4 Habits of Highly Effective Exercisers
By Jennifer Soong
Day after day, working out can feel like a drill. Yet fitness devotees somehow muster the motivation to get exercise regularly. Steal their tricks and (almost) never miss a workout again.
1. Don’t put away your gear.
From the moment she rises, Kristina Monét Cox, 26, has exercise on the brain. That’s because the first things she sees are her sneakers and workout clothes. “I’ve got them next to the bed in plain sight,” says Kristina, the CEO of a communications firm in Houston. “I’ve also got dumbbells right where I can see them in the bathroom, and a balance ball, a yoga mat, and a jump rope strategically placed throughout the house.” Forgetting to exercise is never her problem.
Why it works: Visual cues are a wake-up call to your brain. “We all have competing priorities like work, family, chores. Sometimes we need a reminder to keep exercise at the forefront,” McGonigal says.
Do it yourself: If you don’t have the space to display your gear (or if it’ll mess with your decor), choose just one or two prime locations that you’ll never miss. Better yet, “pick places where you spend a lot of time and can use the equipment, like by the TV or the phone,” says Amanda Visek, PhD, assistant professor of sport and exercise psychology at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
2. Create an exercise contest.
Taking a page from The Biggest Loser, Elizabeth Kirat, 35, and her friends are embroiled in a sweaty battle to see who can diet and exercise off the most weight. Every six weeks, they call the winner. “There’s money at stake, but it’s really the bragging rights that keep you returning to the treadmill,” says Elizabeth, a photographer in Denville, New Jersey. So far she’s dropped 10 pounds.
Why it works: Competition turns a solitary pursuit into a fun group one. “By trying to beat each other, you’re actually pulling each other along,” Visek says. “Even playful heckling validates that you’re working toward a similar goal.”
Do it yourself: The contest can be for anything: most steps walked, most hours logged at the gym, highest percentage of body weight lost. Aim for anywhere from four to 10 participants. “Fewer than that, and one person who’s not really trying can hobble the group. More than that, and it’s hard for everyone to interact,” Visek explains. To keep group members engaged, limit the competition to six-week rounds and have weekly check-ins, when people put money in the jar. “Your incentive is regularly refreshed in your mind that way,” Visek says. Once everyone has agreed to the rules, let the games begin!
3. Invest in more workout clothes.
For years, Gina Cancellaro, 36, a paralegal in Bronxville, New York, owned only one sports bra. “I didn’t want to spend the money,” she admits. Then one day she realized that this was a barrier to her working out: “My usual excuse was that it wasn’t clean.” So she went to the mall and loaded up on bras — and cute tops and shorts. Now she exercises five days a week.
Why it works: “Having the right clothing doesn’t just remove a hurdle; it reinforces your identity as an exerciser,” McGonigal says. “And when exercising is an integral part of your identity, it isn’t optional anymore. It’s just part of your life.” Plus, you’ve got to wear those adorable new workout clothes somewhere.
Do it yourself: Stock up on at least a week’s worth of gym outfits to eliminate any last-minute hand washing in the sink. Think of it as spending now to save yourself grief later. To truly simplify your life, you may want to get several of the same tops and bottoms. “There’s no time-consuming decision making that way,” says Patricia Moreno, a FITNESS advisory board member and body and mind coach for the Web site SatiLife. “Look for basics that are comfy and show off your assets — whether that’s your shoulders or your abs — so you feel good just suiting up.”
4. Log your workouts online.
A surprising thing happened when Michelle Busack, 38, started to post her exercise routines on Facebook: Old friends from high school whom she hadn’t seen in years began writing comments. “At first they just congratulated me,” says Michelle, a nurse in Columbus, Indiana. “But now we’ve bonded over this and they’re my biggest cheerleaders.” In fact, if she doesn’t post a workout update for a few days, they’ll demand to know what’s going on.
Why it works: Social networking sites like Facebook and DailyMile offer an extra layer of social support. “You’ve got potentially all of your online contacts holding you accountable,” says Michele Olson, PhD, a FITNESS advisory board member and professor of exercise science at Auburn University at Montgomery in Alabama.