Never skip a workout again! These motivational strategies are scientifically proven to score you a healthy gym habitBy: K. Aleisha Fetters
Fill in the blank: It’s been __ days/weeks/months since your last sweat session.
That number could be the biggest contributor to your health this year. “No matter your workout type, intensity, and duration, you have to perform it regularly to see results,” says trainer Marta Montenegro, adjunct professor of exercise and sports sciences at Florida International University. (Search: How long does it take to see exercise results?) Too bad 81 percent of Americans exercise less than three times a week, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. But you don’t have to be one of them! These 10 research-backed strategies will turn you into a gym rat in no time.
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“Forget the go-big-or-go-home philosophy,” says Kristen James, New York metro area fitness manager for Equinox Fitness Clubs. When you work out too hard—especially early into a routine before your body has a chance to adapt—you risk injuring yourself or just plain burning out, both of which can put an end to your gym habit. Once you have a fitness goal and deadline in mind, James recommends working backward: Determine smaller goals you’ll need to accomplish along the way and write down realistic dates for meeting them. (Video: A quick and easy living room workout routine) Breaking up your goal into chunks will make it feel more manageable and help you keep pace over the long term, she says.
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“Do what you love, love what you do,” says James. When it comes to motivation, there’s nothing better than what experts call “intrinsic motivation,” doing an activity for the pure joy of doing it. If you like spinning, hit up a spin class. Don’t force yourself to pound the pavement just because you think you should be a runner. What’s more, as most people enjoy activities at which they excel (duh). One Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise review of 38 studies found that your belief in your exercise ability is the highest predictor of physical activity. The better you are at a workout—whether it’s shaking your hips to Zumba tunes or holding the perfect plank—the more often you’ll do it.
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What’s your excuse for skipping the gym? Once you think honestly about what keeps you from sticking to your workout schedule, you can devise simple strategies to deprive yourself the chance to cop out. If you hit the snooze button all the way through your morning workout, schedule exercise during lunch or in the evening. After a long day at the office, do you ditch the workout bench for a date with the couch? Leave your gym bag in the car—or even in your office. Maybe a packed schedule is an issue.Shorten your workouts or spread your physical activity throughout the day. A walk here, a few vinyasas there, and, by the end of the day, you’ve done your body good, says James.
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Stop calling yourself a couch potato—you’ll create a self-fulfilling prophecy. A recent study of 100 women found that the more dissatisfied women are with their bodies, the more likely they are to avoid exercise. If you see yourself as someone who doesn’t like to sweat, you’ll do things that people who don’t exercise tend to do—like not working out. However, research has shown that when people view themselves as exercisers, it becomes a fundamental part of who they are and what they do, says David E. Conroy, Ph.D., professor of kinesiology and human development at The Pennsylvania State University. Tell yourself you’re a fitness fanatic. Once you start logging regular workouts, it’ll be true.
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A successful gym schedule doesn’t leave anything to chance, Conroy says. “Scheduling your workouts at regular times will make exercise become part of your routine. You’ll start doing it without thinking.” First, ask yourself when you can realistically—not ideally—get to the gym. “There’s nothing more discouraging that shooting for five days a week and ending up doing twice a week,” Montenegro says. Once you determine the when, find the most convenient locale possible. She also recommends visiting prospective health clubs at the times you plan to workout to ensure equipment is available when you need it most.
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