Over the past several months, I’ve posted a lot about exercise motivation and forming positive healthy habits.
But it occurred to me that there are a lot of moving parts to forming a healthy lifestyle, and maybe you might want something a little more in-depth to help you put it all together.
So I’ve written this comprehensive (and slightly cheeky) guide to help you shift your perspective and find the exercise motivation you need to form an effective and sustainable exercise habit.
We’ll break it all down into nine, achievable steps, with action steps at the end of each section.
But before we embark on this journey together, let’s make sure you’re in the right place.
[Updated Oct 2020]
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- 1 | How to Tell if This Guide is For you
- 2 | Why Listen to Me?
- 3 | Step 1: Examine your Excuses
- 4 | Step 2: Find the Foundatiion for Your Exercise Motivation
- 5 | Step 3: Redefining Goals
- 6 | Step 4: Prevent Food-Fueled Self-Sabotage
- 7 | Step 5: Gain Empowerment Through Knowledge
- 8 | Step 6: Put an Action Plan in Place
- 9 | Step 7: Find or Create an Effectiive Fitness Plan
- 10 | Step 8: Make it Work
- 11 | Step 9: Have a Plan for When You Want to Give Up
How to Tell if This Guide is For You
You’re busy and the last thing you want to do at the end of a long, busy day, is make your body hurt by doing stuff it doesn’t like to do for extended periods of time.
I’m talking of course about exercise. Because you hate it. Hence, why you’re reading this.
You’ve tried to find exercises that you enjoy. And maybe you have even found some activities you don’t hate. Like walking, biking, or hiking.
But these are leisurely, casual pursuits at best, and they’re not yielding the results you really want.
You’ve tried reading other books and subscribing to other workout plans, but somehow you always end up injured, overwhelmed, or hating life.
So you give up.
The thing is, you know you don’t need to be a size zero with abs ripped enough to grate cheese on to be healthy and happy. You’re just looking to be a healthy weight.
You say/think things like:
- How can I stop being lazy and exercise?
- I have no motivation to exercise.
- I’ve totally lost all motivation to lose weight.
If this sounds like you, you’re in the right place.
However, this guide is NOT for you if:
- Your goal is to compete in a body-building competition in the foreseeable future
- You’re looking for the “holy grail” of fitness programs or the next too-good-to-be-true fad diet
- You’re otherwise looking for a “quick fix”
This guide is about building longterm exercise motivation and creating a healthy lifestyle.
Why Listen to Me?
I get why you would ask this, and it’s a completely valid question.
When I first this, I wasn’t any kind of fitness guru or even someone whose employment is in the fitness industry. I was merely your average, busy gal who works countless hours a week and has no time for fussy diets or two-hour workouts.
I have since obtained my personal trainer certification through the ISSA because I’m so passionate about exercise and how it can change a person’s life!
But, for many, many years, I was afraid of dumbbells, squats, or really any physical activity that looked like hard work.
And if you’d asked me to swap out my 5 o’clock glass of wine with a HIIT sweat session, I would have laughed in your face.
But, that is exactly why I think this guide will help you.
Because I was in that place where I still managed to find a way to stop hating exercise and git ‘er dun.
Now I truly love exercise. (Obviously or I would not have pursued a certifcation or dedicated my whole blog to it!)
Not only that, I have learned how to make an exercise routine sustainable, what exercises actually work, and how to achieve a balance between exercise and the rest of my life.
And it wasn’t that hard! Honest!
Now, you won’t find any overly sciency breakdowns on how squats affect your glutes blah blah blah.
This is not that kind of guide.
And I can’t promise that after reading this, you’ll magically love exercise more than binging on Netflix, wine, and Haagen Daz.
BUT, by drawing on my own experience, research, education, and personal results, I can help you gain a new perspective, and get a game plan in place.
Most importantly I can help you find enough exercise motivation to actually DO it right, and SEE the changes you want.
Still interested? Atta girl! Onto step one!
Step 1: Examine Your Excuses
I’m going to get this out of the way right now, so hold onto your hat in case you decide to keep it on and make a swift exit out the proverbial door that is this guide:
Your hatred of exercise is just your perspective of exercise.
And a skewed one at that.
In order to exercise effectively, you need to remove any obstacles preventing you from doing so. If you claim to hate exercise, that is your number one obstacle.
In order to remove obstacles, you have to understand what they are and why they’re there.
Getting through this part will be the foundation of your success. I’m going to go through a list of common reasons why I used to hate exercise.
Take note of any you can relate to:
It’s too time-consuming
At my most “committed” I was running an hour a day for 6 days a week. But I couldn’t keep it up for long. And who would want to?
What I finally learned is that exercise is only time-consuming if you let it be. With the right plan, you can literally do the work it takes to transform your body in 20 minutes per session, 3-4 days a week. That’s it.
It’s Painful and Too Hard
Exercise with a dumbbell made me want to ralph. Literally, I would get nauseous after thirty seconds.
I hated the phrase, “no pain, no gain”. The exercises that work the best magic are often the ones you hate the most.
