and create new ones the older you get. So how do you make sure that your gym routine on January 1 is still going strong on December 31? Let’s look at how to stay committed to exercise when everyone else has long ditched their resolutions.

Pick Something You’ll Enjoy

This sounds obvious, but it’s probably the number one reason guys don’t stick with their gym routine — they pick something they hate doing. Maybe you read about how great Crossfit is for getting into shape. Or perhaps you were impressed with the idea of putting on 30 pounds of muscle by lifting heavy this year. Still, the best exercise routine isn’t going to do any good if it doesn’t inspire you to stick with it.

Going to the gym doesn’t have to be a case of “take your medicine.” There’s no reason you shouldn’t enjoy or even look forward to exercising. Think about when you were a kid: You got tons of exercise, but you didn’t think of it as a requirement. You would just exercise without thinking about it. It was play. So whether it’s jogging, racquetball, Krav Maga, hiking, baseball or even lifting weights, find an activity you like. Maybe it’s not something that you do at the gym. All the better — that’s money saved!

Make a Habit Out of Your Activity

Another mistake we tend to make is trying to squeeze exercise into our schedules here and there. Worse yet, you might only work out when the spirit moves you. Instead, you need to make it a predictable part of your schedule. You need to make it a routine — a habit. Just trying to haphazardly fit it in where you can probably won’t work, since it’s already a lower priority than what you already have planned. So how do you do best fit exercise into what’s probably an already busy schedule?

When you’re exercising, you need to work out at least three times a week. More is better, provided that you might take one day off, though some guys do light physical activity, such as a long walk or yoga on their “off” day. Sit down and take a look at your schedule. What time of day is most realistic for you to regularly work out? Maybe you have to get up an hour early or rearrange some other parts of your schedule. Maybe you have to run to the gym instead of taking lunch one day. Once you decide what you’re going to do, etch it in stone and stick to it. The question isn’t simply how to stay committed to exercise, but how to get the most from that commitment. To be effective, your exercise routine should be no more negotiable than going to work in the morning.

Select a Convenient Location

If your gym is 45 minutes away, that’s just one more reason to not go there. It doesn’t matter how good it is. If you’re realistically not going to make the commute, it’s not the right gym for you. A good rule of thumb is to find a gym that’s within 20 minutes of you, but the closer the better. All things being equal, select the gym closest to you. But if there’s a truly great gym 20 minutes away and a mediocre one ten minutes away, go ahead and splurge on the good gym — but be honest with yourself about whether you’re actually going to make the trip.

Find an Accountability Partner

weightlifting workoutAn accountability partner is someone you have to report to if you flake out on your exercise routine. Having to call your brother every time you skip the gym isn’t by itself going to keep you on task, but it can provide that little extra bit of encouragement you need to stick with it on days when your will is waning.

Even better than an accountability partner is a gym buddy. Find someone who is into the same exercises as you, and shares your commitment to staying healthy. Hopefully this person will be more motivated than you are, but if they’re not, don’t worry. You’d be surprised just how big of a difference it can make in the long term. On days when he doesn’t want to go, you keep him on point, and he’ll do the same for you. More than just getting you to the gym, you can really deepen and strengthen a friendship you already have or build a new one.

Think about whom you know. Has anyone else mentioned a strong desire to get into shape next year? Do you have a friend you’d like to see more, ideally someone who has common interests in terms of exercise and activity? Even joining an intramural sports team can provide you with a number of accountability partners you didn’t know last week. There’s no right way to develop this accountability — it’s only important that you have it.

Don’t Be Afraid of Either the Carrot or the Stick

If you read this blog regularly you know that I’m a big fan of journaling. It can help you to stay on task. It can also be a great way to acknowledge when you’ve achieved goals, even small ones. You don’t need to journal to get this kind of acknowledgement, though. Simply giving yourself a mental (or even a literal) pat on the back when you meet your fitness goals is a great way to stay motivated. Many men are too reticent to praise themselves or acknowledge their achievements, but it’s such an important part of recognizing when you take care of yourself.

You can also reward yourself in more material ways. Sticking to fitness goals for a week can be a reason to have a Saturday night burger, fries and shake meal. Sticking to them for 90 days means you can buy some nice new running shoes or more expensive equipment for your chosen form of exercise. Positive reinforcement can work wonders in helping you to meet your goals and stay on task.

Some guys also like to add in some negative reinforcement. Making it sting a little when you stumble can be a good way to remind yourself to stay the course. One powerful motivator is money — donating cash to a cause you’re actively opposed to every time you miss a workout has a funny way of hacking your brain. Not only are your spending money, you’re spending it on something you really, really don’t want to spend money on. This can be a small check to keep you on track. See what works best for you.

Take Pictures of Yourself

A little egotistical, right? But these photos are just for you. Because the physical benefits of working out happen gradually, you’re probably not going to notice the results for a little while. You will, however, notice them if you take pictures on a regular basis. Posting them to Instagram is optional. These are for your own personal use.

Get a good picture of yourself from the front, from the side and from the back. Do it at least once a month, but more than once a week is probably unnecessary. Whenever I look back through my old folder of work out progress photos, I’m amazed at what I’ve done. Any time I need a little pick me up, exercise related or not, it’s nice to have that to look at for physical proof that my hard work hasn’t gone to waste. This isn’t about narcissism; it’s about documenting and recognizing your progress.

A month, two months, six months — the important part about working out is being consistent over long periods of time. It’s good for your health, it’s good for your state of mind, and it certainly isn’t going to hurt when it comes to talking to girls. The benefits are enormous: Studies even show that people who regularly work out earn more than those who don’t.

Now if that’s not a reason to stick to your gym routine, I don’t know what is. So develop your plan, and stay healthy!

For more tips on how to stay committed to exercise and how to improve your social life in other ways, be sure and explore The Art of Charm blog.