3 Steps to Nailing Your Fitness Goals
We’re well into the New Year, which makes it the perfect time to assess how you’re sticking to your resolutions—especially those related to health and fitness. Many of us enter the year with ambitious goals about how often we’ll go to the gym, maybe try that new, trendy workout class, or reach 10K steps each day. Interestingly, approximately 48% of Americans said their top priority for 2024 was getting more physically fit, making it the number one resolution, as polled by Forbes.
If you’ve found your progress stymied as we’ve moved into the second month of the year, you’re not alone. It’s estimated that 90% of new year’s resolutions fail, and fitness goals seem to be particularly susceptible to losing steam by February or March. To help keep you on track with your fitness goals, today we’ve outlined three steps to create a lifestyle of fitness this year—one that can be sustained through 2024 and beyond!
1. Find the best time of day for you to work out
Habits are hardto keep if you don’t have a clear plan, or worse, you create a plan too unrealistic to sustain in the long term. When it comes to working out, finding the correct timing can be a huge hurdle for many, especially folks trying to balance multiple jobs, kids’ schedules, cooking for a family, and more.
If you’ve found yourself falling behind on your exercise goals, this is a great time to re-evaluate and create a plan that suits your schedule. Use the following questions to guide you:
- When do you generally have the most free time in your week?
Think about: lunch break, mornings before the kids wake up, an hour after work, etc. These are the time blocks you could consider adding a workout.
- If you don’t have much (or any!) free time, how can you get creative?
Multitasking may be your friend here. Some ideas to consider:
- If you’re given a long lunch at work, could you go for a long walk or even run around the block or a nearby park?
- If you like to relax by watching Netflix at the end of the day, could you stretch or lift some weights while you’re enjoying the show? I often use light hand weights while walking on the treadmill to maximize the body parts I’m working out AND watching Netflix. I find that 30 minutes go by fast with a good show!
- If you are most motivated in the mornings, could you wake up 25 minutes earlier to knock out an at-home workout?
As for me, I HATE getting up early so I scheduled evening workouts with a friend – she was an accountability partner so I would show up to the gym without excuses. I didn’t let the experts’ advice on best times to exercise stop me from doing what worked for me.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with these! Get creative and see what works for you.
- Thinking back, were there ever times that you were able to stick to an exercise routine?
Consider if you had a phase of going to a yoga class regularly, working out at home a few times a week—anything.
In these times, what went right? When did you schedule your workouts and why did it work for you?
Are there elements of that schedule you could retain now? Which ones?
Work smarter, not harder. If you’ve had success in the past, see what parts of it you can replicate!
- What kind of workout do you most enjoy?
Some people hate working out altogether. If that’s the case, consider which exercises you dislike the least, and consider ways you can make working out more enjoyable. For you, that might be walking in nature, putting on your favorite TV show or podcast, or working out with friends. Try anything that can make the experience more enjoyable and motivating for you! As for me, I dislike lifting weights. But maintaining muscle mass is even more important as we age. And with my genetics, I knew I needed to make a change. So, I budgeted for a trainer to make me do the workouts I wouldn’t do on my own. And now that I’m into a routine, I think it’s one of the best investments I made for myself at this stage of my life!
- Lastly, what is the minimum number of times per week you need to work out to reach your goals?
A good starting point is two or three workouts per week. It’s great to get a minimum of twenty minutes of movement each day, BUT if you’re starting from nothing, start with what you can do, NOT what you’re recommended to do. Don’t let people tell you that you should aim for at least 3X/week and do this and that, blah, blah, blah. You have to start somewhere and do what you can with your schedule, your energy and your time. As for me, I go 2X/week if I can, but sometimes, I may go for 2 weeks without training due to my travel schedule. Since I’ve been consistent over the last year, the muscle strength comes back quickly even after a 2-3 week hiatus.
From these questions, begin scheduling your favorite type of workout in the times you identified. If it’s hard to motivate yourself, also consider what might motivate you to stay on track. With these different pieces clarified, it is easier to see the path forward and keep going!
2. Keep to your routine—to make the habit stick and boost your health
Recent research shows that the more you exercise at a certain time of day, the more your body’s internal clock attunes to that schedule. A study with mice found that implementing a regular exercise routine in the morning seemed to shift their circadian rhythms to match up with the morning exercises. But how do these little mice relate to you?
The studies provide early evidence that your own muscles may calibrate to your training schedule, enhancing your athletic performance and the benefits you reap from exercise when you exercise at similar times each day or week. In other words, your body’s internal clock shifts in expectation of your workout, which can actually boost the efficacy of your exercise.
Interestingly, there are also unique benefits that are believed to come with working out in the morning versus the evening!
Some research on mice has indicated morning workouts may burn more fat through the day. Individuals with metabolic diseases like Type 2 Diabetes may particularly benefit from a morning workout. If you struggle to manage your blood sugar levels, you may want to schedule your workouts for the mornings!
Additionally, it was found that women who worked out in the mornings rather than evenings had reduced belly fat and blood pressure. It’s important to note that these women did a rigorous, hour-long workout that incorporated endurance, resistance, and cardio training; the results may not apply to all types of workouts.
If you’re an Olympian, then you should hope your games take place in the evening—many swimmers and cyclists have been found to be their fastest after 5 PM!
For those of us who aren’t competing in Paris this year, there are still tangible benefits. The same study that found morning workouts reduce belly fat in women found that evening workouts increased their upper body muscular performance. There was also evidence that evening workouts boosted mood more than a morning workout. For men, evening workouts had stronger effects on reducing blood pressure and oxidizing fat.
The growing research is fascinating, but it’s important to note that these are typically small studies, and some of them are contradictory. More than anything, choose a time of day you can be consistent with to see the greatest benefits!
3. Make it fun! Try new exercises
For some, working out can feel boring and repetitive. Watching a TV show or listening to music can help, but doesn’t spur the motivation needed to achieve real consistency. If that’s you—or if you just want to explore new exercises—have you ever heard of retro-walking?
No, this isn’t a form of walking where you imitate someone from the 1960s or 70s! Retro-walking is the academic term for walking backwards. Some exercise scientists are avid proponents of the exercise, pointing to research that it can alleviate back, knee, and joint pain. Additionally, some research shows it can improve brain functions like memory and problem solving.
The benefits of retro-walking likely come from its ability to increase hamstring flexibility and strengthen back muscles. It requires you to use an entirely different set of muscles, while also challenging your brain to create a new motor pattern. Professional athletes, especially in sports like tennis and soccer, regularly use retro-walking in training, too.
Apart from its benefits, walking backwards might just give you a bout of the giggles, especially if you try it with your kids or friends. Getting out of our comfort zone and trying something new can make exercise more enjoyable and easy to keep up with!
Try these tips to make your fitness goals sustainable for the long term. Creating a realistic workout schedule, maintaining consistency to attune your circadian rhythm, and trying new exercises—even walking backwards—will all help to keep it fresh!