But… Then I found that there’s something really satisfying about sore muscles. When you have sore muscles, that is the feeling of change. That’s why you need a plan in place that is challenging enough for you without causing you to get overwhelmed.
You don’t really believe it works
You see these fitness plans and you instantly think, there is no way that 20 minutes of doing that hell is going to make a difference. So why put yourself through 20 minutes of torture if it’s not going to work?
I used to think that way too. But guess what? It does work!
Exercise is too easily negated by your diet
After all, weight loss and fitness is 80% diet and 20% exercise, right? So why even bother with the exercise at all?
The idea is that, for 3500 calories you need to burn to lose a pound, you can realistically accomplish this by torching 20% of those through exercise and the rest through slashing calorie intake.
But forget about weight loss for a minute. If you don’t cut calories and strength train, you are still going to see positive changes in your body. Because your body is using those calories to make muscle instead of fat.
Diet can definitely be a stumbling block, but there are many people out there, myself included, who have had great results from exercise without having to work too hard on the diet.
Even if you garner the gumption to get started, you give up after a week because it’s hard, and you’re not seeing results. (So that must mean it’s not working.)
Let’s face it, you weren’t going to make it through your exercise plan anyway (if you even have a plan) so you might as well give up now, right?
That’s exactly what my thought process used to be like. Whether you get discouraged or motivated by a situation is determined entirely by your perspective and self-talk.
You associate exercise with the gym… and you hate the gym
So did I. In fact, I still do. Some people are into group exercise and the social aspects of it. For me, it’s merely a building with a lot of sweaty people in it that are hogging the cardio machines.
To each their own.
The good news is, you don’t need a gym, if that’s not your bag. All you need is an area in your house with enough floor space that when you reach your arms out you don’t touch any walls.
You’re doing it to punish yourself
If you’re hitting the treadmill as repentance for ordering a pint of beer instead of a Perrier, you’re doing it wrong. If you view exercise as punishment, then it will always be something you look at with dread.
Do you know what all these things have in common? They all sound like excuses.
Because they are. That’s right, I’m calling you out, just the way I had to call myself out.
That’s why 80% of this guide is all about shifting your perspective. The rest is just exercising smart. But we’ll get to that near the end, once you have your brain in order.
Ready? Let’s get to work.
Action Step #1:
- Write out a list of reasons why you hate exercise. Are any of them the aforementioned list?
- Answer me this: Are you ready to challenge them?
If you answered yes, then congratulations! Because for real, acknowledging that you need to challenge your mindset is the hardest part of all.
Step 2: Find the Foundation for Your Exercise Motivation
Motivation can be a tough beast to tackle. After all, people find motivation in different things. What motivates one person might do nothing for the next person.
It’s a very personal thing and in many ways is something only you can answer yourself.
I’ve always been a “big picture” kind of gal, in the sense that I want all my efforts to directly impact my ultimate goal. But staring at the top of a mountain while standing at the bottom is a really good way to get overwhelmed.
And overwhelm is the nemesis of motivation.
For the longest time, I would scrounge up just enough exercise motivation to start, by telling myself I just needed to grit my teeth and do it. I’d find an exercise program and start leaping out of bed at 6 am to exercise, with a stubborn force of will and just a sprinkling of self-loathing.
Two weeks later, I would give up, either because I hurt myself or because I was feeling discouraged that I hadn’t seen any changes.
It would take months for me to build up any exercise motivation to try again. And then the process would repeat.
This pattern went on for years.
I needed to break this cycle of thinking in order to create sustainable exercise motivation. To accomplish this, there are a few things to consider:
Motivation vs. Willpower
Some people – myself included – have mistaken these two words to be synonymous when they are not the same thing at all. First of all, the term “willpower” insinuates you have limited resources when it comes to exercise or other self-discipline.
Viewing a task as something you need to use limited resources to do is already setting yourself up for failure.
The idea of willpower is that you hold your nose, bite the bullet, soldier on, and hate every second of it until it’s depleted your resolve, and you give up.
You don’t need the willpower to exercise effectively and not hate it the whole time.
You need exercise motivation.
Motivation is what drives you. Motivation is empowerment. Motivation is not subjecting yourself to doing something you hate, but doing something because you want to do it.
Great, you’re thinking. But how do I get exercise motivation?
The answer varies from person to person. But if exercise motivation is your foundation for success, then you need to make sure that foundation is solid and sustainable.
Keeping that in mind, let’s take a look at what makes a good foundation for exercise motivation.
Sustainable vs. Unsustainable Exercise Motivation
This section isn’t complicated. I bet if you really took a moment to think about this, you would already be able to make a list of motivators that aren’t sustainable.
Because you’ve tried focusing on these unsustainable motivators in the past, and they didn’t last. Then you gave up, and found this post.
Unsustainable motivators are also known as “poor reasons to exercise”. Some examples of unsustainable motivators are:
- Because you hate the way you look
- Because the number on the scale is too high
- Because you’re combating unhealthy eating habits
In short, unsustainable motivators tend to be driven by a negative perspective. These kinds of motivators make you feel less like you want to achieve something then like you have to.
