By Robin Pritchard - Owner of Fortis Training (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Exercise is a habit. Positive behaviours build positive habits.
Reading time: 3-5 mins
For: anyone looking to start/re-start a successful training plan
Most training plans fail.
Often, this is not due to lack of will, or a lack of motivation. Sometimes life gets in the way, sometimes you don’t get the results you want and lose sight of the end goal.
The first two blog posts have looked at the principles of training and how we can continue to make progress over time. This post looks beyond the theory and addresses the everyday issues that may prevent you from training and gives you a few practical solutions to help make your training plan a success.
1. What do you want to achieve?
It’s a simple question, but I believe that it should be the first question you ask when starting a training plan. If you don’t know your destination, then you won’t have much luck in planning a route.
Quite often, the answer may be ‘lose some weight’ (by that, we mean lose fat), ‘put on muscle’ or ‘get stronger’ – this is a great start but it needs to be individual to you.
Hopefully, you will have heard of the SMART principle for setting goals, in that they should be:
Specific: what is exactly is your aim? E.g. ‘I want to lose 3kg of fat’
Measurable: Is it an objective or subjective goal?
Achievable: Is the goal realistic? Goals which are too difficult often lead to failure and demotivation.
Relevant: Does the goal fit in with your other needs? I.e. an individual recovering from a knee injury may find it useful to lose weight to put less stress on the joint.
Time-Based: When will you achieve this by? How long will it realistically take? You might set yourself 12 weeks to lose 3kg of body fat or to improve your back squat or bench press by x%.
By setting yourself a target, you are giving yourself a purpose to train. People who train with a purpose are often more motivated and ultimately, more successful!
2. Have a plan.
At the start of any training block, coaches will often baseline test their athletes to get an idea of where each person is and what will be best for the individual to help improve performance. This gives you a starting point, a destination and a timeframe to achieve your goals.
Imagine you’re planning a road trip across the USA, from Los Angeles to New York. You’ll consult Google, Maps or your preferred route finder and you’ll be given a number of options although none of them will be a straight line from A to B and often, a longer route may be the most efficient.
You then decide to stop off and visit the Grand Canyon, watch the Chicago Bulls and visit Washington D.C. – these may be things you’d want to accomplish along the way, thus breaking your journey (LA to NYC) down into smaller trips. Think of this as setting yourself smaller goals or ‘milestones’ to make the end goal seem more achievable.
Example Case Study
Current Body Mass: 80kg
Target Body Mass: 76kg
Timeframe: 12 weeks
We know that Sam’s journey won’t be a straight line (i.e. progress is nonlinear). As previously discussed, we make more progress early before we approach a plateau, so Sam’s ‘milestones’ might be:
Week 4: < 78kg
Week 8: < 77kg
Week 12: <76kg
(This is a very simplified target and of course, training mode and overall body composition would need to be considered).
Key Point: Plan your route and set targets to keep you motivated.
3. Building Habits.
Most training plans fail.
In fact, most of them will fail within the first 6 months. But why?
Generally, it is because training has not yet become habitual. Therefore, every session is an effort It’s an effort to find time to train. It’s an effort to get to the gym. Actually following your plan is an effort!
However, the good news is that over time, it gets easier. For this to happen, we need to develop positive behaviours that make training habitual. The power of habit is widely discussed and researched – in fact, there’s even a book about it.
Everything we do on a daily basis is a habit. Eating, sleeping, drinking, moving etc. – all habits. We can have good habits (positive behaviour) and poor habits (negative behaviour). Although we can have days where we eat well, drink plenty of water, get our 10,000 steps in (positive behaviours), if this is not a habit, we will generally revert to type and slip back into the poor habits that we are trying to kick.
Therefore, making lifestyle changes require constant and consistent effort. Making small, regular changes will be a far more effective strategy than trying to completely overhaul your existing habits.
Rome wasn’t built in a day and you won’t achieve your goals in a week! Start by training once or twice a week and gradually develop your habit so it becomes easier as the weeks go by. Think of missing a training session as a detour on your road trip – it’s not ideal but it won’t ruin it. You just need to get back on track as soon as you can!
Being motivated is being ‘moved’ to do something. So ask yourself ‘why’? Why am I doing this? What is it that’s going to help get you back on track when you take a detour on your route? Ultimately, we need to find something that will help to push us on when we feel like quitting. Target setting is a tool to help you, but you will be driven by something else.
Depending on your individual circumstances and stage of life, at least one of the following might apply to you:
Prove people wrong
Improve your health (risk of CHD, diabetes etc.)
Cope with demands of everyday life (improved mobility)
Look good (and get insta-famous??)
Often, training with a partner or group of friends can motivate you and encourage you along the way to help build a routine with your training.
To continue the metaphor, a road trip is better with friends! Of course, there is also the added social benefit to group training and which should help to make your overall experience more enjoyable. It’s better to share your success with others who have been through it with you!
(Team sports are a popular choice to help make exercise enjoyable)
Let’s face it – money talks. From my experience, people who pay for a training plan are much more likely to complete a training plan compared to those who get it for free. The act of going out and paying for someone to train you means that you’re serious – you want to make a change and you want to be pushed and challenged in order to achieve success.
This could be through personal training sessions on a one-to-one basis or simply purchasing an online training plan to complete in your own time. Whatever the method, make sure it works for you.
Financial investment can be one of the strongest drivers of human behaviour.
(A great link for you if you’re interested in personal training or looking for guidance along the way!)
Key point: Money talks. Invest in the change you want to make.
4. Be consistent
Adherence is the key to any training plan. It doesn’t matter how simple or sophisticated the plan is. It’s completely irrelevant if it’s not completed. Therefore, whatever exercise plan you do, it needs to be something you enjoy and something you look forward to doing (or finishing).
Whether you like running, swimming, cycling, lifting, crossfit-ing, Zumba-ing or yoga-ing*, you need to find something you enjoy and that you want to do. Often, the best trainers will be the ones who listen to you and make your session relevant to you and your level of ability.
So how can we be consistent?
The trick lies in the ‘little and often’ approach (versus the all or nothing… which usually ends up being nothing!) to help build your habits.
People live busy lives. For some, this can make it difficult to regularly find time to train. Those who have successfully made training a habit make time to train and often have strategies in place to help them along the way.
We’ve looked at a few of these options, however one strategy that is quite useful is to have a home workout option – a kit free (or minimal kit), low space alternative that will challenge you regardless of where you are. Put simply, doing something is often better than doing nothing. Even if it’s only part of a training session (say 10-20 mins), you’ll feel better for having completed it and you will have at least prevented yourself from falling into the reversibility trap (see Principles of Training – Part Two).
Completing 5 x 15 minute sessions in a week is better than skipping every day because you don’t have time!
Key point: ‘Little & often’ approach beats ‘all or nothing’
Key point: Even completing part of a workout is better than skipping it completely!
5. When exercise becomes habitual
By the time you reach the 6-month mark of consistent training, hopefully you will have developed a number of positive behaviours that encourage you to go out and be healthy.
Whatever your training mode, you should be seeing the benefits of regular training. Feeling the benefits of training act as a motivator, whether this is feeling stronger/fitter/more confident as a result of your exercise plan, hopefully it will be having a positive influence on your life.
The benefits of exercise are well documented (see here), however not nearly enough people manage to sustain an ‘acceptable’ level of exercise. Much in the same way that ‘dieting’ (I hate this word – more on that in a future blog) can fail at the first hurdle, a training plan can stall before it even gets going. Hopefully this summary will help you ensure that yours is a success!