Anyone that’s ever been to a gym during the first two weeks of January will know that it’s packed full of exercise rookies with good intentions; those trying to burn off the excesses of the holiday season. As January comes to a close, however, half of those people have fallen by the wayside—the confident declarations that were made on January 1st, have petered out with a whimper 3 weeks later.
New Year’s resolutions are extremely difficult to keep, particularly those related to health and fitness. No matter how confident you are as you throw away the eggnog, latkes, and shortbread, and declare war on junk food and your excess flab, when you come face to face with the reality of sore muscles and lineups for machines, things often going awry.
But things run a lot smoother if you have guidelines to help you get through that extremely difficult first month. Here are 5 tips that should help you stick to that resolution long past January.
Set Realistic Goals
Think you’re going to lose 40 pounds 2 weeks into January, or hit the gym 6 days a week? Forget it. Nothing derails a resolution faster than an unrealistic plan. You start overtraining, become sick of the gym, or just plain sick in general as your immune system breaks down and forces you out of commission for weeks. By that point you’re so sick of the sight of a gym that you’d rather deal with the indignity of breaking your New Year’s resolution, than see another elliptical machine.
Set goals that are attainable. Take baby steps and slowly build your confidence—you can always increase the intensity of your routine further down the road. If you haven’t stepped foot in a gym for a year, don’t try to overcompensate by going every day—you’ll simply wear yourself out. Remember that you make fitness gains when you rest and recover from exercise. Start by trying to go 2-3 times a week, doing one weight-training session and a couple sessions of cardio. Your chances of making it through the year with your resolution intact will be far greater.
Gyms can be intimidating places, especially in January when it feels like the entire city is jammed into an area only slightly bigger than your apartment. If you’re new to the gym and have a hard time navigating through the crowds and endless amounts of torture equipment, it helps to have a gym buddy—not necessarily someone who’s a fitness expert, but just someone who can help get you through those tough early weeks with positive words of encouragement.
On those Saturday mornings when you really feel like sleeping in and giving the gym a miss, that friend will call you and possibly shame you (nicely, of course) into getting out of bed, and sticking to your routine. Of course, you’ll provide the same function for your friend—a perfect symbiotic relationship. And when you’re in the gym it helps to have someone to coax you through that last nausea inducing set of squats. You may not appreciate the sound of your friend’s voice as you’re gutting out one more rep, but you will in the long run.
Don’t Focus too Much on Your Weight
So you’ve found a gym buddy to motivate you, and you’re diligently going to the gym. But you weigh yourself after 3 weeks and see that you’ve lost nothing; in-fact you’ve put on a couple pounds. Don’t despair, don’t give up, and most importantly, put the scale away. A serious impediment to sticking to your New Year’s resolution is obsessively worrying about your weight. You get down in the dumps and want to call it quits. But early on, your weight is NOT important.
Your weight may fluctuate wildly over the course of the day. You wake up a certain weight, have a couple glasses of water and put on 2 or 3 pounds, all water weight. Your weight can be deceptive—ignore it for the first few months of your new routine. A better indicator of progress further down the line is your clothing size—whether your waist has shrunk, or you’ve dropped a dress size. And remember, muscle is denser than fat. It’s very possible to put on 5 or 6 pounds, but look leaner and more toned because you’ve lost body fat and built muscle. So put that scale away for the time being.
Nothing is more counterproductive and will induce you to quit your resolution faster, than the same old stagnant gym routine. It’s great to be disciplined and stick to a workout plan, but there’s no reason why you can’t mix things up in the gym. If you’ve been working on the exercise bike for a couple of weeks for your cardio, try the elliptical machine for the next two weeks. If you’ve been working your quads on the leg-press machine, try free-weights for a while. By varying your routine you’ll challenge your body to adapt to different stresses, keep things fresh, and prevent the gym from turning into a boring chore.
As well as varying your routine in the gym, it’s also extremely productive to vary your overall fitness routine. Complement your weight-training and cardio sessions with a yoga or Pilates class once a week. And if you really want to add a fun element to your regimen, take up a sport. Join a basketball rec league, or anything that takes your fancy. Playing sports is an awesome way to complement your time spent grinding in the gym, and it doesn’t even feel like exercise…until the following day, of course.
If you go to the gym consistently (without killing yourself, of course) and stick to a sensible nutrition plan, you will eventually become a healthier, fitter, and stronger person. But sticking to your New Year’s resolution doesn’t mean that you have to become some sort of self-flagellating monk, denying yourself all worldly pleasures, and torturing yourself if you’re occasionally unable to resist the call of that fast-food restaurant.
In-fact, in order to maintain a healthy fitness routine, and your sanity, it’s important to let your hair down once in a while. Work hard and eat well during the week, but designate a ‘fun’ day for yourself—a day when you have a few beers or glasses of wine, eat what you want (within reason) and simply forget about anything to do with squats, reps, and calories burned. There’s no sense in working hard simply for the sake of working hard. Your hard work gives you the leeway to indulge once a week, without needing to feel guilty.