Last week we offered some advice on how you can keep fit for less in the new year, from cycling to work to using the innumerable free resources online. Getting fit itself could prove healthy for your pocket as well as your body – it could improve your general well-being, for example, and save on more doctor’s visits down the line.
But what if you’re struggling to keep pounding the tarmac? Lecturers from the department of Physical Education and Sport Science at University of Limerick (UL), Dr Ross Anderson and Dr Mark Campbell, share their top tips on how to keep your motivation for fitness going year round.
Don’t give up
If you started your training with too much intensity, your motivation is likely to wane. Going from no exercise to running 5k or 10k within the first few weeks of training is unrealistic and aiming for too much too fast is not only unsustainable but can also lead to serious injuries.
According to Dr Campbell, “Everyone who starts in January wants to do 10 things at once. They want to run 10k, train for the marathon, lift loads of weights and have a six pack and they want it all now. One of the important things is to start slow and to have one or two small, reachable targets”.
If you have been doing intensive gym sessions for the last month and now feel the urge to give up, it might be best to start from scratch. Dr Anderson says a brisk walk, cycle or light jog is a good starting point and more encouraging in terms of long-term fitness and health benefits.
Think of your goal
Whether your overall goal is to eventually climb Mount Everest or simply to have a slightly slimmer summer body, try to visualise this aim whenever you feel like giving up. If you don’t have a target, sit down and think of one that you can focus on as motivation. “I think it’s about trying to find the reason why you’re going to the gym. To go to the gym for the sake of going to the gym is probably why, five weeks later, people stop going,” says Dr Anderson.
Track your improvements
If you’re not already doing it, start recording your training. In a notebook, write down everything that you do every day in relation to exercise. If you start to lose motivation, look through this notebook and consider how much you’ve already achieved.
Dr Anderson says, “If you train every day or a couple of days a week for a month or six weeks, you actually achieve a lot in that time. If you’re in the middle of February and look back at your record and see, for example, you’ve run 100k which was something you never thought possible. This logging of training or time spent in the gym is really important motivationally, so you can see where you were. Looking at this log will make you think, ‘I’ve invested six weeks in this, why am I thinking of quitting now?’”
Don’t let a little slip become a big slip
Everyone has an off-day with a new fitness regime. However, you can limit the amount of damage this ‘off-day’ does to your new lifestyle. Do not let one cupcake become the whole cake. Dr Campbell advises keeping in mind your aims on a day when you’re lacking in motivation. “You’re trying to actually create a healthy lifestyle,” he says. “Just because you do something good for yourself, doesn’t mean you have to do something bad. You’re coming out of the gym or finishing your exercise feeling great so treat yourself by getting some healthy food.”
Dr Anderson adds, “In saying that, you can’t deprive yourself of everything across the week. One cupcake is fine, just don’t do it every day”.
If you’ve been training for the last six weeks and feel either unsure of what to do or excessively sore, ask for help. This uncertainty and pain will have a negative impact on your motivation. Getting professional advice will change the way you train and is a great way to ensure you maintain your fitness and exercise program. Whether you decide to go to the gym or exercise outdoors, make sure you get advice from someone who knows what they’re doing, for example a sports and exercise scientist.
“Small technical help can be really useful, particularly for running so you don’t feel as sore afterwards and you don’t find it as torturous and you actually go ‘that was enjoyable!’” Dr Campbell says.
Realise the positivity
Exercise and fitness contribute to a healthier lifestyle which, in turn, contributes to a happier person. Whatever your goal is when you begin your fitness journey, keep in mind the improvement you’re making to yourself overall, both physically and mentally.
“There are great mental health benefits with exercise. For people who have stressful jobs it’s a lovely escape and a way to switch off. It’s a way to mind your mental health,” says Dr Campbell. “If you can get competent at exercise, you can be competent at looking after yourself in ways you didn’t know you possibly could”.
*It is advisable to get a health scan before you begin a fitness regime or at any stage of training to ensure your ability to train.
Dr Mark Campbell is a lecturer in Sport, Exercise and Performance Psychology and Dr Ross Anderson is a lecturer in Biomechanics and the Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs for Education and Sport Sciences at the department of Physical Education and Sport Science at University of Limerick (UL).