It's that time of year again—champagne flows, balls drop, and New Year's resolutions are made.
Resolutions run the gamut—from quitting smoking or being more productive at work to eating more vegetables or losing 10 pounds. A majority of resolutions, though, revolve around exercise. People often pledge to start an exercise program, get back on track with a program they resolved to start last year, or raise the intensity of their current exercise program. Unfortunately, many of these good intentions do not last past February.
Do you make the same fitness resolutions year after year? Here is some advice on making your exercise goals attainable and sustainable in the New Year.
Working With a Personal Trainer
Laurie, a 29-year-old editor, was exercising six to seven days a week, seeing no improvement, and starting to burn out. After talking with a trainer, Laurie realized that her program needed revitalization. Her current routine consisted of climbing on the StairMaster everyday and lifting weights on Nautilus machines three times a week.
"The personal trainer pointed out that my workout was stale," Laurie explains. "He encouraged me to incorporate different exercises and taught me how to work with free weights. I started playing basketball again, going to step aerobics and kick boxing classes, and even began lap swimming. Now I ask myself what I feel like doing each day, rather than dragging myself to the StairMaster."
Reworking Laurie's exercise program paid off. Within six months she lost 10 pounds and has kept the weight off for almost four years. More importantly, though, she has stuck with her exercise program. "I feel better about myself and I look better," Laurie says, "and friends have even asked me how I got my arms to look so good. Not bad for a little change-up in the routine that made it more fun to boot."
A Trainer Weighs In
"An exercise program needs to have variety and be fun for a person to stick with it," explains Michael Wood, CSCS, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and director of the Sports Performance Group in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "It should be tailored to the individual; that's where a personal trainer comes in. A trainer can assess your fitness level and your needs, and then put together a program that gets into the nuts and bolts of exercise, one based on the right techniques and good body mechanics."
A personal trainer knows the body and knows the equipment. Even seemingly minor changes in the way you exercise can make a huge difference in the results. "My right arm is stronger than my left, so my trainer suggested I use dumbbells (a weight in each hand) instead of a barbell," says Laurie. "Now my right side doesn't compensate for my left and both sides are gaining muscle equally."
And it does not have to cost a fortune. A few appointments are all it takes for a trainer to assess your abilities and create an exercise program that can work for your body. "A good trainer weans you off after time," says Wood. "And if you feel your motivation start to slip or you begin to get bored, set up an appointment to refresh your workout."
Six Tips for Success
So you have made up your mind to make this year's New Year's resolution stick. These steps will help you attain and sustain your new fitness goals. And they can be applied to any type of resolution, not just exercise.
- Write it down. To get a clear understanding of your resolution, write out the specifics of your new workout plan. Include all the details—how many times a week you want to work out, which days, what types of exercises you plan to do, and what your goals are. Continue to document your progress throughout the year to gauge how it is going and if you have been successful.
- Be active with friends. Meet a friend to go for a walk or inline skating or biking or hiking or play racquetball—the options are endless.
- Do it for yourself. Make a resolution because you really want to—not to please someone else. Regular exercise will make you look better, but it will also make you feel better.
- Set realistic goals. If you have never run a day in your life, do not decide to become a marathon runner by February. Instead, start with a goal you can accomplish, such as running three or four miles. Once you have attained your first goal, you will be motivated to reach for a new, tougher goal.
- Be specific. Give yourself detailed guidelines with specific dates, times, and/or amounts. Do not just say, "I want to lift more weight." Instead, determine how much you want to increase by and in what time frame. Pick a specific road race, triathlon, or charity race to participate in.
- Reward yourself for success. If you have kept to your exercise schedule all month, splurge on a new pair of athletic shoes. Or maybe you hit a specific weight-lifting goal—treat yourself to dinner out with a good friend. However you do it, be sure to pat yourself on the back for a job well done.