3 Steps to Building a Lasting Fitness Habit

Hacktivate your life!

Laziness seems to be the natural state for a good chunk of the population. For the rest of us, the busy nature of our lives keeps us from taking time out for ourselves. If we’re not working then we are cleaning, cooking, or looking after dependents (dogs, kids, fish, friends, etc). Either way, it’s not easy to start a fitness habit. What seems like a perfectly doable New Years resolution usually falls apart by mid-February and all of the sudden we’re back on the couch, lacking the motivation it takes to get those running shoes on in the first place.

The problem we have is building up these resolutions in our heads and making them out to be huge changes that start immediately and require constant effort to maintain. When we fail ourselves by missing a day, we give ourselves another excuse to fall back into lethargy. That ‘I can’t do this’ feeling pushes us back a step mentally, and we punish ourselves for not keeping up with our resolution.

Why do we feel the need to jump head first into habits that take some time to build? I’ve laid out some tips for starting and maintaining a steady workout habit, specifically targeting those among you who have tried (and failed!) to do this before.

1 • For the love of God, take baby steps!

When I decided to start a workout routine, the first thing I did was buy a pair of nice walking shoes and a set of 2.5 lb arm weights. My “workout” consisted of walking 2 miles to the Union Square subway station instead of hopping on further downtown. While I walked, I pumped, flexed, and punched my arms around in a pretty ridiculous fashion. While this sounds like a silly way to begin, it was successful for several reasons:

• I wanted as close to a full-body workout as possible, so using the arm weights in addition to walking made me feel more successful.

• Carrying the weights around guilt-tripped me into actually using them. The extra 5 pound baggage reminded me of what I was supposed to be doing with them, and would compel me to put them on even for a walk down the street.

Choosing a nice, scenic walking path made it an enjoyable experience… much nicer than sitting on a subway listening to panhandlers.

• Because I was simply walking I had no excuses. I never had to complain of a shin splint flair up, or not wanting to get to sweaty. Granted, comfortable shoes were necessary, but walking was less stressful and helped build the foundation for a more fruitful exercise.

Hack walking time into your day! The time spent walking 2 miles uptown took only 15 minutes longer than taking the subway the whole way. Because I was replacing one activity (riding the subway to Union Square) with another activity (walking to Union Square and then getting on the subway), the net time I spent on working out dropped by half. I also noticed it was much easier to justify taking 15 minutes out of my day instead of a whole 30.

• The activity I chose opened up new possibilities for my after-work routine. Instead of just going straight home like I usually did, I had the opportunity to stop at shops along the way, grab groceries, and observe the hustle and bustle of NYC.

Once you’ve picked up the habit of walking (with or without the arm weights) for 30 minutes each day, you’ll begin to feel more alive and motivated. It sounds so simple but you’ve just built the foundation of a workout routine! After awhile, you’ll start to feel ready to take the next step. For most people, this means signing up for a gym.

2 • Become a gym person

Even if you’re not a “gym person”, having a membership (at least in the beginning) can mean the difference between succeeding and failing at maintaining your practice. Going out of your way to pay for a gym membership does wonders for building this habit, and here’s why.

Much like carrying around arm weights all day, paying for a gym membership puts a burden on your wallet. Knowing that you are paying for the gym service tends to get you to show up a few times a week, and (this is important) showing up at all is the key to building this habit. Literally just showing up. Not even going nuts and exhausting yourself each time. If you can just show up, even if it’s just getting changed and walking on the treadmill for 15 minutes, you can consider the effort a wild success.

Even with the financial incentive, a lot of you will still probably find yourself avoiding the gym. These reservations are normal, and there are ways around them:

Bring your gym clothes with you to class or work! Having them with you will remind you of your resolution. You are actively removing the “I don’t have the right clothes / shoes” excuse, and clearing the way for you to build the habit one day at a time.

• Since you already have your clothes with you, why not go on your lunch break? Or maybe on your way home? With this in mind, be sure to pick out a gym that is conveniently located. Having to go out of the way will only give you another excuse, or roadblock, to overcome.

• Keep the attitude that by merely getting there, you are winning. You have succeeded just by showing up, changing, and doing maybe 15 minutes worth of anything. BELIEVE this, because you will find it much easier to justify doing simple, easy workouts instead of building up a huge routine in your head. When you anticipate a huge workout, you could feel anxious and weary about accomplishing such an exhausting promise that you made to yourself at noon after 2 cups of coffee.

• Once you’re changed and enjoying a nice light walk or jog on the treadmill, that 15 minutes will pass by very quickly. You made the effort to get there and get changed, so even though you have already succeeded by staying for 15 minutes, you’re going to want to do more. Soon you’ll start experimenting with the machines, and eventually figure out which ones work the parts of your body you want to improve upon the most. Even one new machine a day will get your curiosity fueled. Going with an experienced friend can help with this, since some of the machines can be rather confusing and you don’t want to injure yourself. Purchasing a one-time personal training session will also help you get acquainted with the parts of the gym you want to use the most.

