I’m seriously no fitness fanatic. A couple of years ago I lost over 3 stone (keeping my diabetic husband company as he reversed his Type 2 Diabetes) , and I felt great. I dropped three dress sizes, had more energy than I ever recall having and I just felt healthy (despite still having a couple of stone to lose).
But I spend my days sitting at a computer; always busy, never reaching the end of today’s To Do list, never quite making the targets I set before I allowed myself time to slack off and concentrate on non-money-making things like exercise.
When I did it before it seemed easier – Mr LittleStuff was on a serious health mission, he was exercising at home, and I had a buddy to join in with. I used the cross-trainer while he used the exercise bike, and I completed 9 weeks of the 12 week Couch to 5k programme I was following. But then we went on holiday, and it was summer, and then he was training for a big race and switched to the cross trainer himself (I don’t like the exercise bike as much)… and before I knew it my exercise habit had gone. But I was still eating healthily, my weight maintained, and I figured I’d get back into it in a while.
And I periodically gave it a go. I’ve tried four different C25K programmes. I’ve tried just going out with my iPod on a fast playlist. I’ve tried home exercise/yoga/Zumba DVD courses. I’ve tried cycling.
But none of it stuck. Each time there was a perfectly good reason not to do that really fun exercise thingy today/tomorrow/this week.
The excuses are always easy to come by aren’t they?
I’ll start as soon as I find the right gym/have lost a few pounds/have the right trainers/can afford the Step class/once I’ve got this job out of the way..
But the thing is, they are just that.
Yes, they feel real and justified, but that’s all it is. And then this year I finally had to stop kidding myself.
I contracted Whooping Cough. And it flattened me.
I have never felt so unwell, for so long – I caught it in January, and it took until June for the cough to really disappear. As I slowly recovered, I hated the way I felt. So weak and pathetic. And I couldn’t escape the nagging feeling that had I been physically fitter to begin with, I may well not have suffered so much, or for so long.
Finally I wanted to get fit, I really really did.
And I understood that it was down to me to make it happen, and I couldn’t just wait for it to happen to me.
So here I am. Next week I complete the final week of my latest C25k programme – but this time everything feels different. I’m enjoying it. I’m not avoiding it, I’m actually keen to complete each run. And I know I’m not alone in my issues with sticking to an exercise routine – so here’s my top tips on how I made it work this time:
1 – Find something simple that you enjoy.
The more barriers that are in your way, the easier it is to put it off. This is why running outside works for me – no need to pay for a gym, or wait for opening hours, or specialist equipment, or to find the time to drive somewhere before I actually start (I LOVE to swim, but my nearest pool is over 9 miles away. Add that journey time onto the swim and it’s just too big a chunk out of my day to make it a regular thing).
And if you’re dragging yourself through the session – stop. Change. Do something else. It doesn’t actually matter what it is; maybe Zumba is what makes you grin. Maybe you love to pound the treadmill in the gym with your music pounding in your ears. Maybe it’s dusting off your old bike. As long as you’re smiling, you won’t find reasons not to show up.
2 – Do It For YOU
You need to want this. And you need to want it for you. It’s no good doing it because you feel guilted into it by your partner’s exercise regime, or your body-shaming mother, or because it’s something you know you should do. You need to want to do this, just for you. Because it’s only you that needs the strength and determination to keep going when you don’t feel like it, when it’s hard, when you’re bored, when it’d just be easier to stay under the duvet for another hour.
Enjoy the help and encouragement from others, of course, but fundamentally this is about you, by you, for you.
If it’s not about you, you’re on the road to Quitsville.
3 – Find a way to make it fun.
Even if you enjoy what you do, when you’re unfit then exercising is hard work; that’s kind of the point. But fun definitely helps (Mary Poppins was a wise ole bird with her spoonfuls of sugar…). I love the C25k principle, and have tried so many C25K programmes – but none of them were for me. I had deep-voiced Americans getting on my nerves with their stupid music choices, higher voiced Americans getting so pumped by telling me how awesome I am that I wanted to punch them in the face. There was the terribly friendly British woman that I just wanted to shake some bloody energy into… And then I stumbled across the Zombies, Run! 5k training (Android and iOS, and no I don’t earn anything from the gazillion people I tell to download it). What a difference!
