If you find it hard to get on board with loving exercise, you’re not alone. Despite the ubiquity of sleek, sculpted bodies in LuLu Lemon on social media, most people can’t stand working out.
If you’ve never been able to make a fitness habit stick, you really have one of three options:
- Find a type of exercise you can actually enjoy (yes, this does exist!)
- Opt for the exercise mode that give you the biggest bang for your buck even if you hate it (eventually you won’t hate it as much)
- Incorporate physical activity into your daily life (This way, you won’t even know your doing it!)
Before you roll your eyes and click out of this article, don’t give up on us yet!
We believe that with a few simple tools and strategies, you can get moving and overcome your past failures so that you never have to feel guilty about not exercising again!!
Option #1: Find A Type of Exercise You Can Really Enjoy
In an ideal world, everyone could find a type of exercise they loved. That one thing that was just challenging enough it kept you coming back inspired and motivated in pursuit of your better self. For a lot of people, the biggest obstacle to a passion for exercise comes from the limited definition of what exercise is.
Unfortunately, most people view it as something done in a smelly gym. Their motivation comes from a desire to look fit, not the joy of moving their bodies.
This mentality can lead to failure since our external motivators (desire to look fit) can cause us to think of exercise as punishment.
What if there were another way?
The cool thing about movement is that no matter your age, physical limitations, or genetics, there are a gazillion ways to do it:
You can go the sport route
Join a sports league, or practice skills with a friend (or find new friends via the internet) if you’re reluctant to showcase your skills in public. You can even take lessons if you’re a total newbie.
Be creative when starting a sport: Most communities have basketball, soccer, baseball or softball, flag football), but you could also try tennis, or the less taxing (but ever popular) pickleball. Horseback riding, dancing, gymnastics, ice skating, hockey, CrossFit, or tumbling are other sports that are often offered by recreation centers, YMCAs, or other local organizations.
You could try a martial art
People rarely think of judo or tae kwon do when they set their new year’s exercise resolutions, but studies show that these martial arts require significant strength, balance, endurance, and power. They also have a powerful calming, health-promoting effect, with one study showing that judo practitioners had less inflammatory markers and lower cortisol than a group of sedentary subjects.
You could try a water sport
Swimming probably comes to mind, but rowing, kayaking, canoeing, or paddle boarding all require substantial endurance and strength, and you can do them outside on the beautiful water!
You could opt for a mind-body practice
Yoga, pilates, and stretching all increase flexibility and strength, while helping you get in touch with how your body feels. Mind-body modalities are especially helpful for people who have a lot of discomfort in their bodies or have a history of being sedentary because they allow them to move in a way that feels good and lowers stress.
You could try weight training or powerlifting
If you’re someone who despises cardio, playing with weights is a fantastic option. It’s less boring than steady-state cardio, and the variety of moving from exercise to exercise helps sustain your attention. It’s also motivating since you can see yourself getting better as your weights go up and you get stronger each session.
Powerlifting is the competitive form of weight training in which you work to maximize your strength in the bench press, squat, and deadlift. Weight training is the recreational version that can be done on free weights, using machines, and with body weight exercises. Both have incredible strength, body composition, and health benefits.
You could do interval or HIT training
Public health experts are often reluctant to recommend interval training to the general population because it’s physically challenging, but this faulty approach fails to recognize that planning your workouts around intensity will give you the best results.
Sure, it’s hard, but you already knew that about exercise, right? Interval training is cool because it’s varied, incorporating short bursts of effort with recover to give you a nice endorphin rush, It pays off big time in terms of massive cardiovascular, strength, and body composition benefits. It’s also a time saver: You can get noticeable results from workouts that last less than 25 minutes.
There’s also conventional cardio.
Generally, the most despised of all forms of exercise, there are ways to make cardio a little less painful. Consider going the interval training route, or if you don’t like to feel breathless, take your workout outside for a rigorous hike or a bike ride. The fact is that a lot of people get good results by starting with a walk around the block, increasing their distance and speed a tiny bit each week.
