Issue #24: The Gym Issue

How many of us have planned to work out, only to then decide to skip the workout at the last minute? Maybe you had a long day at work or maybe you had a friend invite you to last minute happy hour. Whatever the reason, we have all become really good at getting ourselves out of working out. Typically 50-60% of people who start an exercise program will quit within the first 6 months.1 The key to a successful fitness program is consistency, and consistency means no more missed workouts. Below are three things you can do to make sure you never skip another workout again.

1. Put it on your SCHEDULE

Numerous studies have found that allotting specific times in our schedules to exercise increases our chances of actually getting them done.2,3,4 By making exercise a daily priority, you are implicitly (and explicitly) committing to that activity, which will increase your chances of completing the task. Additionally, by sticking to a regularly planned routine, you will be more likely to turn your exercise behavior into a new habit.5 To get the full benefit, put your workouts into a scheduled time-frame on your calendar just as you would a doctor’s appointment or work meeting.

2. Create an INCENTIVE

Incentivising behavior has been shown to increase the likelihood of engaging in that behavior.6,7 A big reason why people buy personal training or other fitness services is because it provides them with an incentive for showing up. No one wants to waste money paying for something he/she doesn’t use. If personal training isn’t in your wheelhouse, there are other ways to incentivise your workouts and create accountability. Perhaps you pledge to donate $5 to a charity for every missed workout, or maybe you set aside $5 toward your next vacation for every completed workout. There are smartphone apps designed with this idea in mind. One such app, called Pact, allows you to earn money for completing workouts, but also requires you to pay if you miss your goals.

Of course, cash isn’t the only way to incentivise a workout. Another strong predictor of exercise adherence is how often your social network participates in exercise.8 Recruit a buddy to become your exercise partner, and now you have made it a little harder to blow off the gym because you’re tired from a long day at work. Additionally, posting your fitness goals on social media has been shown to increase accountability and create an incentive to work out in order to avoid social embarrassment if you don’t reach your goals.9

3. Make it FUN

How many times have you sat at work at the end of the day and thought to yourself, “man, it’s time to go home already!? But I’m enjoying myself so much that I don’t want to leave yet!” On the other hand, how many times have you told yourself this at the end of a long night out with friends? We tend to look forward to the activities that bring us pleasure, and one study showed that exercise adherence is greater for activities participants enjoyed doing.10 For this reason it is important to find physical activities that you ENJOY doing. Don’t like to run? Then don’t run; find something else to do like swimming or biking. Don’t feel like you are forced to do an activity you hate just because it is good for you; there are plenty of options to choose from.

Music is another way to bring enjoyment to your workouts, and music can even increase your performance.11 Take the time to make an awesome playlist of songs that pump you up, and only listen to them during your workout. This way you don’t burn out listening to the same tunes inside and outside of the gym.

Lastly, as mentioned above, recruiting a friend as your workout partner can make your workouts more fun, and something you actually look forward to doing. Individuals in one study were significantly more likely to regularly hit the gym if their significant other did as well.12

About Alex McBrairty

Alex McBrairty is a personal trainer based in Ann Arbor, MI. He educates his clients in exercise, nutrition, and behavior change to help them develop new habits and reach their goals. Alex also teaches, writes, and speaks about fitness motivation and behavior change.