How can I keep an exercise routine?
November 22, 2010 10:27 PM   Subscribe

How to establish a daily exercise routine?

My goal is pretty modest. I would like to get up every day by 7:45 and get on my treadmill which is on the other end of my house and use it for a half hour. I would also like ideally to lift weights at a gym twice a week. I like exercising. It gives me "me time" I get to listen to podcasts that I like, I feel better about myself, look better but my life always seems to get in the way. I have a stressful job and sometimes I'll work really late or I'll stay out with friends late or I'll just wake up with a stomach ache and it seems like i'll only hit the treadmill 2-3 times a week at most.

If you manage to consistently exercise almost every day with a stressful busy life how did you manage to do it? Btw exercising in the evening is not really a good option because of work/family/other hobbies. I really would like this to be a morning habit.
posted by bananafish to Health & Fitness (25 answers total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
For me, it's easy. I simply don't feel right if I don't do something active just about every day.

It's not too hard to cultivate a habituation to exercise (really an addiction to it, though without most of the negative connotations that usually accompany that word). Just commit to doing it every day for a couple months — force yourself to carve out a specific time during the morning and say to yourself that you WILL be active during that time. Your entire stressful busy life will benefit from the hour or so you've set aside each day to get your heart rate up, you'll see. If you get that workout in, the rest of each day will seem immeasurably better and more manageable than if you skip out on it.

So then, after a couple of months of forcing yourself to follow through on your exercise routine, see if you can stop and not feel, comparatively speaking, like complete crap. Betcha you won't be able to. Betcha you'll be hooked, and it'll feel natural to keep on going.
posted by killdevil at 10:55 PM on November 22, 2010

I have an EXTREMELY methodical and reward-based personality, so YMMV. My method involves a massive Google docs spreadsheet filled with fitness, nutrition, and life minutiae. I log my servings of various types of food, minutes of various types of exercise, and other behavior. I gain or lose a certain number of points for each behavior. For example, a serving of veggies gives me 1 point, while a serving of meat (which is harder for me to do) gives me 5 points. Walking into a bakery automatically loses me 50 points.

A minute of running is worth more than a minute of yoga or weights, which is worth more than a minute of walking. A day of nothing loses me 100 points, unless it's my weekly rest day. After a certain number of points, I'm allowed to buy something in the category of products that is my main shopping addiction.

On a daily basis, I'm only allowed to drink coffee, take a foot bath, and watch an hour of TV if I have been to the gym. This method is fairly guilt-inducing and might not be healthy for some personalities, but it works for me. Personally the key was getting to bed early. I stopped watching TV at night and started taking melatonin.

I totally understand when other people say that exercise feels natural and they feel bad without it, but for me being sedentary can be equally tempting. So even though exercise is one of my daily habits nowadays, I continue to reward myself because I anticipate wanting to slip up in the future.
posted by acidic at 10:59 PM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

And as to the specifics: I structure my morning routine to ensure that I don't weasel out on running. For example, I put my exercise clothes out and have them ready to go (or in the gym bag if I'm going to be treadmilling it) the night before, so that it's easy for me to roll out of bed, eat something, and then go. I also make showering (and looking presentable) contingent on exercise; if I don't go running first thing in the morning, I won't be able to shower or shave, so I'll look bedraggled all day. Silly, but it works very well as an additional incentive.
posted by killdevil at 11:03 PM on November 22, 2010

You have to make it a scheduled part of your day. It's like work or classes. There aren't any tricks. You don't put off work or classes because you're tired or want to watch a show or don't feel like it, establishing a gym routine is the same thing. It helps to pick something you really love to do, no matter how silly it is at first.
posted by schroedinger at 11:45 PM on November 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

What you're describing is exercise as a chore - something distasteful that you do because you feel you should. And the advice you've gotten so far (except shroedinger's last sentence) is good advice for dealing with chores. Blech. I've been where you are and made my ambitious plans for running x days a week and lifting y days a week and I've never been able to stick with it for more than a few weeks or months at a time. If you can find something you actually enjoy, you're much more likely to make it a regular, lasting part of your life. Whether that's playing a sport or finding a workout partner or taking a group class or whatever.

