Get in the groove—and meet a whole new fit you by throwing these workout "rules" to the side.

Jessica Migala
October 07, 2020
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Getting in the habit of exercising isn't always easy. But moving your body more often pays off, for both your physical and mental health. "People often feel accomplished, energized and less anxious immediately after exercise," says Stephanie Cooper, Ph.D, an assistant professor in the department of kinesiology at the University of San Francisco. Problem is, to get those good vibes rolling, you have to actually fit in a sweat session—and get yourself there, too. Despite your best intentions, there may be a few habits standing in your way of getting a good routine going. Here are the seven habits to break when trying to exercise more.

1. Waiting to exercise when you have free time

Ever notice that your schedule fills up as the day goes on? You thought you'd have time in the afternoon, but a co-worker requested a last-minute Zoom call. You assumed that after work would be prime time, but you're going to try to squeeze in a few final to-dos. (And now, you're tired and hungry.) "One of the most common excuses for not exercising is lack of time, which highlights the need to be proactive in scheduling your exercise sessions for the week as if they were important meetings," says Cooper. Before the week begins, block off that time on your calendar for each session. And, don't be so quick to lift it. Treat it like a doctor's appointment.

2. Trying to be a morning person when you're not

It's absolutely true that exercising in the morning can help you stick to a routine, since there's nothing that will pop up to derail your plans, says Cooper. However, think about what type of person you are. If you're not a morning person, then you may not thrive by trying to wrestle yourself out of bed at 6 a.m., and you shouldn't put pressure on yourself to do so. (It will make exercise feel like a slog.) Similarly, if you know you drag in the afternoon or early evening, you might not be motivated. Go where your energy is.

3. Setting lofty goals

You may assume that if you set a big goal—run a marathon—then you'll be more likely to regularly run. Or you jump into an exercise routine saying you'll work out every day. Problem is: "When developing exercise-based goals, it's important to set challenging, yet achievable goals in order to set oneself up for success," says Cooper, who is also a member of the American College of Sports Medicine, specifically in the Psychobiology & Behavior Special Interest Group. For example, if you want to set an ambitious goal, like that marathon, then also sign up for a 5K and 10K race (these are virtual now), she says.

4. Planning to exercise every day

If you haven't been exercising consistently, rather than saying you're going to work out every day, start by planning to do it once or twice a week, says Cooper. Every week or two, add in another day. To increase motivation and reduce the risk of injury it's important to vary the types and intensities of exercise you do throughout the week. For example: biking for an hour, walking with a friend through the neighborhood for 20 minutes, lifting weights for 15 minutes, or stretching while watching your favorite TV show. All these activities challenge your muscles in different ways. What's more, the variety will help keep you mentally engaged so you can avoid burnout.

5. Going with "all-or-nothing" thinking

"It's important to keep oneself accountable and allow oneself grace when needed," says Cooper. Here's what that means: You can do the best you can scheduling exercise sessions on your calendar but, despite your efforts, something still comes up. Just because your planned activity is no longer doable, that doesn't mean that you can't do something. "Find some sort of physical activity that can be completed—because some is better than none," she says. If a 60-minute outdoor bootcamp is not going to happen today, but you have a half-hour available, brainstorm: what activity is available to me right now?

6. Doing trendy workouts (when you're not into them)

The most important thing to remember is to focus on doing activity that you love. The one that will get you out of bed, tear you away from work and boost your mood on a meh day. That might not be the trendiest workout out there, the ones where your friends are boasting about landing on a virtual leaderboard, or even the one that burns the most calories. "There is a high likelihood that you will not engage in exercise regularly if you force yourself to only perform exercises that you do not enjoy," says Cooper.

7. Heading out alone

If you're self-motivated to sweat, then you have enough get-up-and-go to make an exercise habit happen. But many people would benefit from buddying up. "Finding a friend to exercise with will keep you accountable," says Cooper. You don't even need to exercise together if current circumstances make that impossible: Promise that today you'll both do a 20-minute online yoga class, and then text each other at the end of the day. Or, take a FaceTime call while you both walk your dogs.