There are two types of people in this world: those who enjoy working out and those who would really rather not. Now, it’s time to rethink fitness. With these seven simple steps, you can go from couch potato to fitness fanatic and make working out your favorite part of the day. Don’t believe me? Try it for yourself!
1. Think about the benefits
Before you even put that sports bra on, it’s important to reconsider what fitness means to you. Being “in shape” isn’t just synonymous with looking good — it’s about feeling good, too! Melanie Ludwig, personal trainer and owner of Prestige Fitness in New Hampshire, provides some insight into what working out is all about. “When your body is in better condition, just like when a car is tuned up correctly, it will run better,” she says. Think fewer colds, more energy and a good night’s sleep — and that doesn’t even begin to cover it.
According to the Mayo Clinic, regular exercise boosts HDL (that’s the good kind of cholesterol) and lowers triglycerides (that’s the bad). This combo ensures the blood is pumped with less effort and more efficiency through your body, helping to decrease your chance of cardiovascular disease. Exercise can also stimulate chemicals in your brain to improve your mood. Even just a thirty minute walk can leave you feeling happier.
To begin feeling the benefits, Ludwig suggests that you walk or stretch for ten minutes for each hour of studying. “When you get back to your desk refreshed, you will be able to study longer and retain more knowledge,” she says.
2. Set goals, but start small
Everyone has to start somewhere, and for each person, that starting point is different. Justine SanFilippo, health coach and author of Lose Your Inches Without Losing Your Mind, makes nutrition and wellness as simple and easy as possible for clients. “I always recommend to start with just 15 minutes per day,” she says. “Maybe go for a walk, walk the dog, take the stairs instead of the elevator, try an exercise video or app or do some bodyweight exercises in your living room.” Start with SanFilippo’s recommended 15 minutes a day of your favorite active activity and then work up to 30 minutes or more! The American Heart Association recommends just 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day to reap huge health benefits.
SanFilippo recommends taking advantage of the free initial personal training sessions most gyms offer to gain access to a professional that can help get you started with a personal workout plan. “You are never obligated to sign up for more sessions and you can get more comfortable in the gym very quickly,” she says. Before your session is up, sit down with the professional to set small goals and simple workout plans that you can do on your own.
Starting small keeps your goals realistic. Harvard Medical School recommends waiting at least 48 hours between strength training sessions to let muscles recover. If you’ve never picked up a set of weights before, going straight for the 20-pounders isn’t going to do you any favors: you may pull a muscle. Master the five-pound (or lower, if need be) dumbbells and then slowly (but surely!) work your way to heavier and harder weights once the original dumbbells get easy.
3. Ditch the gym — yup, you heard that right!
Maybe that free personal training session was just the confirmation you needed to know you can’t stand treadmills and will be ditching the gym for good. Don’t think you’re off the hook that easily! Lauren, a junior at the University of Texas, Austin, used to have to force herself to go to the gym. “I eventually decided to stop making mundane gym trips and start doing things I actually liked,” she says. When you stop forcing it, the rest will come naturally. Pick your poison: whether it’s kickboxing, Zumba, or even just treading water in the pool with friends, find something that makes exercise feel less like a workout and more like a fun break from the rest of your day.
4. Recruit a workout buddy
Getting yourself motivated is half the battle — try finding someone else to motivate you! And in return, you’ll do the same for them. Katie, a senior at Winona State University, could never stick to a workout regimen. This time, she recruited a workout buddy and began putting gym dates with her roommate into her schedule. “She’s definitely been my motivator,” Katie says. “We push each other to learn exercises, run faster, and get out of bed to go to the gym.”
Ludwig suggests enlisting a friend for a positive influence and a little friendly competition. “Sometimes a friendly wager is fun with a friend,” she says. “Whoever loses five pounds first has to take the other one out to lunch — a healthy lunch.”
5. Pencil it in
“Time, or should I say, lack of time, is the most common reason people cite for not exercising,” Ludwig says. Just like Katie started putting workouts into her schedule, the best way to fit working out into your schedule is to literally schedule it in. As far as time goes, try to head to the gym when it is least busy. That way, you don’t have to worry about seasoned gym-goers watching you work out or fight for time on the machines. For college gyms, this means the time between late morning and early afternoon, when most classes are still in session.
Pull out your planner and pencil in three weeks’ worth of your favorite workout class, or even just an evening walk. If it is written in from the beginning, you are more likely to schedule everything else around your new fitness habit and actually stick to the workout plan.
6. Kick it up a notch
Once your routine starts to feel easier, give your workout a boost! “When things get easy, increase the intensity or lengthen the time you exercise but try not to do both at the same time,” Ludwig says. Let’s say you run on a treadmill and have been doing two miles in 40 minutes. Step it up by raising your incline, increasing your time, or kicking up your pace. Pick one factor to work on and once that becomes a breeze, move on to the next challenge!
And instead of focusing on the same workout every time, try mixing it up a little. “One day I’ll do a boxing class, another I’ll take a spin class, another I’ll just do weights in the gym, another I’ll do a Crossfit class, and another day, I just take my dog on a long walk or hike,” SanFilippo says. “By changing up your workouts, your body is always guessing, so it keeps getting stronger and never gets bored.” If your campus offers fitness classes, find some that interest you and put them into your planner. Bonus points if you recruit a friend to come with you!
7. Don’t be a sore loser … literally
It’s important to not go hardcore at the gym for an entire week straight. Taking a day off every few days is a great way to let your muscles recover before your next workout session. Still, there’s no way to sugar coat it: you’ll be sore. “The best thing to do is actually keep moving the next day,” SanFilippo says. “Take a light walk, stretch, drink plenty of water, and even include coconut water for the potassium and to reduce cramping.” Get up and move around to help stretch your muscles out and reduce the lactic acid — after all, that’s what’s making you sore in the first place!
By the third day, the soreness should be at bay. Think of it as a reminder that you worked hard the day before and let it motivate you to keep working towards your goal. Soon enough, you will be able to do that same workout without any pain at all.
If your campus offers group fitness classes, find ones you like and write them into your planner. Recruit a friend to go for a hike every Sunday afternoon. Take up surfing. Download a new fitness app. Regardless of what activity you choose and how you motivate yourself, the key is to start slow and enjoy the activity you choose to do. Soon enough, you too will be the type of person who actually looks forward to getting your exercise. The first step is simply redefining just what “working out” means to you.