Most of us know we need to start–or increase–our fitness efforts, but many of us have difficulties getting started. In addition to weight management, exercise improves your mood, increases energy, reduces stress, helps you sleep better, boosts self-esteem, supports hormonal balance and reduces risks of chronic diseases and conditions including heart attacks, osteoporosis and breast cancer.

A recent study on mature women showed that just to maintain their current weight, the women needed to exercise for an hour a day; to lose weight would require even more time. In our busy lives, finding an extra hour can be a challenge, even if we have the desire to do so and the willpower to stick with it.

The good news is that we don’t need to work out for an hour in one session: We can break it into smaller blocks. And doing something is better than nothing, so even small efforts will make a difference in your health and well-being. In this newsletter, I’m going to give you some tips that I use when coaching that can help make your workouts work better for you.

Tip #1: Set a Goal and Measure Your Progress

Knowing what you are working toward will increase your effectiveness. As in everything else, what is measured and monitored gets done. Begin by setting an overall goal for your fitness plan. Be clear on what you want, for example, losing 25 pounds, training for a 10K or building enough endurance to be able to be comfortably active with your grandkids. The more specific you can be, the better. If your goal is to get fitter, define what that means to you.

Set a mini goal before each workout. Your first time, it may be as simple as walking without stopping for 15 minutes. That becomes your baseline and you can adjust from there by adding 5 minutes to your workout each time or running a mile a few seconds faster.

Be realistic with your goals, and yourself: If you didn’t sleep well the night before or you are fighting a cold, your goal may be just to complete the same workout you did the time before. And that’s OK. But if you are feeling good that day, decide how you can push a little.

Make a log to track your progress. When I was training to cycle from Banff to Jasper in the Canadian Rockies, my first cycling vacation, I kept a log of each training ride that included how far I rode, how long I rode, the time of day, the weather conditions and how I felt. Tracking that let me see how I was improving and how my performance was impacted by wind, time of day and my mood. This let me get smarter over time about how to train and when to push.

Tip #2: Know Yourself and Leverage Your Strengths and Passions

We all have different times of day when we feel most energetic and creative: Don’t resist your natural patterns. If you are forced to adopt new body rhythm patterns, you can do so over time, but it will take a little extra effort, so it may be harder to stick with.

Follow your passions to keep exercising from feeling like a chore. Go back to things you loved as a child like bike riding or tennis, or take up a new activity you have always wanted to try like golf or rowing. If you love watching Dancing with the Stars, try a ballroom dance or Zumba class.

But don’t feel you have to take on things that don’t appeal to you just because they are effective for others. If you hate the gym, don’t join a gym! If you don’t like exercising alone, find a class, team or group. Create a program that you will look forward to, not dread.

Tip #3: A Little Help from Your Friends

Studies show that people who join the gym with a buddy stick with their fitness efforts longer. It may be the accountability factor or the social factor, or most likely, both. If you take a class or play on a basketball team, the fun and social aspect will keep you committed and motivated beyond the pure physical benefits.

If you decide to workout on your own–at a gym, in your home, or outside–try to engage a partner or friend to either join you or to hold you accountable. For example, if you join a gym, get a friend to join too; while you may not work out “together,” you can plan to go several times a week at the same time. If you decide to walk your neighborhood after work, find someone to join you.

If you are using an exercise machine in your house and there is no way for someone to participate along with you, get creative. Find someone else that’s doing the same routine, and meet once a week to compare progress. Set some goals or challenges for each other and know that on Monday when you meet for coffee she is going to ask you if you met–or exceeded–your goal.

Tip #4: Schedule Your Workout

Life gets crazy at times and often the first thing to suffer is our workout time. Sometimes we feel selfish “indulging” in time for ourselves when there is so much else to do. Other times, people demand we prioritize other things. But taking care of yourself by working out ensures you will be around a lot longer to take care of others. And after you work out, release stress and improve your mood, you will be a better partner, parent or friend. So don’t let the workout slide.

Instead, schedule your workout just as you would a meeting or a dentist appointment. Mark the time in your calendar in ink and consider it unchangeable. If you think about everything you have to do in a day, there really is very little if anything more important than taking a little time to get or stay healthy. And you’ll feel so much better! Let it be known that you are unreachable during that time; you’ll find the world will still be waiting for you when you are done.

Tip #5: Find Your Motivation

When you are working out and feeling like you want to stop, or you are avoiding beginning your exercise, try to remember your initial goal and motivation for starting your fitness program. The more you focus clearly on that outcome, see it in your mind and feel how good it will feel to achieve that and be living that life, the easier it will be to find the strength to continue. Also remembering how good you feel when you’re done can help get you going.

