The start of a new year always brings hope that we will stay on track to reach our health and fitness goals. However, things don’t always go to plan.
Although the start of a new workout regime is made with the best of intentions, sometimes it’s difficult to stay on track.
Despite it seeming like a never-ending cycle of starting a gym membership only to cancel it as soon as you can, there are some ways to keep your fitness motivation up and running.
Paul Taylor, exercise physiologist, nutritionist and neuroscientist, and Chris Reid, Head of Fitness at Fitness First, share the best ways to keep your head in the game.
How can we stay motivated?
While there’s no one-size fits all answer to how we can stay motivated, because we are all driven by different things, there is one common struggle most people face.
“Many people struggle to have consistent levels of motivation, and for these people, crossing what Professors Deci and Ryan call ’the threshold of autonomy’ is really important,” Paul explains. “This is where you find your own reasons (usually emotional reasons) for why achieving your goal is important to you - and not anyone else.”
To put this in practise, Paul suggests reminding yourself of your reason why, on a daily basis. Pair this with breaking down your goals into behaviours that will help achieve your aims.
Chris says along with working out your why, you should keep your regime exciting.
“Mixing up your routine and selecting a variety of different classes and exercises to do will also keep you going,” he says. “It keeps your routine interesting and keeps your body guessing.”
How should we go about goal-setting?
It’s all about being specific when you set goals.
Paul says they have to be SMART – specific, measureable, achievable, relevant and time-based.
“So, the goal, ‘I want to lose weight,’ is not smart, whereas the goal, ‘I want to lose 5kg by March 31st,’ or, ‘I want to go to three different gym classes per week,’ are both smart,” Paul says.
Once you have your goal, Paul advises to break that goal down into smaller steps.
“For example, if I want to lose 6kg over the next two months, I would set one month goal at 2kg, then have weekly target of 0.5kg,” he explains. “You focus on the weekly goal and forget about the big goal.”
What if we get bored?
Don’t be afraid to try something that’s a little out of your comfort zone, to keep things interesting.
“Variety is important both for the brain, and for stimulating adaptation of the muscle and nervous system,” Paul says. “This is where fitness classes are a great idea, as exercising in a group is more stimulating to the brain than exercising alone.”
So, get your friends and family on board and be accountable for each other staying on track.
“Exercise buddies (or accountability partners) are an excellent way to help people to stay on track - especially for people who are not naturally motivated to continue a fitness regime,” he says.
Anything else that can keep us on track?
Paul reveals that he is a fan of having a ritual board to help keep motivation levels high.
“It’s a physical whiteboard that you put on a wall so you will see many times a day,” Paul explains. “Rituals are habits that you perform that will help you achieve your goal, and the idea is to have a few big habits (such as going to the gym) and lots of little habits ( for example, 200 push-ups per week and 200 squats). Then, when you walk past your board, it acts as a trigger and you do, say, 20 push-ups and tick them off.”
The act of ticking something off releases a little bit of dopamine in the brain and enhances your motivation, Paul says. This handy board will serve as a constant reminder of your goals and give you a visual way to track progress.