Trying to fill your exercise motivation tank with these negative drivers will quickly eat away at your morale and leave you feeling discouraged, and no closer to your goals.
You’re much more likely to stick to something if you focus on positive motivators. In fact, even if your goal is to lose weight and look good in a bikini, I would strongly encourage you to think long and hard about all the many other benefits of exercise that have nothing to do with the scale.
Imagine I could give you a magic vitamin. If you took this vitamin regularly you would get to enjoy:
Sounds like magic right? Except it isn’t.
It’s just plain old exercise. If you can’t think long and hard about that list and make a choice that exercise is worth your commitment, regardless of if it helps you with your weight or how you look in a bikini, then you haven’t thought long and hard enough!
The other great thing about these motivators is that they provide almost instant gratification. One week of dedicated exercise and you’ll already experience a bunch of the aforementioned benefits.
I have found the feeling of accomplishment I get from a workout has become a very strong motivator for myself. Each time I exercise, I know I’m doing something productive and healthy for both my body and mind, and that knowledge has become more than enough to get me out of bed at 5:45 am every morning to get ‘er dun. Exercising is no longer a punishment, its a reward in itself!
Body image and self-esteem
All these other wonderful benefits of exercise won’t mean diddly squat if you can’t get into the right headspace regarding body image.
If you are struggling with body image and hate the way you look, it’s going to take some work on your side to un-brainwash yourself.
Because physical beauty is such a subjective, completely arbitrary thing.
Now, you may not think that’s true because, hello, every famous actress, pop singer, and celebrity has a super toned body, so clearly what the masses think of as beautiful is the truth.
But it isn’t.
If kind of reminds me of pop music. You know, those top 40 songs du-jour that play over and over and over on the communal radio station at work.
Those songs play all the time so everyone must like them, right?
No way! More than half the staff is ready to gouge their ears out with a pencil because they’re so sick of listening to Tiësto sing about ordering sushi from Japan. (God, I hate that song.)
Just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it’s “beautiful”. It’s completely a matter of opinion.
More importantly, I really do believe that beauty is about things other than your physical appearance. I’m almost 35 and only just started understanding this.
I find that exercise really helps with body-image, not because it changes your shape (although it does that too) but because it’s a powerful act of self-love. When you engage in exercise daily it’s self-care not just for your body, but for your mind too!
This is a massive topic and if body image is a real stumbling block for you that you’ve been struggling with for years, I recommend you read, “Beautiful You: A Daily Guide to Radical Self Acceptance“. This book is a powerful tool for deconstructing your unhealthy perspective and building a healthier and more positive one!
Understanding the Exercise Motivation Loop
This was something I learned from The Motivation Myth, by Jeff Haden. Motivation is actually the product of action, not the other way around. It’s the final stage in the Motivation Loop, which looks like this:
Exercise motivation is spurred on by small wins, which is done through taking action first. Not the other way around!
Setting yourself up for small wins every day will keep you motivated.
Over time, small wins become goal-crushing wins!
Forget about the big goal – your new goal is to focus on your daily process.
Action Step # 2
- Write down the benefits of exercise that you are excited about, that don’t have to do with your appearance
Step 3: Redefining Goals
So if exercise motivation is the last phase in loop, then the goal is not the motivator, in itself. It’s really the starting point. Once you have goals, you can then form the plan/process to reach them.
Certainly, you’ve heard about how set SMART goals with the trusty old acronym first coined by George T. Doran.
But I have a slightly different take and want to fine tune this approach specifically to your goal of finding exercise motivation.
I admit, these don’t come with a clever acronym, but you’re just going to have to look past that!
Plan to hit certain landmarks by certain deadlines, and write them on a physical calendar where you can see it all the time to hold you accountable.
Most people focus on the ultimate goal, or the top tier goal. I recommend adding more tiers to your goals so that there is always one that isn’t too far out of reach. Remember, the exercise motivation loop is all about building on small wins!
If you want to ultimately lose 20 pounds, make 5 pounds your first tier. Fitting into an old beloved pair of jeans. multiple goals, big and small, focus more on non-scale goals
Measuring your progress, and not just by the scale. For every scale goal you have, there should have 2-3 non-scale goals.
Keeping track of your progress should be easily quantifiable, whether its through the help of a fitness tracker (more on these later) or a good old fashioned log book.
If your goal is to look like a Victoria Secret model within 3 weeks, that is an example of an unrealistic goal. (And maybe you should be asking yourself why you want or need to look like a Victoria Secret model?)
Having a goal number in mind is okay but might not even be necessary if you are already a healthy weight. Instead, set a goal that doesn’t have to do with your weight. Maybe it’s being able to run a certain distance or complete an exercise you weren’t able to do previously.
Action Step #3:
- Write down your goals for each of the above sections.
Step 4: Prevent Food-Fueled Self-Sabotage
(Note: Below is basically a recap of this previous post about diet, if you’ve already read that post you won’t find any new info here!)