The thing that has worked for me is CrossFit. I've been working out consistently 5-6 days a week for over a year and I'm not tired of it. My gym offers group classes, so there's a social element. The workouts are constantly varied so it never gets boring. And the results are fantastic which is motivating as well. And the intensity is, frankly, addicting. I miss it when I have to skip a day. My advice? Sell your treadmill and join a CrossFit gym in your area. If that's not an option, killdevil's advice is excellent - put your exercise clothes out the night before. Do whatever you can when your fresh and motivated to knock down the barriers you'll encounter when you're just waking up and not motivated. Good luck.
posted by zanni at 12:42 AM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have a very simple, ball-crushingly (metaphorically speaking) effective rule: Shoes on.

No matter how much I may not feel like exercising etc, unless I am literally ill, i have to at least get changed, and get my shoes on.

If I go through that hassle, and still don't feel like exercising, or can only do a little before crashing out, my body is probably telling me I need to take a break anyway.

This means that I exercise 99% of the time, because by the time I have gotten changed and got my shoes on, most of the hassle is over and hey, why not do a little bit? Try it.
posted by smoke at 1:55 AM on November 23, 2010 [11 favorites]

If you find yourself putting it off, or if other activities over run and you find yourself with "no time," to exercise, then you must make it the focus of your day to the greatest extent you can. Simply move every other leisure activity/rest period/internet procrastination period, even mealtime, down the list and secondary to your period of exercise.
posted by fire&wings at 2:06 AM on November 23, 2010

You should really try working out when you feel like crap. It generally tends to make you feel a lot better afterward (for me at least)
posted by delmoi at 2:21 AM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'll work really late or I'll stay out with friends late or I'll just wake up with a stomach ache

I feel you. This is basically me. But my way around it is to look at my morning workout as not something I do only if I feel like it, but something I would do anyway, no matter how I felt, like brushing my teeth. Once you give yourself a choice it's easy to talk yourself out of doing it.

I have also grown used to the feeling that I will never look forward to my midday walk or morning treadmill but it is worth it for the satisfaction of ticking off another day on my Don't Break the Chain.
posted by Ziggy500 at 3:32 AM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'll work really late or I'll stay out with friends late or I'll just wake up with a stomach ache and it seems like i'll only hit the treadmill 2-3 times a week at most.

I know that feeling. First know that three times a week provides most of the benefits you would want. You can always up the intensity of the workout on the days you do it - do intervals or fartlek or something. Mastering the other end of your day is key though. Isn't that one of the benefits of the daily workout, to help enforce some sleep discipline? Have a bedtime window and try to stick to it. Merely having one helps. If you need to be in bed by midnight to make your wake-up and you find yourself in the bar with friends at 11 it is probably time to go home.
posted by caddis at 3:56 AM on November 23, 2010

I find that riding to work is great. I get about 75 mins of good exercise, save $$$ in gym fees and petrol and avoid a bunch of nasty traffic. I have 15km of hills each way, which I reckon is about perfect (25km of flat would also work): enough that I get some real benefit but not so hard that it's a chore.

I also note that 75 mins of cycling is quicker than 40 mins of driving and 60 mins in the gym, so I actually gain time each day by combining exercise & commuting.

I agree with previous posts saying not to make it an extra chore-like thing you feel compelled to do.
posted by polyglot at 4:48 AM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

firstly, ditto zanni: crossfit is awesome and i actually look forward to my workouts as they're varied, unusual, fun, and extraordinarily brutal. and ditto smoke: shoes on. on some days the delayed-onset-muscle-stress is just so, and my level of sleep deprivation is just so, and as i lay on my bed i wonder what i think i'm hoping to achieve with brutalising my body on a regular basis etc. once i actually stand up my body figuratively just says "meh" and i start to get ready for the gym.

i understand that you have a busy life, but every time i hear that i remember an interaction between my grade seven english teacher and a classmate:
classmate: how can i read on a regular basis? i can't find the time to do it!
teacher: make time.
that's it. some parts of your life are important, and some aren't. where do you put your physical fitness? i've heard this piece of advice so many times in my life. as a final example, my uni crew coach in once shouted at me during practice "want it more than the other guy! want it more and you can have it!".

