How to Start and STICK TO an Exercise Routine
"Where did my other weight go?" I spin in circles like a dog chasing its tail to find my missing equipment. "It was JUST here!" I spot my 10-year-old grunting through the bicep curls I should be doing right now.
"I can't do pushups with you on my back," I tell my 7-year-old. "Mommy's not that strong, yet."
Three minutes later my stretchy band is in the hands of my 4-year-old as she rewards herself after a tough workout with MY cool down.
I spent more time doing search and rescue of my exercise equipment than I did actually working out, thanks to my six little workout saboteurs, but I DID MY WORKOUT!! After three years of not really being able to exercise due to adrenal fatigue, this summer I got back into an exercise routine that wouldn't send me into a crash. Once I got comfortable, school started and changed our whole schedule, so I'm starting over with establishing my routine. Back to school is as good as the New Year for making changes, so I'm making this change right now.
The hardest part of an exercise routine is STARTING. Once I'm on track, I'm a the biggest fan of a regular fitness regimen, but before that? I dread it, talk myself out of it, procrastinate it, and justify my dreading/talking/procrastinating. Over my lifetime I've gotten back on the exercise wagon countless times due to c-section recovery, surgeries, cross-country moves, and life in general. I've got my system down, and I'm ready to do this. Are you?
My Best Tips to start and stick to an exercise routine
Pick a time of day that works best for you. This is a very individual thing. For me it requires getting up early. I have to do my workout first thing, so I can be dressed and ready for the day by 7 a.m. I've tried working out later, and it ruins my day to start getting ready at 11 a.m. I feel like I lost half the day. I also know that I am too wiped out to work out in the evening, and it causes sleep disruptions for me. I know others who like to get their kids off to school before working out, who need to squeeze it in during naps, or after the kids go to bed. Be honest with yourself about what time of day works best for you.
Pick an interval that works for you. I do best working out five days a week, Monday - Friday. If I alternate days I find excuses not to do it today because I will make up for it tomorrow. I need the weekend off to recover, and because it's family time, my workout is more likely to be derailed. Some people do great exercising every other day, or get their best workouts in on the weekends. What interval works best for you?
Set up a routine and schedule it in. When we had been married for about six months and had moved twice already, I was feeling really unsettled and uncomfortable, and I finally realized why. One day I looked at my husband and said, "Have you noticed that since we got married we haven't gotten into a routine?" He said, "I know. Routines are the worst. I've done my best to make sure we don't get stuck in one of those!" Sabotage! Now he tells me my routines are sexy because he understands that is why our family and home function efficiently. It's why there are clean clothes in the drawers, dinner on the table, and I'm not a raving lunatic (usually). Not everyone is as structured as I am, but having a set time of day and a routine for exercise will make it a seamless part of the day so it doesn't get pushed aside.
Be realistic about the time requirement. I had an epiphany a few years before I had kids. I will not do any exercise program that requires more than 30 minutes because I can very easily talk myself out of anything longer. When I realized this, I made up a program for myself. I had a collection of 20-minute exercise videos and an elliptical machine. When I got home from work, I changed clothes immediately and did a video or the elliptical. My rule on the elliptical was that I only had to stick to it for 15 minutes, which was about how long it took me to get through the please-make-it-stop phase. If I wanted to stop after 15 minutes I gave myself permission to, and there were days that I did stop. Most days, after 15 minutes I was feeling pretty good and would go for about 30 minutes, or the length of a sitcom I watched while I exercised. I did this five days a week, videos MWF and elliptical TTH. I actually got in pretty good shape doing this. I had good definition, everything was lifted and tucked, and I felt strong and...good. After my fifth baby in three years I got back in shape doing the 30-Day Shred, which is 27 minutes, including warm up and cool down. I've seen friends get amazing results doing longer programs like P90x, but there is no way I'm doing a 90-minute workout. I know myself, and that is key to my success. Don't fall into the trap of thinking that if you can't spend 2 hours in the gym getting ripped, it's not worth it. What is a good workout length for you?
