It’s a question I often get from friends and acquaintances who are either looking to start a fitness routine or struggling to sustain one: “How do you do it?” Contrary to what Instagram influencers might make you believe, it’s not as simple as getting up and getting it done. There are a multitude of factors that can demotivate anyone, anything from a bad morning to that nagging self-loathing.
I won’t claim to have the winning formula below. But I will say that these are tips that might just help you like how they continue to help me. I’ve been training at home consistently for the past couple of years, and since then, I have put together a set of practices that greatly contribute to my goal of building a strong and balanced body and mind. Let me share them with you:
Set a sustainable schedule.
The best time to work out is when you can fully be present and focused. We each have our own unique lifestyles, priorities, goals, and circumstances, so don’t base your workout schedule on someone else’s life. In my case, for example, I always work out in the early evening for a few reasons. One, I am not a morning person. I like my mornings slow and quiet, and a training session sometime after waking up just won’t allow me to give it my all. Two, I find it easier to focus on the workout once I have gotten all my work done, when my mind is clearer and less cluttered. And three, it suits my eating schedule. I’m usually starving after a workout, and my habit of preparing hearty dinners is just the right fit.
Pick the kind of movement you enjoy.
I didn’t always do strength training. In the past, I preferred more explosive cardio and endurance exercises. I had done running, spinning, and dancing, among others, and I thoroughly enjoyed each one of them. In the gym, I didn’t force myself to lift weights because it was not something that fit my fitness goals at the time. I didn’t often run on the treadmill either because I preferred running outdoors. I also didn’t limit my movement within the gym, as I was keen on outdoor activities some years back. You have to pick the kind of activities that you love so that working out won’t feel like work. Definitely, doing things you enjoy is more sustainable than forcing yourself to do exercises you dread.
Dress the part.
You don’t need branded clothes and equipment to start or sustain a fitness routine, but you do need the essentials to ensure a safe and quality workout. If you’re just starting out, invest in a few pieces of fitness clothing and equipment that won’t break the bank but won’t compromise the quality of your exercises either. If you can’t shop due to financial constraints, there are many DIY solutions available online to help you build weights, resistance bands, etc. Just make sure they are well made in order to avoid any injuries. If you can afford it, a gym membership can give you access to a wider range of exercise equipment. In terms of clothing and accessories, working out with the right pieces will help you focus on the movements instead of constantly adjusting your underwear, wiping off sweat, and generally just feeling uncomfortable.
Set up your area early.
This is something I love to do to make sure I show up for the day’s workout. An hour or two before my actual training schedule, I prep my workout area. This entails previewing the day’s session (I’m currently following Caroline Girvan’s EPIC Endgame program), setting up the necessary equipment, and picking out my workout clothes. Prepping these early typically prevent me from skipping workouts, except of course on days when I’m absolutely not feeling well enough to do them.
Prioritize quality over quantity.
I always believe that anything worth doing is worth doing well. When it comes to fitness, it’s not about how much exercising you do but how well you perform each time. You could be setting personal bests with your high reps but executing the movements in bad from. Doing so can not only prevent you from targeting the right muscles but can also increase your risk of injury. Same with cardio exercises. You could be breaking records with your distance or pace, but you could also be pushing yourself so hard that you’re hurting your body more than improving it. It can be tempting to hit those high reps or increase those weights early on, but trust me that slow and steady can win you that race you’re on against yourself (because it’s always you vs. you).
Ditch the scale and take measurements instead.
Depending on your fitness goals, it might be better to monitor your progress using measurements and pictures rather than stepping on the scale. For example, when doing strength training, you could be gaining muscles (which are denser than fat) and weighing heavier but physically becoming leaner. Your clothes could be fitting better, but the numbers on the scale could be going higher. Focusing on the numbers will mess with your head (believe me, I know). If you’re merely on a calorie deficit to lose weight, then the scale might be helpful, but also be wary of the daily fluctuations in our weight.
