When it comes to fitness routines, getting started can often be the hardest part. Once we do get going, the next challenge becomes the long-term maintenance of regular physical activity. While the solution may seem to boil down to “just doing it”, it’s not always going to be that simple. Creating new habits can be hard because we are creatures of habit. Sometimes it can be difficult to break the chain in order to get a new one started. So what can we do to make sure that we stay on the wagon for good instead of stopping and starting again and again? Here are some strategies that can help you put together a fitness routine that is built to last!
Stop relying on motivation
Sometimes we skip out on exercise because we don’t feel motivated to work out. Think about if we applied that same logic in other facets of our lives. If you didn’t study because you didn’t feel motivated, your grades would likely suffer. If you stopped going to work because you didn’t feel motivated, you might run the risk of losing your job. You probably don’t do these things though, because you place a high priority on them and know that negative consequences could arise if you don’t devote the proper amount of time and energy to them.
The same goes for exercise. You won’t always be super driven to work out and that’s okay. If you prioritize your health and treat physical activity like a non-negotiable, then a lack of motivation will be unable to stop you. Instead of looking for motivation, make some adjustments so that getting active is easier to do and not being active is harder to do.
Create the conditions for success
- Sequencing and Cues
Most habitual behaviours are a response to cues in our environment. Perhaps you start every morning with a cup of coffee. In this habit, the cues are the time (morning) and the place (kitchen). To start a new habit, we must put ourselves in the position to respond to the cues that will make us take action. This is where sequencing can come into play, by tacking a new habit onto an existing one that happens at a regular time and place. For example, a regular sequence could look like this.
|Have lunch||→||Go to 2pm class||→||Go home|
One opportunity to add physical activity into this sequence is when class is done and before you head home (time cue). You know you’ll be on campus (location cue), where there are many opportunities for get active. If you went straight home after lecture and flopped down onto the couch, the location cue is removed and the sequence is over. Getting off the couch, getting ready, and heading back out the door to go the gym would be another sequence and if it’s not one you’re used to doing, you might find it easier to interject activity into the routines that you already engage in.
When making decisions in the moment, we have to deal with many things that can distract us and affect our choice. Say for example, we could work out after we get off work at 4 pm. When 4 pm rolls around, we might be feeling burnt out from the workday and tell ourselves “I’m too tired to work out and the gym is going to be really busy and I just don’t feel like it”. In a situation like this, it can take a lot of willpower to follow through with our exercise plans. If we implement pre-commitments, we don’t need to rely on strong willpower.
A pre-commitment is an action taken that will make it easier to follow through with a previously planned activity. For example, bringing your workout gear to school or work is a pre-commitment to stopping in at the gym after class before you head home. If you’re working out on campus, you could go as far as to put your stuff in the locker room in the morning so that even if you still don’t feel like working out, you still have to go to the fitness centre before you head home. If you’re going there to retrieve your workout clothes, you might as well put them on and get moving for a little bit!
Other examples of pre-commitments include:
- Scheduling a workout with a friend or trainer
- Preparing your workout bag for the next day before you go to bed
- Blocking off time in your calendar to reserve it for a workout
- Sleeping in your workout clothes if you’re planning to exercise in the morning
Don’t let relapse get you down
Sometimes we’ll have a good routine going when all of the sudden, something comes up and derails it. Maybe it’s an injury, sickness, vacation or an uncharacteristically busy week. If you find yourself falling off the wagon, here are some tips that can help you get back on.
- Ask yourself why the relapse happened. When setbacks arise, self-reflection can be a useful tool in learning what to do differently to prevent them from occurring again.
- Focus on what you can do instead what you can’t do. Find accessible alternatives for activity based on your circumstances. Can’t fit an hour long fitness class into your schedule today? Do a 15 minute My Viva Workout at home! Have a plan B and modify your active habits instead of cutting them off completely.
- Don’t accept defeat. It can be easy to fall into the trap of negative self-talk if we’re facing obstacles or not making as much progress as we’d like to. Don’t expect perfection with a routine, especially if it’s new to you. There will be starts and stops. There will be highs and lows. But if you keep your head up and continue persevering, you’ll find yourself on the right track.
For more tips on creating a consistent and effective workout routine, check out the “Sustaining Success with a Workout Routine” video on uofa.myvivaplan.com!
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