— Let’s be honest: There’s no one single way to transform your body. Ask 10 once-overweight people what kind of exercise plan they used to lose 20, 30, or even 50 pounds, and they’ll likely give you 10 different answers. But if you pay close attention, you’ll find they all have one key factor in common: consistency.
After all, no matter what type of exercise you choose, nothing is more important than that you actually do it. Sure, we think there are ways to speed your results — and we’ll share those with you here — but ultimately, you have to find an exercise plan that you’ll stick with for the long run.
That’s why the number-one fitness rule isn’t to lift weights or to join a gym; it’s to discover physical activities that you like to do, and then make sure you have game plan for working them into your busy schedule. The rest is just details.
To that end, we’ve created this simple guide to help you infuse fitness into your lifestyle for good. We’ve also teamed up with U.S. Representative Aaron Schock (R–IL), who we recently named America’s Fittest Congressman, so that you can show off the results. Join the Fit for Life Summer Challenge, use these principles to get back in shape this summer, and you could appear in a future issue of Men’s Health or Women’s Health magazine!
Statistically speaking, more than 91 percent of people who start an exercise regimen — even those with the best intentions — bail early, before the habit has taken hold. And 61 percent throw in the barely used towel within the first 7 days. The reasons are universal. At the top of the list: job pressures, family commitments, and painfully long workout sessions that are equal parts boring and complicated. Use these strategies to conquer your time constraints, speed your progress, and simplify your workouts.
1. Adopt a 3-Day Standard. In a recent survey, the National Center for Health Statistics found that only 19 percent of Americans perform three or more intense workouts a week. Given these hard numbers, it’s unrealistic to expect that you’ll suddenly start exercising 6 or 7 days straight. Fortunately, that level of commitment isn’t necessary: “You’ll get most of the benefits of exercise by working out hard just three times a week,” says Mike Mejia, C.S.C.S., a strength and conditioning coach in New York. “And that’s especially true if you’re out of shape.” Use these strategies to make sure you stick to the plan.
2. Save one workout for the weekend. “Even if Saturday and Sunday are packed with family commitments and home improvement projects, it’s likely that you’ll still have more free time then than on any given weekday,” says John Raglin, Ph.D., an exercise psychologist at Indiana University. And that means you’ll have to fit in only two sessions from Monday through Friday.
3. Track the ancillary benefits. Keep a job-performance journal on the days you exercise and the days you don’t exercise. Each day, gauge the difficulty of your workload on a scale of 1 (least favorable) to 7 (most favorable), and rate these three categories using the same scale:
“It’s likely you’ll find that you score higher and get more done on the days you exercise, despite taking time out for your workout,” says Jim McKenna, Ph.D., a professor of physical activity and health at Leeds Metropolitan University, in the United Kingdom. (Make sure you compare days that are similar in workload.) And that’ll reinforce your motivation to keep at it.
4. Keep your streak intact. Research shows that when people skip a workout, there’s a 62 percent chance they’ll miss an exercise session the following week. Worse, “a single lapse can result in feelings of failure that are so overwhelming, a person will just quit, even though he might have successfully followed through with exercise 99 percent of the time,” says Raglin. If you don’t have time for your entire workout, take 10 minutes and do a portion of your routine — even if it’s only a couple of sets of pushups and lunges.
5. Go hard, not long. If you like longer workouts, by all means, keep going. But don’t underestimate the power of a 30-minute sweat session. YMCA researchers found that men were twice as likely to stick to an exercise program when they performed shorter workouts — less than 30 minutes — than when they did longer sessions. “They also gained more muscle and lost more fat, because they worked at a higher intensity, rather than just going through the motions of a long workout,” says Wayne Westcott, Ph.D., C.S.C.S., coauthor of the study.
Need more motivation? Here are another 20 Ways to Stick to Your Workout.