Yup, here’s the dreaded segment about diet. You knew it had to be coming.
You’ve heard it many times before – “you can’t out-exercise a bad diet” – and it’s one of the biggest reasons why you feel there’s no point in working out.
You’re just going to eat yourself back to the starting line, so why put yourself through the torture of exercise?
There’s nothing quite like fun, delicious food to completely wipe out our exercise motivation.
But there’s a couple assumptions we need to question here. First of all, what exactly IS a “bad” diet. And how “bad” does it have to be to completely sabotage your workouts?
I used to get confused and frustrated when it came to the quest of finding a “balanced diet”. For every article I found promoting one superfood or diet, I’d find twice as many to say that food or diet was a terrible idea. Eventually, I became convinced that on some level, everything I’m eating is trying to kill me.
So I stopped stressing about it.
To me, a bad diet is no more than a diet that doesn’t support your goals or lifestyle. It isn’t one food type or a number of calories. What constitutes a “bad” diet is going to vary from person to person.
And so will a “good” diet.
What is a “Good” Diet?
The goal should be to find a diet that works for you. I understand that doesn’t help much, so here are a few things to consider when building your personalized diet:
Your long term goals
Do you just to fit into your old pants or are you legit going to be strutting down a runway in a few months for a bikini competition? There’s nothing wrong with the latter, but maybe start with the former?
Your tastes and sensitivities
If avocados make you sick, either because you have some mysterious food intolerance or because it’s consistency repulses you, then don’t eat guacamole.
It’s that simple. No matter how many articles you’ve seen on facebook that touts a certain food’s magical properties, if you won’t or can’t eat it, then you’ll find the only magical property it has is how quickly it rots in your fridge.
How much time you have to dedicate planning meals
For that matter, are you even willing to prep meals?
What is sustainable for you
What are you going to get sick of eating? Are you willing to live off nothing but kimchi and grapefruits for the foreseeable future?
Are you going to get up 30 minutes earlier every day for the rest of your life to prepare yourself a gourmet spinach omelet made from egg whites?
Everyone is different, and if you have a lot of time to dedicate to an ultra-clean diet, that’s great. But I have never believed in highly restrictive diets and don’t believe you need them to get the nutrients you need to be healthy.
Some fitness gurus and nutritionists will no doubt not like what I have to say here. But that’s okay because it’s my body and my diet!
My version of a good diet
To be honest, after so many years of reading everything under the sun about what foods are good, which are bad, and which will turn me into a zombie, I said, screw it, I’ll eat what I like while making an effort to cook as much of it myself.
In other words, I eat bread.
But I also eat a lot of protein and make an attempt to eat foods that are closest to what you can find in nature.
I also like pastries a lot, so I eat those too.
The point is, my “nutrient goals” are pretty loose.
But, they are there.
The main things I focus on are:
- Lean sources of Protein: Protein builds the muscles. Eggs, Greek Yogurt, Tuna, and chicken are great examples
- Fermented foods: Kefir and Kimchi are my go-tos for this. To say we’re basically talking about rotting milk and cabbage, it’s pretty tasty. Besides, it will keep your tummy happy and healthy, which considering it’s the organ you process all your food in, I would say is pretty important.
- Colorful vitamins – so the vitamins themselves are not colorful but the foods they come in are. I used to try and track how much potassium and vitamin A and everything else I was getting but it’s exhausting and hard and no one has time for that. So just mix it up and try to get a serving of veggies in where you can whether its a service of carrot sticks or some savory butternut squash soup. If it’s colorful and something you know was plucked off a plant, it’s got some good stuff in it.
That’s it. Those are really the only things I’m keeping in mind when I’m making choices about what to eat.
Where Do Calories Come in?
The other part of my loose nutrient tracking is calorie tracking. No matter what the latest diet trends are, you can’t ignore calories. I think it’s true that there’s definitely more to it than “a calorie is a calorie”. But if you combine the below strategy with my above nutrient goals, you’re good to go in my books.
Below are the steps I took for my own weight loss strategy. I call this the Calorie Bomb Strategy.
Step 1: Find out how many calories you burn a day on average. Just google “resting metabolic rate” or your “daily energy expenditure”. You can use this by using any number of free online tools. These tools I find are more of a guideline and results vary based on your activity level.
A better alternative is to use a fitness tracker (the next chapter will have more on this!)
Step 2: Count calories you consume for 1 week. The idea here is to get an idea of how many calories you naturally consume in a day. Logging calories can be time-consuming and a pain in the butt, which is why I don’t recommend counting calories indefinitely – it’s just not sustainable.
But for this one week, be brutally honest and concise with your logging to give you an accurate picture of how much you’re eating. There are many apps that can help with this task.
Step 3: Compare what you’re taking in vs your energy expenditure. If you’ve never counted calories before, this will probably be a discouraging moment for you. It’s astounding how quickly calories can add up. Don’t despair!
Everyone’s situation is different, but even if you need a major overhaul in your diet habits, you can still see results by starting small.
