Friday, April 30, 2010

Exercise, Part III: Motivation and Recommitment

Everyone who has exericised regularly has experienced problems and challenges of remaining motivated and committed to keeping up with your exercise schedule and level of intensity in order to stay at the peak of fitness. Some days, if you exercise in the morning, you just feel too tired to get out the door to do your workout. Other days, you feel emotionally lethargic because you have something on your mind that you just can't get over long enough to get started on your daily workout. Other days, you have a cold, headache or other illness that makes it all but impossible for you to workout.

Sometimes, when two or three of these days pile one on top of another, you find yourself falling off the wagon and, suddenly, you realize you've missed a week or 10 days and panic starts to set in. What if I lose everything I've worked so hard to gain? Why does it seem like getting back in shape is so much harder and takes so much longer than it takes to lose it?

Here are my "10 commandments" for dealing with this problem:

1. Realize that every fitness enthusiast has this problem and it doesn't mean that you are lazy or that there is something wrong with you.

2. Don't entertain the illusion that daily workouts are "fun" or a "piece of cake" and, therefore, it should never seem easy to just bounce out of bed and do your daily workout. Regard daily workouts as part of your work, not part of your play. That is why it is called WORKING out!

3. Remember that becoming fit requires weeks of work, not days and don't allow yourself to become discouraged when you don't feel fitter or slimmer after a few days, or even a few weeks, of working out.

4. Give yourself permission to take two days "off" per week and position those days strategically (such as days you have early meetings or days when you stay up late the night before, etc).

5. Remember to advance your efforts no more than 10% per week, so that you don't overtrain. Overtraining is one of the best ways to injure yourself or just plain burn yourself out.

6. If possible, band together with one or two others who will help motivate you and hold you accountable to your fitness program.

7. If you're having a bad day or feel rushed, give yourself permission to shorten your exercise session for that day. It is better to work out for 20 minutes than to miss the day altogether.

8. In a similar vein, if you don't feel great or are just having a low energy day, give yourself permission to lower your target heart rate by 10 or even 20%. It is better to get in a light day of exercise than to miss the day entirely.

9. If you start to feel burned out with your exercise because you are doing the same thing every day, change your course or use a different modality. For example, if you are a biker, get on the elliptical or treadmill on occasion for a change of pace. If you are a runner, get on your bike. Cross training is a great antidote to boredom and burnout.

10. If you have trouble getting up and jumping into your exercise clothes, get up early enough to enjoy a cup of coffee and read the paper before you venture out.

Everyone struggles with motivation to do their daily workout. The fitter you are and the longer you've been in the habit of doing it, the lower your risk of becoming discouraged and quitting, but motivation issues never go away completely. Just accept their inevitability and apply one or more of the 10 commandments noted here to help you get back in the game.

Next, we'll talk about injury prevention, including warm up and stretching. Your comments are always welcome.

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