Start easy. Over the last three years, every time my doctor said I could try exercise again, my reaction was to chain a Suburban to my waist and pull it 60 miles uphill. That may be a slight exaggeration, but I had the go big or go home mentality, which is way, way, way too much when you have been sitting in a chair the last two years. Even the 30-Day Shred would make me crash 15 minutes into it. What I started with this time was 30-minute walks for a few weeks. Then I graduated to adding light strength training twice a week, then three times a week and walking on the other days. Guess what? I didn't crash.
Set up a space for it. The scenario I wrote above happens any time I try to do my workouts in the family room or anywhere I can't lock a door. I have set up space in various places in my houses. I've done my workouts in my bedroom, but that can be tricky when I get up before my husband. I have a large-ish closet, and I've set up my laptop and hand weights in there before. It only had to be big enough for me to do a full pushup. I recently rearranged some rooms in my house and was able to free up a bedroom to set up my husband's rowing machine and inversion table in there. I set up my weights, stretchy bands, and balls in there. We mounted a TV to stream my workouts and to play movies on while we row. In our Atlanta house we had a large sitting room off the master bedroom that had our exercise equipment and a TV. I know a lot of people don't have the extra space for it, and there have been many times when I didn't either. Get creative. Look around the house and see if there is somewhere you can make a corner for yourself. Do the best you can.
Prep the night before. Since I don't want to get up any earlier than I already have to, I prep everything the night before. I make my breakfast smoothie the night before and put it in an insulated thermos and leave it on my bathroom counter along with a water bottle. I set out my workout clothes and shoes. I have some workout videos (I'm looking at you 30-Day Shred!) that won't allow fast forwarding through the 5 minutes of commercials, so I put it in my player the night before to get through that so I can immediately hit play in the morning. What do you have to do in the morning to get ready to work out? What slows you down? Do that the night before.
Get a mirror. From back in the days of working out in my bedroom, I recognized the benefits of working out in front of a mirror. It helped me see if I had good form, and it was motivating to see myself doing pushups. It reinforced that mental image of myself being strong, healthy and fit. Wal-mart has $5 full length mirrors.
Check with your doctor. Check with your doctor before starting a new work out routine. I always waited until my doctor gave me the all clear after a c-section, and as I've battled adrenal fatigue, I've followed my doctor's guidance about when to start.
What equipment are you missing that will make this happen? If you love running or walking, and have little ones, get a jogging stroller (this one is under $100 and gets great reviews!). If a new one is out of your price range, check the local yard sales and classifieds. Ask on Facebook if anyone wants to sell one. You would be surprised by how many people have one sitting in their garage and haven't bothered to list it for sale. Do you have the right hand weights? Don't use canned tomatoes. They are hard to grip. Buy them secondhand if you need to. Most garage sales have a weight set that's been collecting dust.
Wrangling the Kids
Occupy the kids. Getting your workout with little ones can be practically impossible. I don't let my kids have much screen time, but this is one time I make an exception. Let them watch a 30-minute video so you can do some essential self-care. Ease your conscience with educational videos like the Preschool Prep series.
Do it during nap time. Take advantage of those kid-free moments and get your fitness on.
Take them with you. Our local rec center has a daycare you can pay to drop them in while you work out. Some gyms have little daycares and some don't.
Trade with a friend. If you have a friend or neighbor nearby who is willing to swap childcare so each of you can go work out, that's a great way to get some play time for your little one and get your time at the gym.
Sign them up. Our rec center has kiddie classes during the day, so putting them in their own class while you do yours is a great way to help them burn off some energy while you do your thing.
Get the kids involved. Sometimes there is no other way around it. The kids are going to be there, and you have to make it work with them, or not do it. I've been there all. summer. long. I create a zone for them and a zone for me. This is mommy's workout space and equipment, and that is yours. Creating a physical barrier with chairs might be necessary. Painters tape on the floor might be enough. Get them some itty bitty weights and things that look like yours so they can do it with you. Fill old water bottles with sand for them as weights. They love it, and you are setting a good example.
