My Top 5 Tips for Building a Long-term Exercise Habit.
I didn’t grow up exercising. The Ultra-Strict, Ultra-Orthodox Schools I attended frowned upon anything smelling of secularism. There was barely free time to run around, let alone any concept of organized physical education.
To show you how much these guys hated anything that wasn’t sacred: In third grade I was caught reading an English language book in Torah study class. The Rabbi literally flew me 200 meters down the hall by kicking me so hard in the behind while running that he propelled me to the principal’s office. It’s not the physical pain you remember but the humiliation.
It wasn’t until I got out of the Army at age 23 that I suddenly realized I had landed in the best shape of my life and it was good!
The 18 years that have since passed have had their share of ups and downs, as life goes, but despite my struggles, even in the depths of alcoholism and despair, I have always kept the exercise habit at the core of my being. It has kept me going and made life infinitely better.
I tell you this not to brag about what a super exerciser I am, but to show you that change and renewal is possible!
It took many years to realize that I over exercised as a way of coping with emotional pain, and the journey is far from over. We all have our means of dealing with life’s challenges, but that is a topic for another post. After nearly 2 decades of Weightlifting and CrossFit, I now work on retraining myself to move mindfully and to channel the power and rage that come from within, but from a place of compassion. Acceptance without judgement is the first step to changing habits.
Many of my friends and clients have struggled to build a long term exercise habit, and wish to share with you the most effective tips I have picked up over 18 years of training myself and coaching others. I will start with the single most powerful step you can take to ensure your success:
- Surround yourself with good influences. It is said that you are the sum of the 5 people you spend the most time with, so cultivate friendships with people who already have a health and fitness lifestyle. This will give you a higher probability of sticking with it even when you don’t feel like making the effort. Everyone, even the the greatest athletes, have periods when they just don’t feel like training. This is normal. Having the social motivation in place will give you that extra push when, inevitably, you want to quit. (Caveat: I am not suggesting you should cut off people who don’t exercise. That is a terrible idea. Just add the good ones on top)
- Schedule regular sessions with a Personal Trainer. If you can afford to do all your workouts with a trainer, then power to you! But having a meeting once a week or even once per month, as long as it is consistent, will anchor your exercise habit into a social and financial commitment. A good trainer will not just provide you with an excellent workout, but also check in to see how your week was and check homework if it was assigned. Hire a trainer to provide an extra layer of accountability.
- Learn new skills. Whether you are learning a new dance move or learning how to snatch, there is nothing more rewarding than the accomplishment of mastering a new skill. Conversely, there is nothing more depressing than doing the same circuit at the boring globo gym machine for the upteenth time. So make your activity fun by working out in a pleasant environment and teaching your body something new! You can also enjoy this wonderful feeling of accomplishment by hanging on for an extra rep or adding a bit more challenge to your WOD (Workout of the Day)! Before long you will find yourself looking forward to your next workout!
- Celebrate the wins, even if they appear small or insignificant. Managed to squeeze in some kind of workout even though you are in a period of high pressure? That’s a win! Did some sets of pushups and squats at the park? Fantastic! Even if you have a brutal week and you don’t make it to the gym even once, do something no matter how small! Parking a couple of blocks away and walking can buy you an extra 10 minutes of exercise and all those little bits add up over time just like money in the bank! Best case scenario, report your successes to somebody or write them in a journal.
- Get through the first 90 days without giving up! Starting or getting back into a exercise habit is extraordinarily hard, but once you make it past this mark, your brain will reward you with drugs! Dopamine, Seratonin, Endorphins and Endocannabinoids are among the intoxicating substances the brain produces in response to physical activity. Unfortunately it takes time to develop these systems if they have been out of use so you gotta stick to it if you want to enjoy the rewards. The amazing science behind this phenomena has encouraged me to develop our signature “90 Day Transformation” program at CrossFit Jerusalem. To learn more, please book a meeting with me here.
Finally, even once you start, there will be periods when you feel like you have failed for a variety of reasons. Understand that this is a normal part of the process and the voice which wants you to quit is not your enemy. Listen to it, appreciate and even respect it, but remember that you always have the choice to be in the driver’s seat of your own vehicle. Stay positive, and hang on for the ride of your life!