Monday, October 11, 2010

The lazy person's guide to starting and maintaining an exercise routine

While I am undoubtedly a fitness fanatic, there are days that I really really reallyreallyreally don't want to work out. But with very few exceptions, I've managed to work out 5-6 days a week for probably 10 years or more. This isn't always easy, and there have definitely been times where I've given into tiredness/stress/general feelings of ickyness, and I rarely feel better when I forgo the workout. In most cases I feel significantly better after a sweat sesh, especially if I felt unmotivated due to stress or general tiredness. Because we all KNOW the benefits of exercise, I've devised several (nearly) fool-proof methods for making it happen on those tough days when I'd much rather curl up in a warm blanket and cuddle with my puppies than turn myself into a hot, sweaty, exhausted mess. My favorite methods to overcome Dont-Wanna-Workout-itis are outlined below:

1. The Sneak Attack- My current system of exercise insurance. I set my alarm clock an hour earlier than usual, lay out (or sleep in) my workout clothes, and blissfully drift off to dreamland. When my alarm goes off I shift to autopilot; get out of bed, throw on workout clothes (clearly this step isn't necessary if I slept in them), lace up my shoes, and burst out the door or start my favorite dvd before my brain has time to register what's going on. I like to be as drowsy as possible when I start working out, so by the time my brain realizes what's happening, I'm already halfway done and might as well keep going. If Basic Training taught me anything, it's that working out is way easier when you don't have an internal debate about whether you're going to do it or not. Your body knows what to do. Just get it done. Sidenote: if you're extremely clumsy I wouldn't recommend this technique with moves that require tremendous coordination unless you're in the safety of your own home. I use the Sneak Attack method when running on flat surfaces (no trail-running here..), and when I use my Jillian Michaels dvd. I may not have perfect form, but I figure as long as I'm flailing my arms around and kicking my legs haphazardly, I'm going to work up a sweat.

2. Continual and Relentless Denial- This is a personal favorite, and a technique I frequently use for races. It works equally well when I'm faced with other things that I don't necessarily feel like doing (ie giving a presentation, doing homework, or anything new and scary). It works like this; you tell yourself you're NOT going to do the thing you're going to do, but you're getting ready just in case you feel like it later. Example: "I'm not really going for a run; I'm just putting on my Nike shorts and T-Shirt in case I DO feel like running at some point in time today. Also, the swishy fabric of my shorts and this soft cotton tee are really comfy, and I can always run errands in them, or just relax around the house while looking athletic." This dialogue is effective as long as you need it to be; it's amazing how far denial can go; "I'm not going to compete in this race, but if I stand around with these people wearing numbers and running shoes at the starting line, I have a better opportunity to wish them luck in the final seconds before the gun goes off." It evens works mid-workout; "I'm not going to finish the whole exercise video, I'm just doing the warm-up to get my blood flowing and listen to some funky 80's music." It sounds ridiculous, but the powers of denial are strong, and by the time you've come to grips with reality that you ARE in fact doing what you didn't want to do, you realize it's not as bad as you thought. I feel like this could be a subset of the Sneak Attack method.

3. Dialing Down the Intensity- Nothing gives me greater satisfaction than doing a half-assed workout when I feel super unmotivated. I seriously feel like I'm getting away with something. If I usually work out 45-60 minutes at a higher intensity, I'll either reduce the time of my workout, or my effort, or both. I'll go for a "run" at a speed that hardly qualifies as a shuffle, making sure to gaze at the scenery, amble onto whatever path feels easiest at the time, and relish the fact that I'm sticking it to the workout gods by making a mockery out of everything they stand for. I'll do a workout, but I won't DO a workout if you know what I mean. Plus I get the added benefit of claiming a workout for the day. Notice how I mentioned I work out 5-6 days a week in the beginning of my post? That's right. I even get to count the craptastic days. Makes me sound like a badass, and keeps that exercise momentum going. It's much easier to skip a workout when your track record has been spotty, but when missing a workout means taking a complete deviation from the norm you're much less likely to do it. There's a secret added bonus to this method as well; 99 percent of the time you'll feel so good after you get all that oxygen pumping in your lungs, and you'll want to try hard. I try not to think about this when I use this system; it messes with my "sticking it to the man" justification.

4. Motivation- This one sounds obvious, but it's amazing how few people actually utilize this technique. Everyone who wants to exercise has a reason. But it's unreal how many people forget those reasons once it's TIME to get up and do it. We use excuses to justify our actions, or rather, lack thereof. The reason doesn't have to be epic, it just has to be honest. Motivation can change daily. One day I might want to exercise because I secretly dream of competing in an Ironman and I know I have to start somewhere if I ever want to do it. The next day I might just want to look good in my skinny jeans. A lot of the time, I get my motivation from Aaron; how can I justify sitting around when he consistently kicks butt at the gym? There's something to be said for being in a relationship with someone who's ridiculously buff and motivated. I want him to be just as proud of me as I am of him! This works with friends, coworkers, and family too. Even when I am pumped to exercise, I like to run through a mental list of why I'm doing what I'm doing. Ultimately, working out is good for your physical, emotional, and mental health, and it's worth doing no matter what your reason is.


  1. I like being the only one in the office who rides a bike to work, and how amazed people are at the 13 mile ride that is "long" to them =)