Notions of boosted energy and a slimmer, more toned physique lead millions of Americans to the gym every year, especially in January. Unless you’re already in shape, however, getting into an exercise routine can be tough. Add to that the daunting 80-percent failure rate of New Year’s resolutions, according to a January 2012 “Boston Globe” article, and you might wonder whether fitness goals are worth setting. However, they're not only worthwhile but also crucial to your success.
More than two-thirds of Americans were overweight or obese in 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and a sedentary lifestyle is a prime contributor to heart disease and early death. Tossing your fitness goals to the curb robs you of a way to avoid, or at least lower, such risks.
Understanding common obstacles among fitness seekers may prompt you to make savvy lifestyle choices, paving the way for positive, long-lasting results. Before beginning any exercise regimen, though, consult with your doctor -- especially if you have any pre-existing medical conditions -- to make sure you're working out at a level that's safe for you.
Like any other major life change, you have to be ready (for your goal), or it's never going to stick.
Tina Marinaccio, a registered dietitian and certified personal trainer in Morristown, NJ
MISTAKE #1: Not Having a Set Plan
The first step toward meeting your fitness goals happens before you don your sneakers, according to Tina Marinaccio, a registered dietitian and certified personal trainer in Morristown, NJ.
“Like any other major life change, you have to be ready (for your goal), or it's never going to stick,” she says. “Just flipping a page on a calendar doesn't necessarily make you mentally prepared to do what it takes to get from point A to B.”
Marinaccio suggests setting small, specific and realistic goals, then writing them down for increased tangibility. Script a detailed plan -- for example, walking on the treadmill for 30 minutes before work each morning. Then consider what your plan requires, such as setting your alarm clock earlier or preparing your workout attire in advance. Jot the preparation steps down for increased accountability, then take them.
MISTAKE #2: Psyching Yourself Out With Negativity
A lack of motivation trips up many fitness hopefuls, says Heather Binns, a certified personal trainer and owner of Full of Life Fitness Center in North Hollywood, CA. Fatigue and lack of confidence in your exercise capabilities can keep you from starting or sticking with your regimen. When your get-up-and-go dwindles, goal-sharing can help.
"Hold yourself accountable by telling others what your goal is and how you are going to accomplish it," says Binns. "Even better, have others join you in your new health and fitness venture."
When opting for the buddy system, choose someone at your fitness level or higher. In a 2012 study published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 58 women exercised on a stationary bike with another person or on their own on for six days. Women who biked with someone more skilled worked out significantly longer than those who exercised solo or with a partner who performed at a lower level. For motivation, you can also rely on a personal trainer or group activities, such as aerobics classes.
MISTAKE #3: Getting Sucked Into the Time Vacuum
It's easy to let family, work, errands and other tasks fill all the hours in the day. Time deficiency is the most prevalent excuse for skipping a workout, says Joshua Carter, a certified personal trainer and owner of Carter Fitness in West Hills, CA.
"People tell themselves they'll start taking care of themselves tomorrow, but 'tomorrow' can extend into weeks, months, years and even decades," Carter says. "Missing a workout now and again is no big deal. Missed workouts being the norm rather than the exception is problematic."
Carter recommends treating exercise sessions as firm appointments. You shouldn't bypass a workout more readily than you'd skip a medical or work appointment. Add exercise to your calendar, set reminder alerts on your phone and schedule other obligations around it.
If your schedule doesn't facilitate lengthy workouts, engage in more frequent, smaller increments. The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends 150 minutes weekly of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking. Exercising at a moderate or vigorous intensity for at least 10 minutes three times daily can draw the same benefits as exercising for 30 minutes straight.
MISTAKE #4: Choosing the Wrong Workout
Making it to the gym is a worthy accomplishment. Whether you reach your goals, however, hinges on how you then spend your time. If your goal involves a marathon, consistent running is key. To lose weight, however, running at an even pace on a treadmill routinely -- although its better than nothing -- could be your least efficient option, says Carter. Instead, partake in interval training -- exercising at a high intensity for short bursts of time and allowing your heart rate to lower back down in between. This increases your metabolism during and after exercise, giving you more bang for your workout buck.
"The motto of my facility is 'Twice the results, half the time,'" says Carter. "With this type of training, you can spend 30 minutes training two to three times per week, and your body will look like you live in the gym."
Resistance training burns fat and helps ensure optimal muscle tone. It also promotes bone health and improves balance. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends aiming for muscle-strengthening exercise such as weightlifting, push-ups and sit-ups or manual tasks like shoveling at least twice weekly. Again, check with your doctor first.
Marinaccio says that strength training should be a part of every fitness program, including those of women, who will not bulk up like most men will. "Most women," she says, "do not possess enough testosterone for 'Arnold arms.'"
Strategies to Fail-Proof Your Workout
Implementing effective lifestyle strategies into your daily routine can be as important as bypassing common pitfalls. To up your odds of success, consider the following tips.
Keep It Slow and Steady. Rapid weight loss raises your risk for a slew of complications, from a slow metabolism and later weight gain to heart problems. Instead, aim for gradual weight loss, or about one to two pounds per week.
Leave Home or Turn off the Phone. "Most people need to leave their homes in order to exercise," says Heather Binns, a North Hollywood, CA-based personal trainer. "There are too many distractions that prevent exercise from starting or interfere with it." If you can't leave home, eliminate distractions.
Fuel Up With Healthy Snacks. If you eat a generally healthy diet, you may not need to alter it with increased exercise, says Tina Marinaccio, a registered dietitian and personal trainer in Morristown, NJ. Many people overestimate how many calories exercise burns, however, then overcompensate. To avoid weight gain, she suggests having a 200-calorie snack containing carbs and protein before and after exercise. Examples include 1/4 cup of trail mix, a small whole-grain pita with apple slices and cheese or a smoothie made with frozen fruit, Greek yogurt and ground flaxseed.
Choose Your Friends Wisely. "Surround yourself with positive people who support you and your goals 100 percent," says Joshua Carter, a personal trainer in West Hills, CA. "Remove all negativity, and don't waste a second of your time interacting with haters."
Prioritize Sleep. Sleeping too little causes the body to burn fat and calories less efficiently -- including during exercise -- according to the National Sleep Foundation. Sleep deficiencies also cause fatigue and exhaustion, making activity less appealing. While specific needs vary, most adults need seven to nine hours of restful sleep nightly.
Make Fitness Enjoyable. If you hate the gym atmosphere, forcing yourself to work out there can feel like punishment. Choose places and types of exercise you enjoy or can make enjoyable. Listen to your favorite music while walking, for example, or go dancing with a supportive friend. Over time, the benefits of exercise will likely keep you motivated. In the meantime, you may as well have fun.