zen habits : breathe

7 Ways to Build the Exercise Habit

This is a guest post from Mehdi, author of StrongLifts.com.

Leo did a great job with his article How To Make Exercise a Daily Habit. I’ve been strength training for 10 years, and I thought: let’s give the people of Zen Habits my method for building the exercise habit.

You’ve probably tried it several times. You’re fed up with your skinny look or overweight body. You decide to finally do something about it. So you take a gym membership. Some friends decide to join you. After a few weeks however, your friends don’t show up anymore. Then you end up alone. And eventually you quit.

Yeah I know, this happens all the time. I’ve seen it over and over again. I know what you’re thinking. How come some people can stick with it and others not? What is their secret?

I’ll first tell you what it is not: it’s not discipline, it’s not willpower. Discipline and willpower only work in the short-term.

What works in the long-term is making exercise a habit. That’s their secret. And that’s what this post is about — 7 ways to build the exercise habit.

1. Set your Goal. What do you want to achieve?

Exercising can be used for several means. Before you take a gym membership, start by setting a definite goal. What is it that you want?

Don’t try to achieve more than 1 thing at a time. Start with one goal. Once you have attained it, you can work towards a second goal.

2. Set a Deadline. Set a date by which you will reach your goal. Write your goal and deadline on a piece of paper and put it somewhere you can see it multiple times a day.

A good place would be on your nightstand. Look at it on waking up and before going to bed. This will act as a constant reminder of your goal.

3. Make a Plan. Once you have set your goal, you must back it up with a plan.

Your time is precious. Any minute in the gym must bring you closer towards the achievement of your goal. So choose a solid training program. If you’re a total beginner to strength training, read Starting Strength. It’s the best place to start.

4. Exercise First Thing in the Morning. When you’ve just had a tough day at work, it can be hard to train for another hour at the gym. A solution is to exercise first thing in the morning:

One hour later, you’re another step closer towards the achievement of your goal. And you have your whole day to do whatever you need to do.

5. Stick to your Plan. This is something I experienced on numerous occasions. The days you don’t feel like exercising, are often your best days. Maybe it’s the mind-body connection: the body says no, but the mind says go. Thus the body eventually says go too. I don’t know.

Whatever it is, when it’s the day to train, it’s the day to train. Make no excuses, go the gym. If you don’t feel 100% healthy, still go the gym, but train at a lower intensity. The fact that you’ve been there, is more important than the quality of your training. And as I wrote above, sometimes it can turn out into one of your most productive workouts.

The more you exercise, the more you build the habit. Stick to your plan.

6. Train With Someone Who Has The Exercise Habit. If you’re training partner quits, you’ll probably end up quitting too. But if your training partner hangs on, you’ll take it as a challenge.

Next time you go the gym, look around you. Look at the people who exercise. Find someone who is serious with his training. Take the initiative: ask him if you can train with him. If you choose the right person, he’ll accept your request. Most people know that getting into exercising is not easy, they know because they’ve been there.

A good training partner will motivate you & help you achieve your goal. If not, keep on looking.

7. Be confident. You can achieve whatever you want, if you believe that you can do it. Having a clear goal and a plan will already arm you with self-confidence.

Know that it will take 30 days to build the exercise habit. During the first 30 days you’ll need to push yourself to the gym. After 30 days it will become easier: the habits starts to take over, pushing you the gym.

Write this next to your goal and deadline: “If they can do it, I can do it”

Mehdi is author of StrongLifts.com, a blog about strength training, nutrition, lifestyle & attitude. Join him at StrongLifts.com for the fascinating journey towards more strength, bigger muscles, low body fat & a better health.

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