This is a guest post by Megan Applegate.
Starting a new exercise and/or diet program is hard. Maintaining it is harder. Getting back on the horse after you fall off is the HARDEST. No matter what stage you are at, staying motivated is key. As someone who has forced myself onto the horse, struggled to stay in the saddle, and fallen off of that horse more times than I can count, I can relate. (p.s. I don’t actually ride horses.)
As someone who has forced myself onto the horse, struggled to stay in the saddle, and fallen off of that horse more times than I can count, I can relate. (p.s. I don’t actually ride horses.)
What motivates you?
We are all driven by different motives. Some of us are more intrinsically motivated – we do things because we enjoy the challenge and because it provides us with a sense of accomplishment. Some of us are more extrinsically motivated – we are driven by the reward, what comes after the work.
Before starting any new program, take some time to figure out what you are most motivated by. You will get the most out of it if you cater it to your personality. If you really enjoy the competition of team sports, joining a recreational soccer or volleyball league may be extremely helpful to staying committed and enjoying exercise.
Dig deep to figure out what drives you and make it a central focus of your commitment.
Non-weight loss progress measures
The first step of any diet or exercise program is setting goals. This may sound simple enough, but taking a little extra time to really hash out your goals can make a huge difference. Your goals should be:
Instead of a general “I want to get in shape” or “I want to lose weight,” make it more specific: “I will be able to run a 5K” or “I will reduce my body fat percentage by 5%.”
Being “in shape” means something different to everyone and can be measured in a variety of ways. Making your goal specific and measurable allows you to track your progress so that even if you don’t completely reach your goal, you know how much you have improved.
Avoid setting a goal that is too extreme, like losing 20 pounds in a month. It can be utterly demotivating when that month passes and you haven’t reached your goal. Choose something that is challenging, but still reasonable. Failing to meet your goal is not the worst thing that can happen, but setting yourself up for failure is the worst thing you can do to yourself.
If you are already at a healthy weight, losing 10 pounds isn’t necessarily going to improve your health. Perhaps you are planning on taking a vacation with friends, and they want to do a lot of hiking. A relevant goal would be to improve your cardiovascular fitness to keep up and enjoy the experience!
Unless you are a chronic procrastinator (like me), deadlines can be motivators in themselves. Giving yourself an endpoint also allows you to set smaller, short-term goals in between, to ensure that you are progressing appropriately. For example, if you want to be able to run that 5K by the end of three months, you should be able to run 2K by the end of month 1 and 4K by the end of month 2.
Try to set one or two long-term goals at the beginning of your program for 3+ months out. Setting too many goals can have the same effect as setting goals that are too extreme. The same rules apply to short term goals, but the short term goals should be baby steps or supplementary steps to your long-term goals, such as doing quarter mile run/walk intervals for the first week of your cardio training or going a week without drinking soda.
Understand your excuses
For some of us, it is enough to have these goals in the back of our mind. For others, we need a daily reminder. Post these goals somewhere that you will see them daily.
Hang them up on your fridge; slap a post-it on your bathroom mirror; fill up a giant white board with your goals and reminders that YOU CAN DO IT! Whatever it is that you need to do, do it. The point is to remind yourself that you from a few days/weeks/months ago made the effort to create these goals for a reason.
We easily talk ourselves out of doing things we don’t feel like doing. Sometimes, you’ll need to remind yourself of your commitment. Before you start a program, make a list of “reasons” to not workout and understand that they are just excuses.
Forgot my headphones: Okay, yeah, that totally sucks. But you can survive a workout without your jock jams.
The gym is closed: Do a workout at home or go for a jog outside. Have a workout app installed on your phone for these occasions. The Nike Training Club app has some serious workouts that you can do at home with little or no equipment.
I’m so tired: Exercise promotes the release of endorphins that can actually boost your energy. I promise you’ll feel better after you exercise. And you’ll sleep like a baby. (Keep in mind, if you’re really energy deprived, you should give yourself a rest day to avoid injury.)
