Nothing says January like resolving to head back to the gym. But whether you merely paused your fitness regimen for the holidays or you're committing to regular exercise for the first time in months, it can be tough to get back on track.
Don't start spending in the name of fitness, though. Buying fancy fitness gadgets or joining an expensive gym isn't your ticket to a fitter body—at least not initially. A successful fitness program starts with your mind, not your wallet, according to wellness coach Rania Batayneh, who works with clients in San Francisco and Portland. Use these seven tricks to get your head in the game, fast.
Reshape your behavior. "Everyone sets New Year's resolutions. The problem is most people don't make them realistic enough," says Batayneh. A realistic goal is one that's more about creating a healthier outlook than working your way down a to-do list. If you focus on making behavioral changes before piecing together the details of your workout regimen, Batayneh says you're more likely to achieve your goals.
Get prepared. Plan ahead and you're a lot less likely to back out tomorrow. Of course, this entails more than simply scribbling "go to the gym" on a Post-it note and sticking it to your alarm clock. Batayneh tells her clients to pack their gym bags and get breakfast and lunch ready for the next day. "Very small things you can do the night before will set you up for success," she says. For extra security, put the gym bag in your car.
Be consistent. It's no secret that in order to reach your fitness goals, you must make exercise an integral part of your daily life. "The body craves consistency," Batayneh says. So does the mind. If you want to work out from 8 to 8:45 a.m. Monday through Thursday, write it down in your planner and treat it as an inflexible appointment. Soon, your brain and body will happily fall in line and you won't need to set reminders for yourself. Regular sleep and meal times will further solidify your new fitness regimen.
Use momentum to your advantage. "Focus on making lots of good little decisions," Batayneh says. "When your behavior makes you feel better, you're going to feel positive and keep going." If you're planning a big leap—say, going from being sedentary to working out five days a week—consider starting with a few small, fail-safe moves. You'll have a much easier time saying "yes" to 15 minutes of Pilates at home than to an hour-long session at the gym— until you're back in your exercise groove.
Track every workout. Why are store rewards programs so successful? Because nothing drives us forward like seeing what we've already racked up (stopping halfway to a reward feels like losing free money, right?). By the same token, seeing small milestones in ink is an easy way to build fitness momentum. Not into keeping a fitness journal? Get a calendar and simply make a check mark for every day you work out. It may not be as efficient as tracking your measurements or heart rate, but trust me, if you see that you've hit the gym every day this week, you're not going to break your winning streak when some silly excuse comes along.
Plan on some catch-up. Eager to get moving again? Not so fast: It's common for people to overestimate their fitness level when starting or restarting a training routine. Rather than assuming your ability is the same as it used to be, start slowly so you can gauge your strength. Choose a lighter dumbbell off the rack for your first few deadlifts. Warm up with a week of active stretching or sit in on a beginner's class before you resume intermediate yoga. The good news is that it probably won't take long to bounce back to your prior fitness level. A slow start definitely beats fatigue, excessive muscle soreness, and injury—what you risk by overdoing it.
Think wellness, not weight loss. That's Batayneh's mantra. Why? It gets back to focusing on behavioral changes instead of the particulars of a program. When you think about overall wellness as the reason for beefing up your exercise efforts, you're more likely to choose a sustainable program, she says. Sure, a hyped-up, trendy program might look good on paper, but you may not be comfortable with what's required to keep up with it. "The changes you make to get in shape are the changes you're going to have to [maintain]," Batayneh says, adding: "If they aren't sustainable, they aren't worth doing."
Chelsea Bush writes for AskFitnessCoach, a blog that promotes a down-to-earth approach to fitness and weight loss.