Starting a regular exercise program and sticking with it can be quite a challenge for many of us. Each of us is unique and what techniques motivate us can differ from person to person. If you are a very social person, then group exercise activities may be best for you. If you are the competitive type, then signing up for a 10K race or another challenge will keep you motivated and on track.
What I think is important for you is that you need to recognize what strategy or technique works for you and that you use it.
I have been helping people achieve their fitness goals for many years and based on my observations of what works and what does not work, here are seven suggestions on how to motivate yourself to exercise.
1. Know Your Long Term Fitness Goal
If you keep focused on your long term fitness goal the better the chance you will stick with your program day-in and day-out.
I find that long term fitness goals fall into one of three categories:
- Your Health: Are you concerned about your health and the changes your body is going through as you age? As we get older we lose muscle and bone mass. The level of fitness you are at between 40 and 65 years of age often indicates your level of fitness at 80 and can mean the difference between having to live in a nursing home and being able to live independently.
- Sports or Activity Conditioning: You may be someone who regularly plays organized recreational sports and need a conditioning program to optimize your performance and reduce your risk of injury. Or you may be planning a trekking holiday overseas and want to make sure that you are in condition for the activity so that you enjoy everyday of your holiday.
- Vanity: Are you starting an exercise program because summer is coming and you want to look slim and trim in your bathing suit? Many people regularly exercise in order to look and feel good. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. The results of an exercise program can be quite rewarding and build positive self esteem.
2. Exercise With Other People
Research has shown that the more social an exercise activity is, the greater the likelihood that people will continue to participate. This is frequently a successful strategy because the group activity allows people to socialize while they workout, friendly competition among the participants keeps members motivated, and people feel socially accountable if they are a no-show at a training session. This is why group exercise classes such as dance, aquafit and spinning are so popular.
The downside of group classes is that the instructor may not be a trained fitness professional or may not have assessed your specific fitness needs, and may be encouraging you to do exercises that could risk injury.
3. Work With a Qualified Fitness Professional
If you are able to find a Fitness Professional or Personal Trainer who is capable of assessing your needs and developing a program specifically to meet you goals, and that you personally like, then this is probably an effective strategy for you. Working with a qualified and skilled Fitness Professional has a number of benefits:
- You gain regular access to a domain expert who can coach you through the various stages of an exercise program.
- It creates a situation in which you are accountable to someone for regularly attending your program.
- A properly designed exercise program will take into account your needs and capabilities allowing you to achieve your goals free of injury
You will gain the most from the Fitness Professional when they provide you with a fitness assessment, program design, and initial implementation of your routine. After that, you can pace your sessions.
4. Compete Against Your Peer Group
One strategy that I have used in the past to motivate a client is to have the client complete a fitness assessment and then I show them how they stand compared to their peer group. This does not work for all clients but works wonders for the competitive Type A personalities.
One of my clients is a successful high achiever professional who works in Ottawa during the summer and relocates to Florida as winter approaches. I had not seen him for awhile and when he called me, I knew (and he knew) that he had become quite de-conditioned. I gave him a fitness assessment and when I showed him the results, I made a point of comparing his results to people in his age category. When I showed him his low percentile results compared to his buddies in Florida, that was enough to get him back to a regular exercise routine.
5. Put a Stake in the Ground
I have had several clients over the years who have successfully employed this technique. Basically, they kick-start their exercise program by committing to themselves that they will meet with me twice a week for several weeks until their exercise program forms into a habit. They know themselves well enough that once a habit is in place, it will stick.
6. Pick an Activity You Enjoy
You can increase your chances of sticking with your exercise program if you incorporate physical activities into your regimen that you enjoy. Golf, tennis, non-contact ice hockey and soccer are popular recreational sports for adults. Work with your Personal Trainer or Fitness Professional on an exercise program to supplement your favourite sporting activity so that it is even more enjoyable.
7. Exercise and Socialize With People Fitter Than You
Don Wildman is the retired founder of Bally Fitness. Now in his late 70’s, he is more active than most men 30 years younger than himself.
Wildman’s secret to fitness? Wildman eats healthfully and takes lots of supplements, but the key element to his fitness strategy is younger friends. “Old guys don’t train anymore, so all my buddies are real young,” he says. “They’re more fun. They push you, and you push them, and you forget how old you are.”
These are seven strategies that I have seen work. Do you see yourself in one of these? Find the one that works for you and you will be on the road to success.