Step 4: Find out what your target daily calorie count should be. I would not recommend cutting calories much below what your daily expenditure is. If you really need to lose weight, then aim for 500 less than your daily calorie burn.
If you’re only a few pounds more than you like, or if your bigger problem is your body shape, then aim to eat around the same as what you’re burning (but not more.)
Step 5: Identify your biggest calorie bomb. This is the food you habitually eat that racks up calories the quickest. Then limit or eliminate.
For example, when I did this, I quickly realized (with no small amount of dismay), that alcohol was by far my biggest calorie bomb. So I cut out.
Was it easy? No.
Was it still easier than trying to out-exercise my alcohol consumption? Yes.
Step 6: Count calories 1 more week with your calorie bombs removed. If you are calorie intake is in line with your goal, great. If not, repeat Step 5 with the next biggest calorie bomb on the list. Keep eliminating one calorie bomb at a time until you’re where you want to be, calorie wise.
I like this approach because it’s a gradual adjustment, you’re not trying to make huge changes to your diet all at once. And you still get to eat what you want for the most part!
Make nutrition as easy for yourself as possible
Simplify simplify, simplify. Unless you have a ton of time and love to cook (which you don’t, let’s be honest with ourselves) don’t waste your time buying a ton of fancy ingredients that are just going to end up in the compost because you can’t be bothered to put everything together. Especially when it comes to breakfast and lunch. I like to keep those meals to 3 ingredients or less. For example:
- greek yogurt with honey
- Tuna and mayo wrapped in a tortilla
- Rice and kimchi in a bowl
- Toasted whole grain bagel with cream cheese
In summary, don’t make yourself crazy with diet choices. Without balance you’ll find yourself eating week old pizza covered with whipped cream. *not an actual experience*. As long as you’re eating a decent amount of whole foods and keeping your calories in line with your energy expenditure, you won’t derail your fitness efforts with your diet.
- Start with five, frill-free ways to simplify your diet. (Get some ideas for simple from the 3:5 Rule Recipe book, downloadable for free in this post.)
- Use the Calorie Bomb strategy to gradually reduce your calorie intake to reach your calorie count goals
Step 5: Gain Empowerment through Knowledge
Don’t worry, I’m not going to get all scientific on you here or talk about knowing where your stapedius muscle is and what it does. (I’m seriously not going to tell you, just Google it!)
When I look back at all the years of false starts and motivational kamikazes, I noticed there was a distinct point within the last two years when the lightbulb went off and things really started changing for me on the exercise front.
As in, I stopped hating exercise. In fact, actually began to like it.
Obviously, there are multiple factors that contribute to this, but the one thing I can directly link to my sudden exercise 180, it’s this: fitness tracking.
Fitness tracking has come a long way in the past couple decades, and there’s a lot of great technology out there to take advantage of. It can literally change your life!
For me, being able to accurately track my progress was extremely empowering. And if getting to feel empowered doesn’t contribute to strong, sustainable exercise motivation, then I don’t know what does!
So we’re going to review some easy fitness tracking methods and some fun tech that even your grandmother could figure out how to use. (Maybe she’s even already using it!)
Getting Techy with it
Fitness tech is an easy way to gather statistics on your health habits and use them to get in shape. It doesn’t have to be hard at all.
In fact, with the right tech it’s fun to use!
The original fitness tracking hardware from years ago certainly left something to be desired, namely, any degree of accuracy. And while fitness trackers are still far from perfect, they are accurate enough to give you a reasonably close ballpark figure on your calorie burn.
The benefits to a fitness tracker
Most modern wearable fitness trackers are equipped to make tracking your health easier than ever. They’re great to use because:
- They give you a daily estimate on your calorie burn
- Gives you exercise motivation by gamifying exercise. (Giving you target step count goals or fitness challenges that you can compete in with friends,)
- Most modern trackers now have other health-tracking capabilities, like sleep monitoring and resting heart rate
Choosing the tech
There are tons of fitness trackers out there, and it can be really overwhelming to choose if you’re new to them. To make your search easier, I have narrowed them down a few options that are my tried-and-true favorites. Apple watch, Fitbit both great options
I currently use the Apple Watch Series 3 and never take it off, except to charge it. These puppies are waterproof, can connect with your iPhone through Bluetooth, and a really fantastic heart rate monitor. They’re also pretty sleek-looking at and fun to use.
The downside is they are pretty expensive, as you would expect from an Apple product. 😐 They also need to be charged about once every other day, but they charge pretty quick in my opinion.
Prior to the Apple Watch, I had a Fitbit Charge 2, and I loved it! Fitbits are fantastic because they have a wide array of fitness trackers at every price range. The Fitbit Ionic is comparable to the Apple watch in function, but at a much more reasonable price.
FitBits also have fantastic battery life and only need to be charged about once a week (at least the one I had did.)
If you have a smartphone, chances are it has a pedometer in it. So this might be a good option if you’re on a tight budget. The caveat is, its accuracy won’t be as good because if you’re not carrying your phone, it won’t count your steps. It has no heart rate monitor and of course, isn’t waterproof. But it’s still better than nothing!