Eliminate the atonement mindset.
Viewing exercise as punishment won’t create genuinely rewarding moments in your fitness journey. Choosing to commit to a healthier lifestyle should not be viewed as a way to atone for your “bad” choices. Instead, working out should be a regular part of your day, meant to positively contribute to your overall quality of life. If you’ve always considered exercise as punishment, I highly suggest you work hard on unlearning this first so that you can approach fitness from a healthier point of view.
Pair it up with good and guilt-free nutrition.
Exercising alone won’t build you the healthy body you desire. You have to supplement your workouts with proper nutrition and rest (coming up in the next item). Now, nutrition is a tricky thing, what with today’s prevalent diet culture. I myself am recovering from disordered eating and an unhealthy relationship with food. It hasn’t been easy, and I can imagine I’m not alone in this. Nutrition is a topic that requires a deeper look into—and I’ll probably write about it separately—but to start, I encourage you to check the science and be armed with the right information. There’s a lot of junk to filter online, so expect to be overwhelmed. Just always remember to go back to the science.
Never neglect rest.
As mentioned earlier, no fitness journey will succeed without proper rest. I had fallen prey to overtraining in the past, and it took a toll on me unsurprisingly. The benefits of rest are obvious but sometimes difficult to believe because we think that the more we train, the quicker we’ll get results. But we have to trust that rest will best allow us to reap the rewards of our hard work. Rest allows the body to repair, recover, and replenish. It also helps prevent injury as an overworked body is more prone to falling over, tripping, or dropping a weight.
For me, I typically have two rest days a week. I have one active rest day where I still do a lot of movement but nothing as strenuous as my usual workouts. I usually go for a walk, do chores at home, run an errand, practice a skill (like head stands at the moment), or do some light stretching or calisthenics. My other rest day is one for me to do or not do anything. On these days, I usually have some me time for pampering, do some writing or other relaxed hobbies, bake, cook, catch up on my shows and podcasts, and so on. Believe me when I say the balance of training and rest has done wonders not just for my fitness journey but more importantly for my everyday life. If you’ve been one to neglect those vital rest days, I highly suggest you learn to love them. Honestly, they’re great!
Embrace your individuality.
Like I said earlier, we all have our own unique lives to live, so it would be futile to compare ourselves and our progress with others. So many factors affect our fitness level, including genetics, medical history, age, gender, stress level, nutrition, even our financial capacity and family situation. I used to beat myself up for not progressing as quickly as my peers in my fitness community, and it required some effort to reframe those thoughts. Eventually, I learned to respect my body and accept what it is meant to be as I try to bring it to its best possible version. I look back on my previous physique and fitness level, and while I’m not on an elite level, I have certainly outdone myself in the past couple of years. I have increased my resistance over time and have developed muscles in different parts of my body. I think about those wins, and I am motivated to win some more.
Find your people.
It helps to belong to a healthy and positive community that can support and motivate you to reach your fitness goals. Thankfully, I found mine online. And even though the people close to me are not as involved in fitness as I am, they still very much encourage me to keep at it. It’s also a good idea to share your specific plans and goals with others as a way to keep yourself accountable. In the online fitness community where I belong, a lot of like-minded people have found “accountabili-buddies” to make their training even more fun and focused. A buddy may not be for everyone (like myself who prefers to train alone), but at least participating in group discussions can provide that extra push you need.
Develop better habits and hobbies.
Fitness is not an aspect of life that we can just isolate. It affects everything from our energy levels to our moods, from our focus to our evolving preferences. Try applying the discipline you have in fitness to your other endeavors and see how it can create a more balanced and harmonious life for you as well. You can’t just prioritize a proper fitness routine and then leave the rest of your life in disarray. Doing so will not ensure an overall healthy lifestyle.
I know that’s a lot, but hopefully, you’ll find a few tips that work for you. I’m by no means an expert on fitness, but I do think of myself as an expert in trying. And, as they say, there’s absolutely no harm in trying.