and hey - after your workout you know that you've done more with your morning than 95% of the general population, right?
posted by asymptotic at 5:34 AM on November 23, 2010

start very very small and increase in small increments weekly. I'd start with 5 minutes. If you can go 2 weeks doing 5 minutes consistently each day increase it to 7. I know it's not much but your only goal in your first month of a routine is to create a routine - make something your body and mind craves each day to feel whole. Keep increasing it weekly until you miss a day then immediately cut the workout in half. You can always do more if you feel it but I find having a very manageable minimum is the key to consistency.
posted by any major dude at 5:40 AM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding tracking what you eat and do, if that suits your personality. Though you should probably take their calorie amounts with a grain of salt, you can use the free MyPlate feature to track your food and exercise really easily (i.e., it's preloaded with nutrition info for lots of foods and it learns to autocomplete with stuff you tend to eat often). It's nice to be able to watch the correlation between what you eat/do and how you feel, or determine when you should or shouldn't have that delicious cake or beer or whatever after dinner.

Plus, if you keep track of all of this, you actually have data to make the case that skipping a day when you're sick or busy is ok, so you can let go of that guilt too.
posted by activitystory at 6:25 AM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I went from not exercising at all (about four years ago) to working out 6-10 times a week over the course of university. It started mainly for me because I joined a competitive sports team (Seriously want to get in shape? Join a varsity rowing program. They will take your body and rebuild you from the ground up) but has only continued because I have made it part of my everyday life.

I get up, I have a snack, I work out. Then I go to school/volunteer/eat nachos all day. I don't allow myself excuses to get away from the gym unless I think it is actively going to damage my body. If I was up late the night before or I am hungover, I accept that my workout might not be as good or might be more painful. But it is still something I do.

I also find that planning makes it easier. Maybe exercise in the evenings sometimes, if you have free time. Plan your workouts for the week - maybe one day sprints, one day intervals, two long runs. There are some workouts I like doing more than others and if I am very reluctant to work out that day, I will substitute them in for what I had planned.

The key thing is that even if I am reluctant, working out is part of my day the same as school is, the same as cooking food is, and the same as getting enough sleep is - I have decided that this is what I want and need to feel good, so I am going to do it. I might not want to, but it's already been decided and I will likely feel immediately better after I do it.
posted by hepta at 6:34 AM on November 23, 2010

The two things that work for me:

1. Make it part of your normal routine rather than an add-on: For me this means cycling to work instead of getting the bus. Could you run/walk part or all of the way to work in the morning?

2. Enter an event a few months from now - this is really the only thing that keeps me running - knowing that, for example, by March I have to be able to run 10K without stopping, or at a certain speed. It's incredible how much difference it makes. It gives me a goal that I can measure my progress towards, which is satisfying, and motivates me, because I know that by enduring a little bit of pain (real or metaphorical) today I'm reducing the pain I'll feel on the day of the event.
posted by penguin pie at 8:03 AM on November 23, 2010

Try a workout buddy, even though you're working at home - this could just be a friend that you text when you get on the treadmill to say you're there, or it could be a friend who will make you buy them a beer (or something) every time you Don't exercise. Make some contacts at the gym, and people will start asking where you were if you miss lifting one day.

Another thing I've learned to do is just get up and go, even on the nights I'm up late. I will go to bed earlier the next night, so morning exercise is more important than a little lost sleep.

All of that said, I've gone from a religious morning exerciser to someone who does most of their exercise after work, because that's when the free classes at the gym (more fun and more effective that the elliptical I used to do) are.
posted by ldthomps at 8:35 AM on November 23, 2010

I run nearly every morning. I do it because I LOVE it! I love it so much that other things don't get in the way. Instead running gets in the way of other things. I make sure I have clothes to run outside, regardless of the weather or darkness. I don't eat crappy food because that makes it harder to run. I don't stay out late because then it's harder to get up in the morning and run.

I'm not out there running because I feel I should, or because I need to tick it off of some list. I do it because I LOVE it!