Taking progress shots
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and that’s definitely true when tracking weight loss. All the data from your fitness tracker is just that – data. But when you physically SEE a difference, that is power, girl!
If you’re like me, the temptation to skip the progress shots is a strong one, especially in the beginning. No one naturally feels the need to immortalize their wobbly muffin tops in an iPhone photo that you then have nightmares about winding up as an internet meme.
But if you skip this, you’ll be sorry you didn’t have your “before” pictures to compare your “after” to. Trust me!
Not taking progress pictures early on is one of my biggest regrets! I lost 20 lbs but don’t have very good “before” pictures for comparison purposes, I only started taking them after I’d lost 10 lbs.
The good news is, there are ways around the smartphone photo, if it really makes you that nervous:
If you’re paranoid, Polaroid. (How’s that for a slogan!)
The Instax, for example, is a cute and fun way to take mini Polaroids.
For best results, try to take your progress photos once a week, wearing the same clothing, standing the same way. One shot from the front, one from the side, and one from the back.
This is the best progress photo I have… My before photo was taken long before I started my lifestyle change and I did not realize at the time I was taking it that it would be a “before” photo, lol. Still, it’s encouraging to see the change!
Remember that measuring your progress off-scale isn’t limited to a tape measure and photos. Some of your most exciting developments will include fitting into your favorite dress from seasons past, or having the energy to help your friend move houses without needing to be carried out on a stretcher.
Every time you notice a positive new change – no matter how small – jot it down in a notebook.
- Keep a notebook to jot down any new changes you notice!
- Consider getting a fitness tracker to boost your exercise motivation
- Take your first progress photo
Step 6: Put an Action Plan in Place
Now that we’ve built a foundation for our exercise motivation, we are finally at the planning stage.
What kind of exercises should you be doing, how often, and for how long? In this section, we’ll get to each of those questions.
Exercise as an acquired taste
You may have heard the right kind of exercise is the one you actually do. That is true to a point since any type of exercise is vastly superior to no exercise.
But if you really want to see your body composition change (ie, get lean and toned), there is some hard news coming: the type of exercise you do matters.
Take it from me, a true cardio bunny who at one point was running 45-50 km a week. I was at my lightest weight ever, but had no tone or muscle definition whatsoever. I couldn’t do a single pushup or situp.
Don’t get me wrong, cardio is fantastic for many reasons and you should absolutely incorporate cardio into your exercise regime.
It’s incredibly good for your heart, keeps your metabolism humming, and primes you for survival in the event of a zombie apocalypse.
But if you want to change your body composition, you’re not going to get there with cardio.
You need to strength train.
Coincidentally, this is the type of exercise many people hate the most, but the one that garners the results that people are looking for.
But if envisioning yourself grunting in agony while you try to heave a hundred-pound barbell from the ground makes you recoil in horror, don’t worry.
Because I haven’t forgotten the fact that at this point, you pretty much still hate exercise.
The purpose of this guide is to get you motivated and facing in the right direction to do just enough to get ‘er done.
I know that you aren’t going to spend an hour every day at the gym hulking out under the squat rack.
In fact, I’d probably have a hard time convincing you to even go to a gym to do anything other than sit in the sauna and maybe get a protein drink at the health bar.
No, the exercise you’re going to do has to be quick and dirty or else it’s probably not going to get done at all.
That’s where HIIT comes in.
If you’ve been doing research online about HIIT, you’re not going to learn anything too revolutionary about it here. Again, I didn’t create the squat, I’m just one of the millions of people who executed them and realized they are butt-sculpting magic.
The good news is that this style of exercise requires only short sessions to see results. The tradeoff is that these short durations need to be completed with maximum effort.
So yeah, they are hard.
But it’s by far the biggest bang for your buck in terms of your investment of time.
Not only that, no gym membership is required. The majority of exercises you can do with your own bodyweight, and the ones that need weights you can easily find substitutes around the house. (Hello Campbell’s soup cans)
Generally, a HIIT session consists of 6-8 minutes of 6-8 exercises done for 20-50 reps each. These exercises are not big secrets, we’re talking squats, planks, lunges, butt kicks, and dozens of other moves you can easily find online for free within 3 minutes of dedicated Google investigation.
How Long and Often?
You’re not going to accidentally find yourself in your trainers with a barbell in your hands. If you don’t schedule the time specifically for exercising, you’re already setting yourself up to fail. You need to select a minimum of four times during the week where you can squeeze in 20-25 minutes of uninterrupted exercise. Yes, four.
And don’t tell me you don’t have 20 minutes. You probably spend more than 20 minutes just waiting in the drive-through for your nonfat vanilla latte.
Okay, okay, you’ll also need 10 minutes before and after exercise to get changed. But you spend ten minutes just stopping for gas.
So there you have it, you can get the whole exercise shebang done in the time it takes to caffeinate and gas-up on the way to work.
