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10 Ways to Stick to a Workout Plan

Whatever your reason for getting serious about exercise—to lose weight, sleep better, boost your energy, or just be healthier—the key is consistency. And for most of us, that’s the hard part: staying at it and maintaining our commitment to exercise regularly. If you’ve had trouble sticking to your workout plan, you’re not alone. Lots of people get bored with exercise, become discouraged when results don’t come more quickly, or are easily sidetracked by the daily demands of life.

Here are some tips to help you stay motivated and committed:

Tip #1: Set simple and attainable goals.
One surefire way to doom your exercise regime from the beginning is to expect too much out of yourself. It can be really discouraging when you fail to achieve a goal, so allow yourself to go slowly at first, and set your sights on targets you know you can reach. You can make your objectives more challenging down the road, but until you get into a consistent, ongoing, and sustainable routine, work on achieving what you know is possible for where you are right now. After all, five consistent 25-minute workouts in which you feel successful are going to be worth much more than one 60-minute workout that’s so challenging it makes you quit.

Tip #2: Schedule it.
Think of your exercise times as part of your week. Schedule them the way you would doctors’ appointments that you wouldn’t miss. And once you’ve written the exercise “appointment” into your calendar, commit to keeping it because you know it’s important for your health.

Tip #3: Find a buddy.
Exercising with a friend can make all the difference. An obvious reason is that it’s more fun to have someone to hang out and laugh with while you’re sweating and gasping for breath. But a friend also offers accountability on those days when you’re less inclined to head to the gym or go for your run. Knowing someone else is counting on you makes it a lot easier to take that first step out the door.

Tip #4: Motivate yourself visibly and tangibly.
Find something that will act as an incentive to keep you going even when you’re not excited about exercising—an invitation to your class reunion, an advertisement for the place you’ll be visiting on your vacation, a picture of yourself when you were trimmer and in better shape. Then display it prominently, where you’ll see it frequently. Put it on your fridge, or on the dashboard of your car, as a reminder of why you’ve made this commitment to yourself and to your health.

Tip #5: Set up a reward system.
Promise yourself that after you’ve exercised consistently for a certain amount of time (two weeks? three weeks?), you’ll reward yourself in some way. Maybe you’ll buy something you’ve wanted, or have friends over for a movie night, or plan some sort of special event for yourself—like taking in a show or attending a game you’ve wanted to see.

Tip #6: Track your progress.
Find some way to monitor how well you’re sticking to your workout plan. There are computer programs you can download for this, but a chart on the wall can be just as effective. It doesn’t really matter how you do it, but find a way to watch yourself get healthier: You can track inches, pounds, strength, or even the amount of time spent working out. Success can be as motivating as practically anything else, so track your progress and then notice how much more willing you are to keep going once you see how well you’re doing.

Tip #7: Make it fun.
Although some people find it hard to believe, it really ispossible to enjoy exercise at least somewhat. So find small ways to make your workouts more enjoyable (or less detestable). One suggestion is to get an iPod and create different music mixes that get your blood flowing. Podcasts and books on tape or CD can also help you more fully enjoy yourself while working out.

Tip #8: Try something new.
Another way to make workouts more enjoyable is to mix a healthy dose of variety into your exercise regimen, maybe even trying something new. Consider taking a kickboxing (or dance or swim) class that will make at least parts of the exercise feel less like drudgery.

Tip #9: Minimize the obstacles.
When thinking about the logistics and timing of your workout plan, make things as easy on yourself as possible. Try to avoid setting up any potential obstacles that could prevent you from keeping your scheduled training time. For example, don’t create a schedule that requires you to leave work early or interrupt a family dinner; that will just give you one more excuse not to work out. Also, don’t choose a gym way across town or a workout buddy you can’t count on to be consistent. Instead, be thoughtful as you set up your plan and keep things simple so that it seems as easy as possible to get to your workout—even if you’re not always looking forward to the workout itself.

Tip #10: Get through the first few workouts.
Keep in mind that the first few times you begin to exercise again, it’s probably not going to be easy. So, especially as you’re getting started, emphasize the ideas on this list. Set your attainable goals, schedule the first few workouts, get your buddy on board, find ways to make the exercise fun, and then commit to simply making it through these first few workouts. Implement a zero-tolerance “no excuses” policy for yourself while you’re getting started. Then, once you’ve established good workout habits and gotten used to the discipline required to keep them up, it’ll be much easier to commit to doing what you know is important for your overall health.