Recognize it as essential. Thanks to my 20-minute exercise routine, I was in great shape when I got pregnant with triplets, but I was immediately put on restrictions, and was soon on bed rest. Then I had three premature infants. Then I was pregnant again and caring for three infants. Then I had four kids 18 months and younger. Then I was pregnant again, and very, very weak. After my babies were born, I went back to my normal size pretty quickly, so exercise seemed like a luxury. I was wrong. It's essential. My body got so weak from the strain of those pregnancies and not making time to exercise that I could barely get through the day. From then on I've made it a priority as long as my doctor said it was ok.
Get pumped. Nothing pumps me up like watching infomercials for exercise programs and equipment. It doesn't (usually) tempt me to buy what they are selling, but it does make me want to pull out what I have and love, get up and feel the burn. I heart infomercials and health documentaries. They motivate me. What motivates you? A mood board of pictures of you looking strong and healthy? Planning an adventure vacation you need to be fit for? Having fun with your kids or grandkids? I'm not a fan of thinsperation photos because they are usually a) photoshopped lies b) based heavily on genetics and body type c) require dangerous and unhealthy habits d) being unrealistically thin isn't the goal. Healthy and strong is the goal. Does working toward a goal motivate you? Training for a competition like a 5k or a triathlon? Learning a new skill like swimming or biking? How can you get pumped?
Change your perspective. Instead of thinking of it as a punishment, look at it as a rewarding time. Alone time is critical for me, and my walks are a great time for me to have 30 minutes alone. I think of exercise as self-care, like a hot bath, a face mask, or quiet time. Instead of punishing my body for not being what I want it to be, I'm loving my body by giving it what it needs to be strong and healthy. When I'm done I feel so good!
Find something it make it more enjoyable. Once when I was using the treadmill at the gym I was watching a program with my headphones, and I was laughing so hard, I had to get off because I was going to fall. One by one the people around me stopped to ask what so was funny that I was snorting and crying (see the video below). Maybe don't get something quite that entertaining, but if distraction helps you through it, find something. For me, the alone aspect makes it enjoyable. I like to listen to audio books while I walk, watch shows or movies while I use a cardio machine, listen to my custom pumped up playlist while I do workout videos, etc. I can get through anything while watching an episode of Friends on Netflix. Does it need to be a social thing for you? Does doing it with a friend or spouse make it fun for you? Or maybe competing makes it fun for you, or tuning in to your body and perfecting your technique makes it enjoyable for you. Do you crave variety? Sign up for a an online program or gym that offers a variety of classes. Find that thing and make it happen.
Choose a form of exercise that you will do instead of the one you think will get you the world's greatest results. What do you enjoy? There are a million ways to get fit. Running, walking, swimming, zumba, dancing, fitness classes, biking/spin, hiking, yoga, Pilates, barre, crossfit, and so much more. If Tony Little's Gazelle rocks your world, do it. If you hate crossfit, pick something else. There are the rare people who will push through exercise programs they despise, but us mere mortals need to enjoy, or at least not hate, our workouts. I tried running. I hated it. I dreaded it. I did my best to get out of it. It's not for me. I really enjoy walking though, and I look forward to it. The world's most effective workout program does you no good if you won't actually do it.
DON'T PICK UP YOUR PHONE UNTIL AFTER YOUR WORKOUT IS OVER. Phones are such a time-sucker, and checking your texts can lead to emails, facebook, Instagram and more. Before you know it, you've waisted the 30 minutes you could have done your workout.
