Ah, January. The month of resolutions, where we demand that our bodies become fitter, slimmer, stronger, faster… the list goes on.
While I’m all for people making a decision to take care of their body and their health, New Year’s resolutions can actually do the opposite – especially around this time in January. Hands up how many people have already bailed on a gym session or a yoga class?
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When we don’t manage to achieve a goal we’ve set ourselves, it can feel demoralising and downright off-putting. We worry about what that missed session will have done to our workout plan; we worry that everyone else will judge us for skipping a session; we doubt whether we are even capable of doing whichever exercise it is that floats our boat.
With all these negative feelings bouncing around, it’s no wonder that many of us abandon our resolution by the time February arrives. But the thing is, it’s not skipping the gym that is actually stopping you achieving your exercise goals – it’s being more mindful about how you create these goals in the first place.
1. Get real
Making any kind of change can be difficult, let alone changing your whole weekly routine. If you’ve been a little bit whimsical with your workout schedule in the past, and you’ve decided on New Year’s Eve that from now on you’ll be doing three classes a week, you’re likely setting yourself up for a fall!
A sudden change in your routine will be tough on your mind, on your body and on your schedule – which usually results in missing sessions, or in extreme cases, injury.
Be realistic about your goals – while finding an extra three hours in your week might be difficult, how about starting with one extra hour a week?
By setting something that you know you can commit to, you’re more likely to achieve your goal, providing a confidence boost and making your new routine easier to maintain. Then, when you’re ready, you can increase your time commitment.
2. Small is sometimes better
While exercise goals do ideally need to involve some kind of regularly-scheduled heart rate-raising activity, there’s plenty you can do in daily life that will help you to improve your overall fitness.
Many people think that it has to be all or nothing – “If I don’t burn xxxx calories then it’s not worth it,” “If I don’t go to xxxx number of gym sessions a week then I might as well not try”, “My gym class was cancelled today so I might as well go home and eat everything”. But in truth, every little counts.
If your session is less intense than you expected, if going to the gym multiple times a week isn’t feasible for you or if your class isn’t on, can you add in a half an hour lunchtime walk to your day instead? Could you get off the bus a couple of stops early? Could you take the stairs, rather than the lift?
There are always ways to add some exercise into your routine, making your heart stronger, engaging those muscles and burning some extra calories.
3. Slow and steady
Consistency is key when it comes to exercise goals. While going to the gym three times in one week and then none for the next two does equate to the same amount of time spent working out as one session a week, your body doesn’t know that.
Random training creates random results, so it’s important to set yourself a routine and stick to it, as best you can. The odd missed session here and there isn’t going to throw your progress out of the window, but you do need to be doing regular workouts to see that progress.
One way of keeping yourself on-track is by having a gym pal, who will give you a good reason to get up and make it to that session. Laying your gym clothes out the night before a workout is good to keep you up and at ‘em, too – the easier it is to go, the more likely you’ll be to get out of bed!
Then you need to take things slow – particularly as you increase your exercise intensity. As your muscles get stronger and you get fitter, you’ll need to make your workouts a little bit harder, to make sure that you’re still challenging your body. But don’t go throwing 20kg weights on to your barbell – slow increases in weight, speed or endurance are going to be much more effective (and much less dangerous).
It’s important too to give yourself time to notice your progress. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and nor will your fitness levels suddenly improve or those biceps suddenly bulge.
With consistent training over a period of time, you’ll start to see little changes, which eventually become one big lifestyle change.
4. Do it right
If your exercise goals are more than just for improved fitness, you need to make sure that you’re doing the correct kind of exercise for you. Going for a run every night after work isn’t going to increase your arm strength, for example.
Classes are great for general fitness and muscle maintenance, but aren’t likely to help you reach specific aesthetic goals. Once you’ve incorporated a regular exercise schedule into your weekly routine, sit down and have a think about what you would like to achieve.
Do some online research to work out what you might need to do for those specific goals, or approach a personal trainer to get your own personalised plan, and find out exactly how to do the exercises that you need.
Technique is also vital to your goals – injury is going to stop your progress in its tracks, so it’s important to do any exercise with good technique.
5. Think about the bigger picture
Exercise isn’t the be-all and end-all, but by the same token, you do need to factor your goals into your lifestyle. Make sure that you’re complementing your exercise programme by eating good, nourishing food that will help your body to recover and grow stronger – not refuelling after that intense gym sesh with a giant takeaway and a tub of ice cream.
Don’t get me wrong, it is important to reward yourself along the way, and to relax and enjoy time (and food!) with friends and family, but make sure that your leisure time isn’t sabotaging all your hard work.