Option #2: Choose The Biggest Bang For Your Buck Workouts
Okay, so not everyone is going to find a type of exercise they enjoy. Maybe you’re too out of shape, too overweight, or just not coordinated enough to take a dance class or hit the tennis court. Maybe you always despised gym class and can’t fathom those idiots running marathons or flaunting their bubble butts in yoga class.
Whatever your story is, exercise is not going to be your best friend.
Don’t despair. The next best option is to look for the most effective workouts that give you the biggest payoff with the least effort. For example, there’s something called a vibration platform that has been shown to produce benefits by stimulating neuromuscular changes in the body. All you have to do is stand on the platform, do body weight exercises, and you can increase your strength, muscle, and bone density to a comparable degree as if you did a standard training program.
Of course, not everyone has access to a vibration platform. What other big bang for your buck options are there?
The best payoff for your time is to perform some conglomeration of weight lifting and interval training. Figuring out what to do is best determined based on your goal and time constraints:
Ideally, everyone should do both, training with weights 3 to 4 days a week for 45 minutes to an hour and doing interval training on 2 separate days for a maximum of 25 minutes a session.
However, if you don’t have time, motivation, or interest in this option you can go with one or the other:
If you’re only goal is to reduce body fat, doing interval training is a great choice. Studies show interval training can reduce body fat by 5 to 8 pounds over 12 weeks in individuals who aren’t dieting. Combined with a personalized nutrition program, you could theoretically reduce body weight even more.
If you’re interested in improving strength, energy levels, endurance, health, and body composition, weight training is your best option but it requires a bit more time investment and there’s a learning curve since you have to learn technique for the exercises.
Weight training is also a great option for people who are significantly overweight or aren’t comfortable moving their bodies. Joint discomfort or pain can be overcome by strengthening weak muscles and getting the body moving in the ideal way.
When it comes to what your workouts should look like, here are some recommendations:
Weight training should be planned.
Instead of winging it, planning workouts will ensure you improve each workout, getting stronger and leaner. Workouts should alternate 3 to 4 week phases in which you focus on lighter weights and more reps for phase 1 (generally 3 to 4 sets for 8 to 15 reps). Then for phase 2, do heavier weights and fewer reps (3 to 5 sets for 3 to 8 reps). Once you complete the first two phases, you start over with the phase 1 protocol but with slightly heavier weights than the first time around.
Exercise should be primarily free weight exercises...
...and are multi-joint movements, with a few select machines such as the cable machine or leg curl. Squats, lunges, deadlifts, step ups, step down, rows, presses, and pull downs can make up the majority of your exercises.
Keep workouts short and sweet.
The great thing about weight training is that workouts can be relatively short: We recommend training for 45 minutes and an hour, depending on how much warm-up you like and whether you are using short or longer rest intervals. Short rest is generally recommended for body composition goals like fat loss, however, some people don’t enjoy getting out of breath or feeling their muscles pump up, in which case longer rest intervals may be beneficial.
Of course, you could also do shorter workouts.
That's if you wanted to do them more frequently. Some people can’t stomach more than 25 minutes in the gym, in which case, you could do 3 to 5 exercises more frequently each week with no downside results-wise.
For interval workouts, you have numerous options, but here are a few that have yielded great results in recent studies:
Try the Wingate protocol
On a resisted bike, on a track, or on another cardio machine. Do 4, increasing to 6, repeats of 30-second maximal effort intervals interspersed with 3 to 4 minutes active recovery.
Try the New South Wales protocol
On a resisted bike or other cardio machine do 8 second sprints alternated with 12 seconds active recovery for a total of 20 minutes.
Try a 1:1 protocol
Using whatever modality you prefer, do 60 seconds of moderate intensity effort (fairly hard on a rating of perceived exertion scale) alternated with 60 seconds of rest for 20 minutes. You can play with the length of the intervals, using 30 second or 2 minute intervals, depending on your preferences and how you feel on training days.