Accountability. How many articles have we read that say an accountability buddy makes us more likely to work out? Back when I was hating running, I started running with a neighbor. Knowing she was waiting for me at the corner made me get up at an obnoxiously early hour on brutally cold days. I don't necessarily want a workout buddy now that I have chosen things I enjoy, but I do want to brag. Several of you were workout buddies with me this summer. We posted pictures or shared what exercise we did on my Facebook page. It's time to get back to it. Knowing I had to tell all of you if I did it or not made me get up on the days I wanted to roll over and catch a few more ZZZs.
Cute workout gear. For a long time I had old t-shirts and cut off sweats as my workout wear. Even though I work out at home alone most of the time, having a few cute workout leggings and tanks made a big difference in how I felt while I did it, and it motivated me to want to get dressed to do it. My favorite brand is Zella, but you can also find great stuff at Target, Wal-mart, TJ Maxx, and Kohls. Don't feel like you have to get the best of the best or nothing at all. Looking good and feeling good makes a big difference.
Stickers are for grownups. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to put stickers on my calendar on the days I work out. I love to see the stickers accumulate. Pick stickers you love, that reflect you. You may be surprised how much you look forward to doing it, and how much it bothers you to see a missed day. I love the emoji stickers, the holiday ones, and these are for you animal lovers.
Set up a reward system. Stickers and the post-workout high are a great on-the-spot reward, but long-term rewards are also motivating. What do you love? A massage? A facial? A shopping trip? A girls night with your bestie? A special date with your husband? Set up a money jar. $1 per workout (or whatever works with your budget), and at the end of the month, use that to reward yourself. Or save up and wait two months to reward yourself. Figure out your budget and your rewards and set it up that way. I like the idea of rewarding after a number of workouts than losing a certain amount of weight, because bodies are tricky, and losing weight isn't always straight-forward. Reward the effort, not the result.
Find more motivations than getting skinny. "Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels." Um, except for pizza, Doritos, sushi, bread, pasta, cheesecake, guacamole, Mexican food, salted caramel brownies, and 9 million other delights I could list. I'm not saying that losing weight is a bad goal, and there can be more to it than calories and cardio. If you don't hit those goals as fast as you want to, it's easy to become discouraged. You have more control over reaching a goal of 25 perfect push ups than making the scale move. I get really excited when I move up a level in weights.
Ignore the scale. Scales are liars. Even measuring tapes are hard if you don't get the exact same spot the exact same way every time. Jeans, however, are brutally honest. Let them be your guide.
Know thy body and the real possibilities. I have an extremely short torso. There is maybe an inch between my hips and ribs. I remember the day I realized that I will never have the teeny tiny waists of bikini models because they have about 8 inches of space between their ribs and hips. There is so much more space for their organs and for tapering. I can aim for the best my body can do, but it will never, ever look like that. Never. I don't have to be frustrated at not achieving results that I'm not capable of. It was liberating to be released from that personal expectation.
A few of my favorite workout options are:
The Daily Burn is a subscription service that offers a variety of workout programs. Get 1 Month COMPLETELY FREE + save 10% on your first 3 months at DailyBurn here!
One of my favorite programs is MuTu System. It's what I've been doing this summer, and it hasn't caused me to crash. It strengthens pelvic floors and was designed to close diastasis recti. You can find the 12-week program here. This week get 20% off for back-to-school with code back2school
I am a Shred Head, and if I can work may way back up to it, I'll be doing the 30-Day Shred again. Fast, effective, and less than 30 minutes. I just found this beginner shred video and...I'm so tempted. Maybe it will be my gateway workout. She even has a 10-minute workout series. I like mean people, so I'm a huge Jillian fan.
Check out these other posts I've written. How to be Beautiful Again with a Non-Surgical Mommy Makeover lists more workout options I enjoy. How I Get Ready in 20 Minutes or Less has tips to make the morning more efficient so you have time to workout.
School is back in session, and I'm ready to do this! Are you? One of my goals is to be strong enough to do pushups with my 7-year-old on my back. What's your goal? Want to do it together? Join me on my Facebook page here, and we can be accountability buddies. I'll see you there tomorrow!
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