Staying on Track to Fitness Goals (Why is it so hard?)

A very common scenario: You want to meet a fitness goal. It could be showing up at the gym 3 times per week, attending a class once a week, running more kilometers, running any amount at all, doing a home yoga program, doing ANY exercise at all!! You feel motivated, write down the goal, buy your gym pass, purchase some new runners. Tell people about how great it is going to be. Make all sorts of plans. Then a month later berate yourself for doing only one workout and nothing more!!!

Guess what? You are not alone. In fact some stats show 70-80% of people who make fitness related New Year’s Eve goals have given up on them by February. In my work as a personal trainer, I often have clients ask me to set them up with a program that they can then follow on their own. I am always thrilled when in following up with my clients they are on track. More often I hear “AAAAAK, I don’t know why I fell away from my routine”.

First, don’t beat yourself up. Similar to many aspects of life, when we look around (especially on social media) it can look like everyone else is doing things perfectly. Other people’s perfect airbrushed highlight reels can result in wondering “What is wrong with me!!” Take it easy: here are some reasons WHY staying on track with fitness might be difficult, and some suggestions worth trying.

  1. We are programmed to rest when we can. Our early ancestors had no choice but to run (after food), to squat (to dig up food), to do upper body work (gathering wood) etc. They had to “exercise” all the time. So when these ancestors were able, it was in their best interest to get some rest. But you did not run for 4 hours today to hunt down your dinner, so understand that you have to overcome the resting instinct.

  2. We are social. Often the fitness routines that are most difficult to keep are solitary: going to the gym on your own or doing a home program. There is much less accountability, as you can fool yourself into believing your excuses, but others may not be as easily duped. Here is my personal story: I joined a running group to train for a half marathon. The first 4 weeks I showed up to every training session. One “hill night”, I skipped. The next running group day, a couple other runners said “hey, you missed hills!”. I started in about the weather that night, and how I was tired, and a couple other excuses, and then as I heard myself I said, “ya, those are all just my excuses”. Yes, even those of us in the fitness industry have struggles to stay on track. But it is a little harder to skip out on a session when others will notice. Recommendation? Join a fitness class, get a running/walking buddy, sign up with a hiking group.

  3. Habits rule our lives. Think about your morning routine. You don’t have to leave a note to yourself to brush your teeth, convince yourself of the reasons why you should brush your teeth, set short and long term goals around teeth brushing. You just do it; it’s a habit. Now habits can be either beneficial to your health (drinking a glass of water first thing every morning) or not (eating potato chips every day after work). So the magic bullet here is to develop the habits that will support you. When starting a fitness routine, it won’t begin as a habit as this takes time. But picture when it might be a habit. Is it sustainable? Is it at least somewhat enjoyable? Does it interfere with other important parts of your life? If you know that you can fit into your schedule 2 yoga classes per week, you enjoy yoga, and the timing works with other aspects of your life, this has a good chance of becoming habitual. The goal is having to think about it less and less as you continue with your fitness habit.

So recognize that your desire to rest is pre-programmed and you will have to actively overcome it. Finding something to do with other people, even a class with a bunch of strangers, can be a positive step toward success in fitness goals. Think about developing habits, those practices that become your lifestyle. Your lifestyle becomes your life.

Remember the idea is not to beat yourself up. It’s to lift yourself up.

Running Tips for Beginners

Ready to start on your journey to become a runner? Below are 6 tips for beginner runners:

  1. Shoes, shoes, shoes! The first and most important investment is good running shoes. Go to a store that specializes in running and have a knowledgeable salesperson assist you. Plan to spend time trying on various shoes and going for short runs in the store to try them out. Running shoes lose their cushioning over time and need to be replaced. All other purchases, such as stylish running clothes and wearable technology, can wait.

  2. Start with intervals. Your first few outings will be mostly walking. In my “Walker to 30 Minute Runner” program, our first outing consists of alternating between walking for 4 1/2 minutes and running for 30 seconds, repeated six times. The next time we increase running to 45 seconds and decrease walking to 4 minutes, and so on. These walk/run intervals will build endurance to being on your feet while safely building running stamina and strength.

  3. Add slowly. Stay at a level if not ready to move ahead. There is no need to rush to increase the amount you are running.

  4. Discover what you love: treadmill vs. outdoors, music vs natural sounds, solitary or with a group. We stick with whatever we enjoy.

  5. Register for a 5 km event when you are ready. When you can run continuously for 30 minutes, or run/walk for about 45 minutes, go ahead and find a fun event in your community. You don’t have to run the whole 5 km, you can walk as needed. Crossing a finish line is a great feeling!

  6. If you run, you are a runner! Don’t wait to tell yourself and whoever else you feel like: “Yes, I am a runner!”