You knew it was time to get serious. What piqued your interest?
Was it the lean, fit model who looked closer to your body ideal than the emaciated women on most magazine covers?
Or the chance to get information targeted specifically to women who train, and train hard? Maybe it was your desire to get in shape for an upcoming event, like a wedding or class reunion.
Whatever it was that first motivated you, start you did, and with a vengeance.
If you're now struggling to keep your head in the game, you're no doubt wondering, Where did all my good intentions go?
Why has it become so hard to stay focused lately?
Waning motivation can be a thorn in your side, but realize that you aren't alone:
Nearly 60% of the U.S. population never begin an exercise program, and half of those who do quit within one year . In addition, exercise attrition doesn't lend itself to a simple, one-size-fits-all solution.
Rest assured, however, that we wouldn't have given you the tools to get started without also providing you with some pointers for staying on target.
When women ask me how long I've been training, their reaction to my response--"Oh, almost 20 years"--is pretty much the same: wide eyes, open mouth and some variation on this question: "How on earth do you stay motivated?" Two key words come to mind: reassess and change.
In other words, if you're going to stay the course, the things that motivated you to begin training in the first place may need to be replaced or at least adjusted.
For example, the schedule into which your training must fit may have changed dramatically since you began. "Too often, women suddenly find that they have too much on their plate," says Carol Weinman, PhD, a professor of sport and exercise psychology at California State University, Fullerton. "You may find that you need to rerank your priorities and re-examine your values."
Various approaches need to be considered in the context of changing expectations, plateaus in progress, time of year and so forth.
By accounting for such factors, you can attack your motivational blues as aggressively--and effectively--as you undertook your initial commitment.
Take a Seat
Given that your goal is to stay active, you may be surprised to find that the plan of attack for staying focused actually begins with sitting down. I'm not talking about lounging on the couch eating bonbons and watching reruns, but rather sitting down, taking out a sheet of paper and writing down some new goals.
"Goal-setting is a means of providing a plan of action that focuses and directs activity...It also emphasizes a clear link between behavior and outcome."
Janet Buckworth, PhD, an assistant professor of sport and exercise sciences at Ohio State University (Columbus).
When you started out, perhaps your goal was as broad as looking as lean and fit as the cover model in three months, or fitting into that little black dress by the time of your class reunion.
Those aren't bad goals in and of themselves, but did you stop to figure out how you were going to attain them? Did you think about these goals in terms of specific and measurable means of achieving them?
Planning ahead is critical, says Beth Horn, a top NPC fitness competitor and a certified personal trainer.
"You also need to set reasonable expectations for yourself and what you plan to achieve," she adds. Was the initial goal too broad? Did the deadline you set give you enough time to realistically achieve the goal?
Magazines like this one convey tons of information that can help you reach your goals, but did you organize the information into a viable schedule, start slowly and build from there, or did you make the mistake of trying to do everything all at once?
Next, identify the "why" behind your goals.
Is your primary focus to improve your personal appearance, strength, flexibility, cardiovascular endurance, a combination thereof or something else entirely? Identify your primary purpose, then construct a strategy devoted explicitly to achieving it.
To reinforce your progress as you proceed, keep a training journal, which will also allow you to better identify training plateaus. If you want to get stronger, your journal entries for sets, reps and weights will place your advances in black and white. If you want to lose inches, record your initial measurements and use them as a benchmark.
You can even go one step further by taking a "before" photo, which you can then compare with periodic "after" photographs as you proceed. If you haven't been chronicling your progress, now's a great time to start.
Rethinking Diminishing Returns
If you've never trained before or are undertaking an exercise program after a lengthy layoff, gains can come fast.
Eventually, however, your body adapts and changes may become less noticeable, causing you to think you're getting diminishing returns on your efforts.
Believe it or not, this may actually be a good thing; remember, when you first started out, you had a lot of changes to make. And in many of those areas--endurance, body composition, strength, muscle tone--you've no doubt improved substantially.
If you feel like your training has fallen into a rut, try changing important aspects of your regimen, with an eye toward shocking your body back into growth mode. (Again, keeping a journal can help: People who track their training progress in writing often find that they aren't making as many changes as they think they are).
Many people tell me, "I just do the same workout every time I go to the gym; it feels comfortable to me."
That's the problem: Our bodies excel at adapting to change. Often, the body's initial response to training is great, but then it seems to say: "Oh yeah, that again. I don't have to adapt to anything new. Whew! This is easy!" Change for the sake of change is good.
Speaking of change, some variations are outside your direct control but must be dealt with nonetheless. The mere change of seasons, for example, can lead to something called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), the onset of which has been linked to the reduction in sunlight that accompanies fall and winter.
The disorder can range from a case of the blues to severe depression. If you're one of the approximately 10% of the U.S. population who are prone to SAD's effects, you know how some of the typical symptoms--lethargy, food cravings, loss of focus--can wreak havoc with your training.
While you can't do much about the climate outside, other than moving to Aruba, you can act to mitigate its effects on you. If you suffer from severe SAD, a trip to the doctor and a prescription for "bright-light therapy" are probably in order.
Milder cases can be addressed by modifying certain aspects of your training. One solution might be to allow more sunlight into your workout space, or consider complementing your indoor activities with outdoor ones such as cross-country skiing, ice-skating or even a good run-and-chase snowball fight (lightly packed, mind you).
Such activities not only get you into the daylight and increase your fitness level but involve socializing, which can also help lift your mood.
Mood is ultimately the key to staying the course. Is your mood conducive to sustaining your commitment, or have you been beating up on yourself because you fell off the exercise wagon (or treadmill, as it were)? An occasional lapse isn't the end of the world.
"When you're new to exercise and something throws you off schedule, often you don't know how to work your training back in," Weinman says. "You haven't had to think about it before, but you can get back in.
Share what's going on with someone else. Feel like somebody else cares." If we never got back up off the floor the first time we fell down as infants learning to walk, we'd still be crawling. So crawl out of that negative rut, give yourself a break and decide to start again.
Toward that end, try creating your own personal fitness slogan. I have the words "commit to be fit" tacked on my bathroom mirror at home; I can't help but see them staring back at me every day.
They also taunt me periodically on my screen-saver at work. That way, I'm not only reminding myself but everyone else, too, of my commitment.
While others may roll their eyes at your determination--the early-morning jogs, training logs, goal-setting and so on--wear it like the badge of honor it is.
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