Through all the years that I have been working as a professional personal trainer, one question seems to come up over and over again: "Michael, do you really mean to tell me that you actually enjoy working out?" The question is usually accompanied by a quizzical look of suspense. The answer is an unequivocal yes! However, many people do not share my enthusiasm and are constantly on a quest to find "that place" where exercise is not dreaded but actually enjoyed. Well, getting to "that place" is a process that takes time, commitment, and hard work. And while getting there is one goal, staying there is a whole other ball game. I realize that exercise is a hard work and can often seem grueling to some people. Throughout this column, I will be discussing some common proven methods to avoid burnout and enhance motivation for exercise. These methods will include: Consistency, Scheduling, Incorporating Variety, Logging Progress, and Rewards.
Consistency: Without a doubt, progress and results in exercise cannot happen without an element of consistency. The body will actually decelerate at about twice the rate that it is built up. But not only does consistency lead to physical progress; it can also enhance motivation and adherence. The more we do something, the less mundane it will feel in time. Brushing our teeth may not exactly seem like a "fun" thing to do. But because we do it so often, we reach a point where we are completely ok with it. We know that our teeth will fall out if we do not take care of them. Knowing this in and of itself creates motivation. It's the same with exercise. We need to constantly remind ourselves why we are doing it in the first place and think about the negative consequences that will inevitably occur if we stop. Then, over time, this practice of consistency will lead to adherence and exercise will not seem as grueling. Seeing and feeling the inevitable physical results that come with consistent exercise will also strongly increase motivation.
Scheduling: Whenever I meet with a new client, I strongly recommend that they try to schedule their training sessions at the same times every week. In this way, the exercise sessions become a part of their daily rituals and can significantly enhance consistency and adherence. Even setting alarms at scheduled workout times can be an effective way to ensure that they will indeed stop what they are doing and meet their exercise needs. Hiring a qualified personal trainer is also a great way to implement this tactic. Not only does it allow the person to pre-schedule their workouts, but it also gives them another face and a voice that they have to show up for. The fact that there is money on the line is also a strong contributing factor in motivation.
Incorporating Variety: Variety in training is probably the most important element in preventing exercise burnout. Quite often, I see people performing the same exercises at the same intensity levels, week after week, month after month, year after year. Is it any wonder that they are no longer motivated? It is quite evident that they are just going through the motions and not enjoying what they are doing. But there's also another danger here: Performing the same exercises on an ongoing basis will also lead to a plateau of physical results. Not only must the exercises be changed, but also the modes of exercise, intensity levels, and order. So if you have been taking that step class forever and are getting bored with it, try a kickboxing class! I guarantee you will see both physical and psychological results.
Logging Progress: A great way to increase motivation and maintain or improve adherence is to actually see your progress. Exercise logs are a great way to track strength gains. Assessments such as body fat testing and girth measurements are also great tools to track progress and are usually low in cost. When clients see the physical benefits that they are deriving from exercise, they become that much more compelled to continue. This positive mental outlook overrides burnout and significantly increases motivation.
Rewards: Rewards are very important in exercise programs. They serve as a nice "pat on the back" for all of the hard work that is put into training and allows exercisers to strive for something other than physical results. One example of a reward would be the cheat day philosophy that I implement with my clients. If they have followed the healthy eating guidelines that I have given them throughout the week, they are allowed to have one day to eat the fatty foods that they love. Rewards however, do not have to only come in the form of food. Treating yourself to a day at the spa would be another great example of a reward for meeting your weekly or monthly fitness goals. Maybe it's a movie, maybe it's a trip, or maybe it's just a walk in the park. The point is that rewards work. They increase motivation and prevent burnout by having that little something extra to strive for.
These are just a few ideas to take into consideration a means to increase motivation and prevent burnout during your exercise programs. Consistency and scheduling will provide structure and create a ritual for exercise in your everyday life. Incorporating variety will add fun into your workouts, prevent boredom and significantly increase the rate at which you will see and feel physical results. Logging your progress and giving yourself rewards will strongly increase motivation and decrease the likelihood of burnout. I've been implementing these concepts for myself since I was twelve years old. Now, I'm almost forty and I am looking forward to training for the rest of my life. The proof is in the pudding!
Michael Elder has been working as a fitness professional in Chicago for the last thirteen years. He comes from a background in gymnastics and is certified as a personal trainer through the American Council on Exercise (ACE). He can be contacted directly through his website, www.MichaelElder.com.