Monday, January 26, 2009

5 Ways to Make Your Exercise Resolution Stick

As I write this, the parking lot of my gym is full. It was full this morning, and it will be even more full during the rush of the “after work” crowd. However, I know from experience that in a month a large portion of those cars will be gone, never to be seen again -- or at least not until next January. I’m talking, of course, about New Year’s Resolutioners. Traditionally, these folks join a gym because they want to get in shape and the gym offered a discount. Then, they get frustrated or distracted and quit before Valentine’s Day. If this sounds like you, don’t worry.

Here are 5 ways to make your exercise resolution last all year.
  1. Lift Weights. First of all, weight training burns more body fat than cardiovascular training. So, if you’re exercising but not lifting weights, you should be. Focus on performing compound exercises such as the bench press, leg press, and pull-ups. This works the major muscle groups and allows you to get the most value out of your time in the gym. Break up your sessions by body part or region, and then schedule your week so you have at least 1 day off (preferably 2 days off) between workouts for a group of muscles. For example, you may want to do chest exercises on Mondays and Thursdays.

    Weight training also is a nice way to add variety to your workouts. If you are used to aerobic exercises like running or biking, weight training will force your body to respond in a way that it isn’t used to. This will create positive results you can feel and see.

    I think it is easier to set and reach goals with weight training. If you run on the treadmill every day, you can try to run for a longer distance in an allotted time, or to run for a longer time. However, it usually takes awhile before you are able to do so. With weight training, I can say that I’ll do 4-6 reps of 205 pounds on the
    bench press today and that sets an immediate goal. If I don’t get 6 reps today, then the next time I do the bench press I try again to get 6 reps. Once I get 6 reps, then I change that goal to 210 or 215 pounds and keep pushing for it. It’s not uncommon to set, meet, and reset your weight training goals 3 or 4 times each month. This creates a constant positive feedback loop that should motivate you to keep working. After all, who doesn’t like meeting their goals?

  2. Use High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). HIIT requires that you do a short, intense cardiovascular workout that involves varying the intensity throughout the session. For example, you could set aside 16 minutes to ride the stationary bike. Pick a level that is about medium intensity (say 8) and go for 2 minutes. Then, increase the intensity to a level that’s very difficult (perhaps 12) for another 2 minutes. Repeat that cycle 4 times for 16 minutes total and you’re done. HIIT creates a reaction in your body that’s similar to weight training, in that more fat is burned in a short amount of time. If you like to do longer runs or rides, try replacing a couple of those workouts with HIIT and see what happens.

  3. Take a week off in mid-February. It sounds funny to suggest that you take a break, but the fact is our bodies need rest, especially under the added stress of an exercise program. If you resolve to exercise more starting January 1, after 4 to 6 weeks you will be feeling very different. If your workouts have been sufficiently intense, your body might feel tired or run down. Take 1 week off completely. Keep your diet about the same and do some stretching, but don’t exercise. Let your muscles, joints, and energy stores completely replenish. Do this every 4 to 6 weeks as a way of hitting the “reset” button. During the week off, make a journal or other written plan for your workouts over the next 6 weeks and get mentally prepared to attack. By your first day back in the gym, you’ll feel ready to take on the world… or at least a few new goals.

  4. If you use a personal trainer, hold him or her accountable. If you are brand new to exercising, personal trainers can help you get acquainted with the equipment and how to use it. They typically offer motivation and encouragement which many people need to stick with their program. However, trainers are not immune from making mistakes. Sometimes a trainer just isn’t able to get a client to their goals. Since there is an enormous amount of information on the Internet, use it to develop your own plan. Look at what is out there and make suggestions to your trainer. Keep him or her honest if you’re not seeing results. You should see your body changing after a few weeks and you should see dramatic changes after a few months. This also depends on you being honest with yourself! Just know that if you are eating the right things and exercising consistently, you will see results. If you don’t see those results, call your trainer on it. If he or she won’t change the way they train you, then you need to find a new trainer. Own the process and take control. After all, it’s your body!

  5. Use the mirror, not the scale, to track your progress. You can weigh yourself 5 times in a day and get 5 different numbers. Our bodies are largely water, which fluctuates rather wildly from hour to hour and day to day. If you look in the mirror, though, you will see your body changing, or not. That should be your indicator that what you’re doing in the gym is either working, or not. Besides, if you are weight training, you could burn a pound of fat, add a pound of muscle and GAIN weight because muscle weighs more than fat. However, if you looked in the mirror, you would look leaner and healthier. So focus on setting goals for your workouts. If you hit those goals, you will start to look different in the mirror and the scale will take care of itself.

    I have been lifting weights regularly (my wife might say obsessively!) for years, and the main reason I’m able to keep at it is because I have made exercising a part of my routine. If I get the flu and miss a few days, I feel miserable and that drives me to get started again. Be consistent and stick with it. If you aren’t seeing results, don’t get frustrated! Reevaluate your plan and try something new. Everyone responds differently to stimuli and exercise is no different. If you make it past Valentine’s Day, I’m willing to bet you can make it all year. Just think of how different you will look and feel when you sit down to make your next New Year’s resolution!

- Kevin Hignett,

Monday, January 12, 2009


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