But there will be days when even that is not enough. When you are working out, it will be easier to push to new levels if you also draw on other motivation techniques. Find what works for you, whether it is just inspiring music, a bet with yourself or creating scenarios to encourage you to continue on.

As a spinning instructor, I see lots of competitive people in my classes. (Spinning, or indoor cycling, is a form of high-intensity exercise that involves using a stationary exercise bicycle in a classroom setting.) It is easy to inspire them with race situations where they are competing for the podium or to beat their best time. If that works for you, use your competitiveness to make some fun scenarios in your workout to make you work harder.

For non-competitive people, I use a lot of visualization to encourage increases in effort. As you accelerate and push for your interval, imagine a group of runners or riders ahead of you that you need to go around.

Or imagine you are in one of those charity rides/races and there are hundreds of people you need to pass because the road is full of riders. As you go around each one, ride for the cause that that race represents. Imagine yourself passing–or climbing that hill–to beat cancer or heart disease, for yourself or for the loved one you lost to them who cannot be here to ride.

It doesn’t have to be serious, though; sometimes motivation can be just pure fun. An elderly woman in one of my classes once confessed to me that every time she took an interval, she imagined racing her husband–the loser had to clean the bathrooms. In all her years in my classes, in her mind, she never lost.

For endurance situations, I often think of Terry Fox, the Canadian who decided to run across his home country to raise cancer awareness after his leg was amputated. He ran the equivalent of a full marathon for 143 days in a row until he had to end his journey because the cancer returned.

When I am tired after running a few miles, I think about that: A full marathon every day for 143 days, all on one leg. That inspires me to keep going. When Terry was asked how he kept going, he once said that he told himself just one more telephone pole. So think OK, just one more telephone pole, one more set, one more …

Tip #6: Pace Yourself and Be Realistic

We often get excited upon starting a new plan and take on too much too soon. You didn’t gain that weight overnight: In most cases it was small choices each day that built up over time. An extra 500 calories a day would net 3500 extra calories a week, or a gain of about 50 pounds in a year, assuming no change in exercise.

Most of us aren’t gaining 50 pounds a year, so more likely it’s the extra 100-200 calories here and there that just add up slowly over time. Generally speaking, you cannot escape the calories in/calories out equation, though it is really important to note that 500 extra calories of fiber and vegetables will not have the same impact in your body as 500 extra calories of cookies and bread.

You can’t lose more than a pound or two a week safely and keep it off long term. If you keep your food habits the same, to lose a pound a week, you’ll need to burn 500 extra calories a day. But physically, you can’t run an hour the first time out, nor can you serve and volley after your first tennis lesson.

It takes time, but that’s OK. Making the commitment and sticking with it is what matters. Creating a solid fitness foundation that you can build upon will serve you over the long haul: Trying to take on too much too soon will burn you out or result in injury and leave you on the sidelines.

Tip #7: Change is Good

We tend to find something that works and stick with it. And while that’s good, our bodies quickly adapt to what we do regularly. Intensity progression and cross training can yield great benefits. If you take a set of 10-pound weights (or whatever would be appropriate for your fitness level) and do three sets of 10-12 repetitions, the first time you do it, you’ll probably be sore.

If you continue to lift the same 10-pound weights in the same three sets over time, after awhile, it will not be hard any more. Eventually it will be easy. What burned the first time and built some muscle, no longer has any muscle growth because the body has adapted to it. When lifting, we know you need to progress and either increase sets or increase weight.

It is also true for your other workouts: Your body will quickly adapt to the same hour-long spin class or 18 holes of golf and it will not be a challenge anymore. Varying the intensity will allow you to continue to progress while doing the same thing, and cross training will force your muscles to work in different ways.

Throwing something new at your body through cross training has many benefits physically, including helping you get stronger, faster and fitter. But it’s also good for the soul. Trying new things and being a little uncomfortable challenges us; succeeding at them helps us grow and builds confidence and self-esteem.

Getting out of a training rut and mixing it up will keep you from burning out and will make your training fresh and new. And most of all, it keeps working out fun! And if it’s fun, you’ll stick with it longer.


To your wellness and health: your true wealth!

Author: Inger Pols is the Editor of the New England Health Advisory and Author/Creator, Finally Make It Happen, the proven process to get what you want. Get a free special report on The Truth About Sugar: It’s Not All Equal at

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