You may have done the math that four times a week means you can’t only exercise on weekends. That means you need to find a minimum of two times during the work week to sweat it up. The prospect is dismaying for the exercise-hater who already has a busy, tiring day of maximum-effort work in the mix. But again, we’re talking an extra half hour here. There are three logical times of day to make it happen:
Of the three available time slots to fit in exercise on a weekday, before work is probably the time that is met with the most resistance by the average busy careerist. Many people are simply not bonafide “morning people” and your morning routine is enough of a timed event without trying to cram in a workout.
There are some huge pluses to working out before work. Your energy levels and performance are likely to be higher, for one. But for me, my favorite part of working out first thing in the morning is the glow of accomplishment that follows me into the office and lingers all day. It’s the perfect way to grab the proverbial bull by the horns and own your day.
So how to make it work? There’s no easy way around it: Get up earlier.
I can almost hear the toddler-style tantrum you’re having inside your head right now. Relax, it doesn’t have to be that bad, honest! Like everything else in this journey, morning workouts just need to be carefully planned. A few tips to help you out:
- Shave back the time you need to get ready in the morning by pre-planning your breakfast (I suggest something quick that you can take to go, like yogurt or a banana), the lunch you’re taking to work, and your gym and work outfits laid out the night before.
- Start by getting up 15 minutes earlier. It doesn’t matter if you can’t fit in a whole workout, the point is to get used to getting up to work out.
- Go to bed half an hour earlier
It’s possibly the trickiest time of day to swing a workout, but totally doable. In fact, when you’re first starting out, the lunch hour can be the ideal time because it doesn’t require any extra work or time outside of your regular schedule, and you can easily fit in a 15-20 minute session without too much rushing around.
You do need to be prepared, though. Return from lunch as a purple, sweaty mess and your cubicle mates will not thank you. In addition to your gym clothes, you should bring a change of underwear, socks, a stick of travel deodorant, and a little bit of dry shampoo.
Slapping on your trainers right after work is another option, but in my opinion, not the best. There’s a lot of potential stumbling blocks. You have too much time throughout the day to talk yourself out of it. “Oh, today was so stressful,” you might say. “I should just take it easy tonight.” and instead of pulling on your trainers, you pull out a wine glass.
*Eyeroll* Yeah. That’s only happened to me about 90% of the time I’ve tried to exercise after work.
Plus your energy levels are not going to be what they are in the morning. All it’s going to take is for one buttcheek to hit the couch after you get home, and your workout will be trumped by Netflix and a bag of chips.
However, if you want to go with this option, I do know there are some people who prefer it. Just plan against pitfalls:
- Gym bag needs to be in your car when you leave for work. When work is done, you go straight to the gym, do not pass go.
- If you work out at home, your gym clothes and trainers are inside the front door waiting for you
- Do. Not. Sit. Down. On. That. Couch!
- Eat a snack around 3pm to help keep your energy from flagging.
- Choose WHEN and HOW OFTEN you will exercise and then write it down in the calendar.
Step 7: Find or Create an Effective Fitness Plan
Whether you build your own workout program, use a free app, or choose a paid program is completely up to you. You can absolutely create a highly effective exercise program for free. But there are some benefits to going with a paid option as well.
From here, I’d like to bucket your choices into three options: My recommended plan, some Free DIY options, and some pricier paid options.
My recommended plan – Serial Starter Fix
I created Serial Starter Fix in 2020 specifically to help people just like you, who need something simple to follow that’s effective without being overwhelming.
It’s that middle road between the free options and pricier paid options, which is perfect for people who are just getting started on their fitness journey.
Because at this stage, you probably do need a little bit of structure and guidance, but you may (understandably so) not be ready to commit to an expensive paid program or monthly subscription.
- Competatively priced compared to other programs (Just $16.99 for lifetime access!)
- Only 3 short strength-training workouts (the meat and potatoes of the program) per week
- No “jumping into the deep end” Workouts are 12-15 minutes of active exercise, to begin with
- Optional step-count goals incorporate activity into your day and accelerate your progress
- Exercises are simple, doable, and equipment-free
- Emphasis is on progress over perfection, which enables you to ditch the “all or nothing” mentality
- Weekly “motivation assignments” via email throughout the program to help keep you on track
- Program consists of printable PDFs which means you don’t need to squint down at a phone while you’re working out!
- Comes with a printable progress tracker and program calandar
- It’s a 28 day plan, so more of a “kickstart” to your fitness journey rather than a longterm solution
- No community (Yet! But working on this.)
My Free DIY Option
If you’re on a shoestring budget or want to customize your workouts, you can choose virtually any combination of strengthening exercises and turn them into a HIIT circuit.
You just want to make sure there’s a good mix of strength work to build muscle and some more cardiovascular ones to keep your heart rate up.
Just make sure you aren’t doing the same exercises each time, it’s important to mix it up to keep your body challenged.
Examples of HIIT Exercises:
|Squat jump||Tricep dips||Buttkicks|
|Lunge jumps||Squats||Mountain climbers|
As for determining reps, starting with 30 reps per exercise or one minute per exercise is a pretty good place to start.
