Creating a sustainable exercise routine isn’t just about making sure you get in your workouts and are being mindful about your food choices. It’s a conscious and physical effort to maintain a high level of discipline so you can make consistent progress with limited setbacks. Sustaining a successful exercise routine will require a variety of different behaviors that may be difficult to sustain if you haven’t prepared yourself and made a realistic plan appropriate for your goals and fitness level. It’s important to note that even though there may be multiple behaviors you need to improve on, you should only focus on the ones that will provide you with the most movement towards your goals.
For example, if you have built a successful habit of completing cardio 3-4 times per week to help you burn calories but are still eating too much, you may need to work on adjusting your diet to include more healthy low-calorie food choices, rather than attempting to increase your workout frequency to 5-6 times per week. Below I have provided five things you should do to create a sustainable long-term exercise routine. They are also in order of importance based of my years of experience working with clients one on one and seeing what are the most common areas that individuals need to improve on when seeking to meet their health and fitness goals.
1. Finding the Time to Exercise
Unless your goal is to lose weight through diet alone, some type of exercise will be part of your weekly routine. Gaining strength, muscle, flexibility, or cardiovascular health only improve through consistent goal-specific exercise, which takes some amount of time to achieve. The goal shouldn’t be to try and cram a comprehensive six plus hours of weekly training routine into your already busy schedule. Simply look at your week and see how much time you can commit to exercise each day. Depending on your goal, making progress can be done in as little as 10 minutes a day. After you find the time in your schedule, mark those periods of time off on your calendar and set them to reoccur for a few weeks. After a few weeks, see how your schedule worked. Did you exercise during each of those days? Did you workout for longer or shorter amounts of time? Use this info to create a more long-term workout schedule with the info you now have on what your schedule and motivation allow. Try to keep this schedule for six to eight weeks to see how much progress you can make with the time you set aside for exercise. After a longer period of time, you should be able to know if your workout schedule needs tweaking for optimal results.
Unless you are one of the rare extremely self-motivated individuals that just needs to be pointed in the right direction with the right tools, you will need to have some form of accountability to progress smoothly toward your health and fitness goals. Even the most motivated individuals may need something as simple as an alarm clock to get them out of bed consistently. There are many accountability tools that can help keep you on track. Having a supportive community is one of the best ways you can stay motivated. Find a friend with similar goals and start your journey together! Whatever accountability tool you choose, take some time to analyze its effectiveness after using it for a few weeks. If you aren’t seeing the progress you had hoped for, try a new tool. There are plenty of devices and workout programs out there, and all it takes is the right tool accelerate your results!
3. Proper Fuel
Proper fuel varies slightly from your daily diet. Sustaining an effective exercise routine will require proper fuel for your workouts. Your daily diet should be focused on getting proper nutrition and calories, while your pre and post workout nutrition should be aimed at ensuring your body has the energy it needs to perform each workout well and the nutrition it needs to recover post workout. You could have a great diet in place, but may be suffering during your workouts because you are not properly fueled before and after your workouts. Take a deeper dive into pre and post workout nutrition here. If you find yourself needing a refresher on proper nutrition, we put together a Nutrition 101 article to get you started on the right track.
Recovery in a fitness routine means two things: getting quality sleep and giving your body enough time to recover from previous workouts so your muscles can be ready to push hard for the next one. Not recovering well in these two areas will significantly affect your progress toward your goals and the sustainability of your fitness routine. You simply can’t push through fatigue and be successful long term. Fatigue, burnout, muscle soreness, and injury can all happen when proper recovery is not considered.
No, I’m not talking about taking a break or a vacation from your workout routine. You need to refresh your workouts to keep your routine from getting stale and potentially losing their effectiveness. You can maximize your results and progress by structuring your training plan long term to include different methods of training that all help you move towards the same goal. Cross training is one great example of this. If you are getting tired of walking the same route or performing the same resistance training exercises, it might be a good idea to include other forms of exercise or start incorporating new workout variations. Having planned workout variety will help you in many different ways. The risk of over-training will decrease, you will optimize your performance potential, and increase your ability to see continued progress long-term.
So remember: find time, accountability, proper fuel, recovery, and refresh!