Everyone knows that gyms are packed the first two weeks of January. But after that? They’re empty, while gym companies rake in cash from unused memberships.What happened to all those people who made a resolution to “get in shape?”
It’s not that they’re lazy or “don’t want it bad enough.” Anyone who’s tried to build a new habit knows it’s deeper than that. So why is it so hard to start a workout habit you can stick with consistently?
This article explains five of the most common forces that hold us back from creating a consistent exercise practice.
And it gives you tips on how to beat them.
1. Inertia is WinningMaking changes is especially difficult because we’re creatures of habit. It’s so easy to be comfortable doing things a certain way, and it’s incredibly hard to set a new pattern.
I did an interview recently with my friend J.C. Deen, who said:
It’s super hard. Inertia is one of the biggest detriments of any massive change because it’s so hard to change directions in general and it’s so hard to create new habits and make things different. It’s easy to get back to where you were without even realizing it.
There’s a concept in the fat loss world called the “set point theory,” which states that every person has a “set point” – or a relatively small range – of bodyfat they’ll stay in without extreme measures. You probably know what your range is because you tend to come back there when you’re not trying to diet down or put on muscle.
The same concept can be applied to our workout habits.
If you’re pretty sedentary and decide you want to make training a priority, you’re likely to encounter issues with this set point. You’re all pumped the first week or two, and you show up at the gym consistently for that time.
But when week 3 or 4 rolls around, maybe you miss a day or two, then you start missing more, and before you know it, you’re back to where you had been.
So what can you do to combat inertia?
The first thing you have to realize is that progress takes a lot longer than is shown on these “6 weeks to 6 pack abs” infomercials and ads. Being aware of that right away can be very helpful since your expectations are reset right away.
Inertia has two facets. It can keep you static since it’s harder to get yourself going. But the other part of inertia is “an object in motion tends to stay in motion.”
So once you get yourself moving and string together two weeks, then three weeks, then four weeks, and so on, you gather momentum. Pretty soon, your “new” exercise regimen becomes your normal everyday routine.
When you start feeling that inertia creep in, try to remind yourself that you only have another week or two to go before that becomes your new set point.
Once that happens, the journey will be a lot easier.
2. You’re Comparing Yourself to OthersThis is such an easy trap to fall into, especially when you see so many impressive pictures and videos online of what people have accomplished.
When you start a new workout regimen, you know it’s going to be a long road, but it’s still tempting to look at “quick results” people have gotten and get impatient. Or, you may look at someone’s performance results that come from months or years of work, and feel like you’ll never catch up.
It’s very hard to keep up the motivation to continue this new habit if you’re feeling that way.
So what can you do to avoid this trap?
The important thing to realize is that the quick results you see online are deceptive.
Some of those results are from people who’ve actually been training for a long time and have used a particular program to close a small gap from where they were to where they want to be.
Regardless, the people you see with those “quick results” are, as JC put it, “the survivors of the program.”
You’re not seeing the 90% of people who ran into the common issues with quick fix programs. You’re not seeing the dad who’s kid got the flu 3 weeks into the program, and he had to stop because he just didn’t have the time or energy to stick with it.
Remember that you’re on your own journey, so the biggest thing is to find a program that will work for you, your goals, and your life.
3. You’re Aiming for PerfectionOne thing that trips people up is they think in very black-and-white terms. It’s all or nothing. Either you show up and do every session perfectly, or you may as well stop the program altogether.
“Perfect is the enemy of good” – I loved that saying from the first time I heard it because it made so much sense to me.
I’d fallen into that trap many times, not doing something because the conditions weren’t “optimal” and if everything wasn’t going to be perfect it’d be a waste of time. And of course that’s just bullcrap.
An okay training session is 1000 percent better than not doing anything at all. Consistency of effort is where real change happens.
When you cancel a training session for the dubious reason that it’s not going to be exactly as you’d like, you’re setting yourself up for failure. It’s going to be that much harder to show up next time. And showing up consistently is more important than the tiny details of what you do.
So how can you stay consistent when things aren’t going perfectly?
Not every training session is going to be perfect – in fact, I’d say that the majority of them won’t be.
A poor night’s sleep, stressful day at work, favorite pair of shorts still in the hamper – these are all pretty common occurrences. A perfect training session feels awesome, and stringing a bunch of those together leads to great progress for sure, but sometimes “good enough” is all you’ll get. And that’s fine.