• Be sure to listen to music that excites and invigorates you. I like fast-paced electronic music to keep me fueled while running, and chill, soulful tunes to keep me company while stretching or doing yoga. I also have a few friends who listen to audiobooks while working out, which helps to distract them and put their minds in another place entirely. Make it a personal goal to build up a good workout music library. Websites like Hype Machine, Turntable, and Plug will help you develop a wider taste if you can’t think of anything energizing off the top of your head.

Suddenly, you’re on your way to buffness! Yes, some days you’re just going to want to do your 15 minutes and then head out, especially if you’re not looking to get extremely sweaty. Most times, however, you will feel energized after your initial 15 minutes of warm-up, and feel compelled to spend another half hour or 45 minutes exploring what else your gym has to offer.

3 • Variety is the spice of gym-time success

In order to make the most out of your workout time, be sure to alternate between cardio, strength building, and flexibility training. In order to demystify the daunting task of navigating the gym, I’ve put together a sample week which reflects the habit I have built up for myself over the past 2 years. I try to go to the gym 3 times a week, and stay for about 45 minutes each time. Disclaimer: I’m not trying to become a marathon runner, yoga instructor, or body builder – I just want to be healthy and happy with my body.

Day 1: Strength-building (50 minutes)

• Jog 1 mile at a semi-easy pace to get warmed up

• Find the assisted chin-up / dip machine. Choose a weight that allows you to do 5 reps of chin-ups in a row, but no more. Do 2 sets of this, then do the same for dips. Remember the weight you chose! Once you start doing this enough, you will be able to do 10 in a row without stopping, and that’s when you move the assist weight down.

• Find the power tower and do as many knee lifts as you can. After a while of doing this, move up to full-leg lifts. I like to do 2 sets of 20 reps each before moving on. Don’t forget to keep your back nice and straight and flex your shoulders!

• Now that you’ve worked your front core, time to hit the back! Find the hyperextension 45 degree bench and grab a 5 lb weight. Keeping your back straight, bend over and slowly work your way back up. Do this 20 times, then switch to your side, letting the arm holding the weight hang down. Work your other side, then do 20 more on the front before moving on.

• Go back to the treadmill and do one more set that includes all of these exercises.

• After you’ve finished your second set, hit the mats for some good stretching. Look into yoga poses to really get the most out of these 5 minutes of mild flexibility training.

Day 2: Flexibility training (55 minutes)

• On this day, I go to a lunchtime Astanga yoga class. If a class isn’t available, then I recommend watching YouTube videos on your phone that will walk you through an abbreviated astanga or vinyasa class. I prefer astanga for regular flexibility training since it focuses on the same moves every time and makes doing the sequence on my own a lot easier. It also is guaranteed to hit all the target flexibility zones, and greatly decrease your chances of injury while performing cardio or strength-building activities.

Several martial arts practices also service to satisfy flexibility training, and would offer you similar benefits (in addition to self-defense training). I love yoga mostly because it helps to calm and focus my mind. Incorporating breath meditation provides a fantastic soundtrack to the flow, and puts you in an almost zen-like state of clarity. Although I had established my fitness habit a year and a half before starting yoga, I didn’t begin to see real physical results until after I started to incorporate the practice into my routine. My posture, endurance, and physical build have all improved tremendously, and I specifically thank Astanga yoga for that.

Day 3: Cardio training (45 minutes)

• I prefer running on the treadmill, but it’s entirely up to you which type of cardio you want to go with. Cycling, rowing, and hitting up the elliptical will all satisfy the cardio requirement, it really depends on your preference. So try them all and see which ones you like the most!

• My cardio days consist of the following: 3-5 minutes of light warm up stretches, running for 30 minutes, then spending a good 10 minutes taking a cool-down walk followed by deep stretches on the mat.

• See if your gym offers Virtual Active videos which let you pretend like you’re running through nature. It really helps to make any kind of distance running or cycling enjoyable. Many also offer music videos and television, but running through nature feels a lot more relaxing.

• Focus on deep, steady breathing and you will easily distract yourself from any discomfort your body tries to throw at you

• I find 30 minutes to be the perfect running time since you will most likely complete a full 5k, thus preparing you for entering cross country races in the future (if that’s your thing)

You’ve got it!

Starting small, maintaining realistic expectations, and exploring the world of fitness will bring you success no matter how lazy you think you are. You will have better chances of finding an activity or class that thrills you if you keep exploring. There are some unorthodox classes out there that will not feel like working out at all! I myself have experimented with super fun hula hooping classes and hammock yoga fitness that both serve to strengthen my posture and relieve me of back pain. Once you start to figure out which parts of your body need the most work, search around for activities that will provide you with targeted strength building, endurance, or balance.

Now get out of that chair and GET MOVING! There is no better time to start than now. Drink some tea or coffee – even buy some low-dose caffeine pills to amp up your energy and get you excited. (Just a precaution… you might want to bite the caffeine pills in half if you want to avoid many negative effects.) Whatever gets you moving!

Yours in sweat,