Keep this list on your phone or somewhere nearby so that you can refer to it in your moments of weakness.
Commitment through investment
One major barrier to starting an exercise or diet program for some is cost, but it doesn’t have to be. Exercising at home or walking/jogging/running outside is free! You don’t have to join a gym or pay for access to exclusive exercise videos to get fit.
If part of your plan is eating healthier (which, it always should be) you’ll quickly realize that healthy food is unfortunately more expensive than mass-produced, over-processed junk food; but there are ways to stay on budget, like meal prepping!
Decide how you want to achieve your goals: are you going to work out at home? Go to the local YMCA? Join a cross fit gym? Join a running club? If you can afford it, there are a few things that can help motivate you. And if you are like me, if you spend hard-earned cash on something, you’re going to make sure you get your money’s worth.It is health that is real wealth, not pieces of gold and silver. - Gandhi Click To Tweet
Your health is never a bad thing in which to invest. I’m not saying you have to go out and buy all new workout clothes, running shoes, and personal training sessions, but investing a little bit can go a long way. If you hate working out in front of other people, don’t buy a gym membership; get yourself some basic equipment to get started at home, and download a free exercise app. MyFitnessPal, Strava, and Nike Training Club are a few of my favorites.
A fitness tracking wristband can do wonders for your motivation. Fitbit, Garmin, and Moov all have great, affordable options. If you want to start running, shoes are especially important. Make sure you have shoes that you like and that are comfortable. Some stores offer free gait assessments to help identify the type of shoes that are best for your foot shape and gait.
Hold yourself accountable
Get a workout buddy!
This is going to work best if your partner also has a strong commitment to being healthy. Maybe this is a fit friend who can show you the ropes, or another beginner who has set some similar goals. Either way, you are going to be much less likely to skip the gym if someone is waiting for you there. Challenge each other, encourage each other, and hold each other accountable.
Tell your friends and family about your goals. Social support is consistently associated with positive health behaviors. By making your goals known, your friends and family are less likely to encourage you to participate in unhealthy behaviors. It is totally understandable if you don’t want to shout it from the rooftops (because that little voice in the back of your mind saying “What will they think if I fail?” doesn’t want you to), but telling even one close confidant could be the support you need – someone who will ask you how it is going, encourage you, and give you advice if you ask for it. There are also TONS of online fitness communities, like myfitnesspal and nerdfitness.
Your significant other can also either be empowering or enabling
Boyfriend: “Hey, do you want to get pizza and ice cream tonight?”
Me: “OF COURSE I DO!”
This is not helpful.
Boyfriend: “Hey, how was your run today?”
This is much better.
Even if your partner doesn’t have the same fitness goals as you do, it is important that they understand and respect your goals.
Slow and steady wins the race
Don’t jump into a 7 days/week program – this puts you at the risk of some major muscle soreness, reducing your capacity for activity and potentially injuring yourself, which can set you back right away. Start with 3 days/week of 30 minutes/day for the first week at a moderate intensity; bump up to 4 days/week the second week and 5 days/week the third week. Once you are at 5-6 days/week, gradually increase the intensity.
It is important to understand when to expect results. If your goal is weight loss, keep in mind that a healthy rate of weight loss is 0.5 to 1 pound per week, 2 pounds per week max. You may lose more weight at the beginning of a program due to water weight loss, so don’t get discouraged if your progress slows.
If you’re starting a resistance training program, you aren’t going to see massive muscle growth right away. The majority of improvements that occur during the first 8-20 weeks of a resistance training program are due to neural adaptations. These are just as important! This means your body is learning how to recruit your muscles efficiently and effectively. It can take several months before your strength improvements are associated with visible muscle growth. After a while, these neural adaptations will plateau, and further strength gains will be the result of hypertrophy.
Motivating yourself to get started can be the hardest part. What are some of your barriers to getting on the horse? Leave a comment and let us know! And how do you maintain your program once you get started?
Be sure to check back next week for part 2: Staying on the Horse.