Everyday you’re at it adds up, so even if you’re having a bad day, at least show up and do your warm-up and the first couple of exercises. Keep on going if you can, and if not, pack it up.
The most important thing is to show up and get started.
4. You’re Not Using Objective Measures of ProgressUsing objective measures can seem like a scary thing, and I understand why people shy away from them. The tendency to become obsessed with the numbers is something to be aware of, but there’s a big difference between obsession with numbers and having an objective sense of where you’re at.
What happens when people don’t have objective measures to look at is they rely on subjective feelings, and that can cause a lot of problems.
If you’re feeling like you’re not making good progress, it makes sense that you’ll feel less inclined to stick with the program you’re on. The problem is that feelings are unreliable, and we have a tendency to view our progress in a more negative way than what’s actually going on.
So how can you use objective measures to keep you on track?
Objective measures are actually going to help you make progress, and keep you motivated to keep going. Plus, if these measures aren’t moving in the direction you want them to, you can evaluate your program to see what needs to be tweaked, rather than just giving up if things start to feel tough.
Here are a couple of examples of how we use measurements in our training programs:
- In our Focused Flexibility program, we use Basic Assessment Positions (BAPs) – 6 positions that you go through and assign a number to, representing the difficulty level. Every two weeks, you’ll retest these positions and see how your numbers are doing.
- In Integral Strength, we start with a baseline measurement of strength, plus we use the following chart to measure quality and ease with each movement:
The particular measurements don’t matter much, though I’d suggest adding something more to your use of sets and repetitions since by themselves those don’t say much about the quality of your progress. Add in a short note of how those sets felt and how you performed them and they’ll say so much more to you when you look back at them.
Just pick something you can retest every couple of weeks so you can see if you’re making progress.
5. Your Expectations Aren’t Helping YouGoals are important and they keep us working towards something. But too often, people get hyperfocused on the goal or the outcome, and when they don’t reach that within the time frame they had in mind, they throw in the towel.
In the interview I referenced earlier, JC talked about this common pitfall. He said, “If you’ve been working really hard for 4 months, you’ve been doing something for 4 months. If you just quit and go back to your old habits, you’re going to undo a lot of that progress.”
And that’s what a lot of people do when they haven’t hit their goals when they initially thought they would.
So how can you make sure your expectations are working for you, not against you?
Everybody has their failed New Year’s resolution or pre-Summer promise to finally get in shape. It’s a very common thing, and your prior experiences can definitely affect your decision to start up again.
But avoid the trap of using past missteps as motivation to “be better this time.” Just let go of the past, and pretend like you’ve never tried before.
It seems counterintuitive but having some emotional detachment from your goals can get you further along towards them. There’s a fine line between a healthy motivation to train and burning yourself out.
Yes, a strong desire for change is great, but be careful that these feelings don’t lead to emotional ups and downs. You’re in this for the long haul now.
Build Training Habits that Support You For Life
We all fall into these traps, and it can be so difficult to make training a consistent and natural part of your life.
If you follow the strategies I’ve shared for combatting these common issues, you’ll be much more likely to build a training habit you can really stick with long term.
And they all work together, too:
- You go into your new program without expectations that you’ll get the same results in the same amount of time as someone else.
- This allows you to have more realistic expectations that are based around your own abilities and goals.
- This makes it so that, even when things aren’t going right on a particular day, you are still able to show up and do what you can, because you’re working with what you can to begin with.
- All of this, combined with the measurements you’re checking every couple of weeks, helps you push through that make-it-or-break-it period a couple weeks into the program.
- Once you push through those couple of weeks, you’ve now built a habit that is now your new set point.
If I had to choose one of these rules that trumps the others in helping you create a new training habit, it’s that last point – pushing past that make-it-or-break-it period. Once you’ve stuck with a program for a month or more, you’ve won half the battle.
Our Elements program is perfect way to jump start your new training habit, as it’s easy to follow and after seven weeks of programming, you’ll have built yourself a new training habit.
Plus, you’ll come away with a foundation of strength, flexibility, and motor control that you can take with you to any program afterwards.
Build a Consistent Training Habit With a Foundation in the Basics
With Elements, you’ll build a foundation of strength, flexibility, and control over 7 weeks, setting yourself up for a successful lifetime of staying fit and active.