I love the storyline, I get to pick my own playlist music (turns out the music you run to is SO important, and possibly not what you think you want) and every day is a new adventure. Finally – no boredom.
Also – I don’t need to be trapped inside a gym, all sweaty and gasping and everyone staring at the woman in danger of a coronary in the corner. I didn’t want to publicly pound the pavements with my wobblyness on show either, but there are lots of public footpaths, and actually a brilliant old railway track very close to my house. I see the odd dog walker (who probably eyes Blue wheezing along behind me with pity) and an occasional fellow runner/cyclist, but that’s it. I also watch the seasons slowly turn, feel the weather in my face (plus small flying insects that aim up my nose and drown on my attractively-sweaty cheeks) and just yesterday I saw a heron, a buzzard, a small deer family and a shoal of fish in the river as I galumphed over the mill bridge. Again – remove the barriers and make yourself enjoy it more.
4 – Get Up and Do It.
This one’s a really important one for me. Consistency is key to creating a new habit – we can all be keen for a week, but it’s keeping that commitment going in week 4 that’s the key to changing your habits for good.
Every day I drag my sorry arse out of bed and I think that I’ll probably run later, not first thing, too tired, too stiff, this afternoon will be better.
But even as I’m thinking those things I get dressed straight into my running gear. The night before, when my brain is actually awake and willing, I leave out my running kit; bra, knickers, socks, the whole lot, so I can slip into it without needing to wake my early-morning brain with thinkings.
Because I know that later never comes. Who has time at 5 in the afternoon to drop everything and go for a run? No. Quite. And evenings? No thanks.
But if I’m wearing my kit, then the next logical step is to leave the house (besides which, the dog would die of disappointment if she saw my shimmering thighs in their black lycra and it didn’t immediately lead to an exhausting run that leaves her looking like a half-dead frothing asthmatic).
Many’s the day I’ve been disappointed at myself for not getting out and running in the morning.
But importantly, never once have I got to the end of the day and regretted the loss of that hour I spent pounding the old railway track.
5 – Ignore Yourself.
I’m a horrible procrastinator. And it’s a weird thing, but the minute I start exercising, my brain starts trying to stop me. I have a constant internal dialogue going on
“why are you doing this?”
“You don’t have to get fit today, do you? You have That Thing that you have to do y’know”
“No one’d know if you just stop now would they?”
“That knee’s feeling a bit dodgy, you don’t want to damage it.”
“Oh, you forgot the water, you’d better just go and get a drink.”
“Maybe these aren’t the right shoes for this…”
“ouch, is that a stone in your shoe? Maybe you’d better check it”
15 minutes in, and the negativity stops – but I’ve learned I have to just grit my teeth and get through that first quarter of an hour. Because I did give in and stop a few times, and no, no one ever knew.
But *I* knew.
And cheating yourself just feels stupid and horrible.
It was easier to ignore it once I knew it was happening though, and I’d almost laugh at myself even as I started making excuses for the run ahead.
Mondays for me are the worst – it’s the start of a new set of drills. They’re not necessarily harder, but the negativity is strongest. But when I’m back out on Wednesday, I’ve already completed this set of drills once. I already know I can do it – and ‘This Girl Can‘ is an incredibly powerful mantra for banishing the negativity.
6 – Keep It Achievable
Make yourself targets – but set small ones. It’s no good if you’re a total couch potato saying to yourself “I’m going to run a marathon”; you’ll quit long before you get there. Keep that as a vision for the future – and right now decide that tomorrow you will run for 5 sets of 90 seconds. Or swim two lengths without stopping. Or complete a full 30 minute Zumba class. Make it manageable and achievable, and just a little bit more than you know you are capable of. Then when you hit that target, set yourself another. The more you achieve, the more motivated you are. And the more you do, the more of a habit it becomes, and the more your body wants to do.
I never ever imagined I would be the person that runs 4 miles a day three times a week. But I do. And I know that 4mths ago, I couldn’t actually run for two consecutive minutes.
How about you – do you have any good tips to share? I’m still such a novice – would love it if you’d leave a comment sharing your own experiences!
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