zenhabits : breathe

Why the Fitness Habit is More Important Than the Plan

Post written by Leo Babauta.

In the last few months, I’ve spent a bit of time working with a group of fantastic fitness experts to create a fitness program that I think could change people’s lives.

But what I’ve found in doing research and working with beta testers is that the most important thing isn’t some secret ideal fitness plan … but forming the habit of fitness.

It’s the habit, not the plan, that makes all the difference in the world.

It’s fascinating, really. I’ve found that you can give beginners 10 different fitness plans — yoga, running, Crossfit, TurboFire, P90X, bootcamp workouts, MoveNat, etc. — and they can all fail. Why? Because it doesn’t matter how good the workout is, or how good the diet is … if people don’t actually follow the plan.

The problem isn’t that people don’t know what kinds of exercises to do … they generally do know what they should be doing. And really, no matter what people choose, it’ll (generally) be better than nothing. It’s much better to do bodyweight exercises, or run, or do yoga, or play a sport, than to do no activity at all.

So how do you get people to do something, rather than nothing? It’s not even a matter of motivation. You can motivate people to get active — for a day or three. That’s not the hard part. The hard part is figuring out how to get them to stick to it.

When I first started running, in late 2005, I knew that I could get myself to run for a few days, because I’d done it a dozen times before. But never, in those dozen attempts at running, could I stick to it for long enough to make any difference in my health, fitness level, or weight.

Then I applied the same principles that worked for quitting smoking, to running, and it stuck. A year later, after running a handful of races from 5Ks to half marathons, I ran my first marathon (and have run a couple since). What was the secret? Motivation? A good running plan? No: it was learning to create the habit of running, and figuring out how to make that habit stick.

It was that simple.

And yet, none of the major fitness programs really addresses this. I can’t understand why — having a set of DVDs is worthless if you don’t stick to it for longer than a week, or even a month or two. Working out really hard for two months is great, but what happens after that? Do you keep going? Usually the answer is no — and that’s if people can even make it to two months. Usually they can’t.

And so I decided address this problem. I helped create Simple Fitness Habit to focus on not only a good program, but those who want to form the habit and stick with it. It’s based on habit techniques that I’ve tested on myself for years, and that I’ve taught to thousands of people.

In addition to the habit stuff, my business partner Dominic and I put together a group of fitness experts to help people who:

If you fit the first two criteria and one of the last four, the program is designed to help you. It’s not for people who are already really good at the habit of fitness, eating healthy, and meeting their fitness goals.

Anyway, Simple Fitness Habit is now open, and I wanted to share a bit about what I’ve learned about fitness programs. I find it incredibly interesting how important the fitness habit is, compared to what fitness plan you decide to follow. Form the habit, create the lifestyle, and all the rest flows into place.

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