Try a Fartlek workout
You set your own interval durations. Exercise will produce results whether it’s done by the book or not. All that matters is that you put in the work. If you’re outside in a hilly area, you could do work bouts anytime you’re going up hill, recovering when going down. Or run telephone poles, sprinting between two and then walking to the next one. Feel free to play and do whatever you can to enjoy (or distract) yourself.
Option #3: Incorporate Physical Activity Into Your Daily Life
As great as regular workouts are for keeping you fit, if you’re active in daily life, you can experience most of the benefits of a regimented training program.
Studies show that people who are very active in daily life, rarely spending more than 30 minutes sitting, have greater longevity, lower rates of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, improved cognitive function, and greater success with weight maintenance even if they don’t exercise.
However, the key to getting the benefits aren’t as simple as doing your own housework or parking farther away when you go to the store. You need a comprehensive strategy that eliminates sedentary time and keeps you on your feet and moving almost all day long.
The good news is that non-workout-based physical activity—known by the acronym NEAT (standing for non-exercise activity thermogenesis)—may be more effective for reducing body fat and preventing metabolic disorders than some of the most popular forms of exercise, such as cardio.
Consider what happens if you’re living a sedentary lifestyle: Gene signaling, metabolic rate, and insulin sensitivity will all be depressed. Fat accumulates in your bloodstream, and blood sugar regulation is compromised, both of which lead to inflammation and poor health. Over the long-term your body will lose muscle and bone mass due to lack of stimulation.
On the other hand, if you’re very active with a high NEAT, you’ll be stimulating your metabolism throughout the day. How great is the effect?
One study found that older women who were the most active burned 550 more NEAT calories daily than those who were the least active. A pound equals roughly 3,500 calories so that could translate to more than a pound a week just by limiting your sedentary time and being physically active all day long. How can you make it happen?
We recommend a three-pronged approach:
The first thing you need is a step tracker so you can ensure you are hitting several movement goals that have been shown to pay off in:
Get 10,000 steps a day
Walking is protective: Studies show that people who get in 10,000 steps have lower cholesterol, better insulin sensitivity, and less belly fat, even when their diets are not optimal. Walking is also great for your brain, reducing the inflammation that is associated with cognitive decline.
Walk 500 steps, 6 times a day
Frequent, short walks ensure you are active during the day. You can start by walking after each meal—a habit that will help regulate blood sugar and insulin, while supporting metabolic rate. Then, add one walk at mid-morning and mid-afternoon. After work is another perfect time to get some steps in because it lets you shake off the rigors of the day and transition into relaxation mode.
Walk 3,000 steps in 30 minutes
A longer, brisk walk will help you amass a lot of steps toward your 10,000 goal quickly, while having the added benefit of lowering stress and improving mood and focus.
In addition to walking, you need a way to get your upper body moving and maintain your overall strength. Make a list of body weight-type exercises and work through them over the course of the day.
For example, you could choose squats, step-ups, push-ups, incline rows, dips, and bear crawls, doing sets of 10 to 15 randomly throughout the day. Start with one set each and try increasing over time. You can spice things up if you have a TRX, free weights, kettlebells, or stairs in your house:
Do TRX rows or single leg squats. Do overhead press with your kettlebell. Run up and down the stairs of your house a set number of times over the course of the day. The options are endless.
Finally, incorporate stretching into your routine. Much of the chronic pain that people experience today is due to sitting. By picking 3 to 5 stretches or yoga poses, you’ll get out of your chair, focus on your body, and work on maintaining flexibility of your joints.
Here’s what no one tells you about exercise: Getting fit is the hard part. Once you achieve a minimum fitness level, exercise stops feeling so bad and starts to feel good. Choose one of these three options and with a little consistency and a bit of luck, you’ll be able to push through that initial pain, and reach a happy place in which the pay off is far greater than the effort required.