My Trello Workout Builder
I wrote this post a few months back explaining how to build your own Workout plan using Trello, this is a great option if you’re looking to DIY your workout plan. You can copy this board and make it your own!
Click here to access it.
- The most customizable workout plan is the one you build for yourself!
- Free as can be
- Requires some research and legwork on your part (pardon the pun)
- No community
Other Free Options
If you’re too lazy to build your own HIIT plan, there’s a ton of resources you can find online for free.
The Nike Training Club app is one of my favorites.
You can also find some great exercise videos for free on YouTube.
- May require a lot of time surfing around finding the right program/video/free app
- Free apps have fewer bells and whistles than the paid ones
- No community
If you’re willing to cough up a bit of money for the convenience of a preplanned, detailed workout, there are some great paid options.
I am a bit of a fitness app junkie so I have done a lot of these programs. But my top two recommendations are:
- Paid programs usually have an online community which will help support you in your fitness journey
- 12+ week programs plan everything you need to do out for you
- Higher price-point and/or subscription required
Final thoughts on fitness plans
The choice of how you structure your plan is up to you, but it needs to be a plan you believe in. Believing in the plan means you will commit to the plan.
- Decide on a fitness plan
Step 8: Make it Work
By this point we have looked our hatred of exercise in the face and called it what it really is – a misaligned perspective that can be shifted.
We have found our source of sustainable exercise motivation, our why.
We have a time, and a place to do our workouts.
We have a workout schedule in place and a way to keep track of our progress.
And we have a fitness plan to follow.
Now all that’s left is to actually do this thing.
But I’m not just going to just leave you to it and walk away.
I’m going to leave you with some few final tips on how to make this all work. (Basically stuff I wanted to mention but couldn’t find anywhere else in the guide to put it!)
Make the Decision Final
If you want to skip a gym/workout day, that is okay.
The only rule is, you have to decide that the day before. You far more likely to make a wise choice about when to skip your workout if it isn’t imminent.
Know When to Take Breaks
Speaking of skipping workout days, it’s important you understand your fitness plan isn’t “ride or die”.
Now, if your muscles are sore, that’s good ol’ DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) and not a reason to miss a workout. But if you’ve pulled a muscle or hurt something, do not try to train through it.
Take a week or two off and then pick up where you left off. (and no, after two weeks you are not “back to square one” or “starting all over again”.) If it’s more than a pulled muscle then get yourself to a sports doctor pronto.
Believe in what you’re doing and more importantly, believe in yourself
I truly think this is the most important thing of all. When you truly believe in what you’re doing, it makes it easy to stay motivated!
Step 9: Have a Plan For When You Want to Give Up
Notice the title of this chapter says “when”, not “if”? Because you will feel like giving up at some point. Let’s be honest, there will be multiple points. Even if you are implementing all the steps to create sustainable exercise motivation.
You might even feel like giving up right now, and you haven’t even started yet.
I understand this, because I’ve certainly felt like giving up. And have given up, more times in my life than I care to count.
The difference between now and then is that I realized that giving up doesn’t have to be a pattern I continue. There’s always the choice to keep going, even when it sucks.
For example, I finally broke my 5k PR last January after six years.
I was feeling great and even thinking about signing up for my first half-marathon in over five years. Then the following week, my old hip injury flared up, and that was the end of that.
The old me would have given up. My thought process would have been: If I can’t run, what’s the point? I can’t do cardio if I can’t run.
The new me started spinning. And guess what? I found out I love spinning!
Around the same time, I was also in the middle of a HIIT program.
HIIT, thankfully, doesn’t irritate my hip. But then a couple weeks later, I went to Turks & Caicos on vacation and spent the next ten days eating pastries and drinking Mojitos like it was my job.
HIIT went out the window. I forgot what a squat was. (Or wanted to forget, anyway.)
I came back from vacation feeling bloated and dispirited about my dietary indiscretions.
The old me would have said, I just undid all the progress I made in the past two months, there’s no point now!
The new me re-did the last week of the program where I’d left off, and went on to finish the last half of the program to see great results.
The point is this:
The urge to give up can strike at any time, without warning.
It could happen during your first workout.
It could happen after your first dietary indiscretion. (Because they will happen.)
It could happen after you’ve hit a plateau.
It could happen when you step on the scale and see a number you don’t like.
It could happen before you even get started.
It could happen when life gets overwhelming.
It could happen, even when everything is going right.
The urge to give up is completely natural. But giving up is always a choice. Committing to rediscovering your exercise motivation is the other choice.
When you feel like giving up, its because you feel like what you’re doing is no longer worth the effort, for one reason or another.
But we know that this feeling is just that – a feeling – and not the truth.
When you feel this way, ask yourself why. You may need to go back to the second step of this course and remember why you started on this journey in the first place.
Whenever you want to give up, come back to your why, come back to this guide and look at all the reasons you wrote down. Remember why you’re reading this guide in the first place.
You’re here because you want to make it happen.
Now go workout.