Now, not everybody loves running. And that's awesome! Find something you LOVE to do. You say you like exercising, and that's fabulous. But when you LOVE it, other things won't get in the way. Instead you'll arrange the other things to make room for what you LOVE. So the trick is finding out what gets you going, what you love. I love running because I like racking up miles, I like being alone in the dark, I like being done and knowing I did my best. For you it might be something else. For instance you said you stay out with friends late. Maybe you're more of a social exerciser. Find some exercise buddies, or take a class or something, or do team sports. I watched a flag football game. Totally not my thing, but these people obviously LOVED it and got fired up about all the plays and stuff, which is why they get up early on Saturdays and drive miles away to do it!

If exercise isn't something you LOVE then you will not look forward to it and other things will get in the way. Try a variety of things and find something you LOVE. To me exercise isn't even worth doing otherwise.
posted by massysett at 8:43 AM on November 23, 2010

I like CrossFit. It's completely scalable, infinitely varied, never boring, and intense. I'm in and out of my workout in 20 minutes or less, most of the time. With a three-day-on, one-day-off cycle, it's easy to get back on track if you miss a day or two because of rain, sex, or television.

3, 2, 1 GO!
posted by phoebus at 9:55 AM on November 23, 2010

Now, not everybody loves running. And that's awesome! Find something you LOVE to do.

I'm glad you love running in a capital-letters sort of way, and I'm sure you're more qualified to give advice about exercise than I am (given my lack of exercise consistency), but I actually think this advice puts a reluctant exerciser in an even worse position: now, not only do you have to exercise, but you have to LOVE it! If someone told me that I would just feel twice as guilty.

Also, there is the annoying reality that the kind of exercise your body needs is not always the kind you want to do. For instance, I like endurance cardio, especially biking, but interval training and weight training are a way better fit for my fitness goals. So. Not much I can do about that.

I'm not saying life should be all spinach and no dessert, of course, but I think it's helpful not to burden yourself with a lot of expectations about how exercising "should" feel, or with the idea that if you aren't thrilled with the idea that it means there's something wrong. Plus, there's the idea that passion is actively cultivated -- I think this is probably as true for an exercise habit as it is for a college major or a career choice.

I think one thing that's hidden in this question is that it sounds like you're trying to do two things at once: wake up earlier and hit the gym. This is tough. From personal experience, you're not going to want to get out of bed at 7:45 if you're not only tired but also about to do something you aren't that enthusiastic about. So maybe the first step should be to practice getting up early for a week -- maybe going for a walk or just stepping outside to get some air instead of exercising, as a placeholder -- until you start to feel OK with that. Then it won't seem like such a big deal to add some treadmill into the mix.

(One thing that helps me, when I can stomach it, is to keep more or less the same wake time on the weekends, and to go to bed when I feel tired as opposed to trying to fight through it to get more work done or see friends or whatever. But I haven't cracked that particular nut by any stretch... this is definitely something I still struggle with.)
posted by en forme de poire at 9:55 AM on November 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

or with the idea that if you aren't thrilled with the idea - wow, that sounds dumb, sorry. The second "idea" refers to exercising.
posted by en forme de poire at 10:00 AM on November 23, 2010

I love smoke's "shoes on" idea. Another trick is to couple exercise with some other thing you enjoy and could look forward to -- maybe a TV show, audio book, or podcast that you ONLY listen to when you work out. Can't wait to find out what happens next? Better get on the treadmill.
posted by spinto at 10:36 AM on November 23, 2010

came here to say exactly what smoke said - i make a mental deal about getting my shoes on. very simple, very effective.
posted by wayward vagabond at 11:39 AM on November 23, 2010

Thanks everyone....these are all wonderful ideas...Crossfit looks interesting but dear god it's starts at 6:30 a.m. here (I just looked it up)...also it's a little more expensive than the gym I've been using ($70 v. $40 per month).

I'm going to try the shoes on trick. I think that might just work.
posted by bananafish at 12:07 PM on November 23, 2010

For anyone else reading who struggles with evening exercise, I used to have my own version of shoes on... I would get home from work feeling like I should go for a run but actually just desperate to lie down and have nap. I'd put my running kit on (shoes off in this case!), get into bed and sleep for 20 or 30 minutes knowing that I'd wake up dressed to run and so probably do it. Always worked.
posted by penguin pie at 2:21 PM on November 23, 2010

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