I wrote a while back that I had been working out daily with Chris Hemsworth’s fitness app Centr every day for a month (you can ready my Centr review here). Well, it’s now been 4 years and I’m still going strong. Some of you have asked me to write a post about how I got into and stayed in a great exercise routine so here is my 10 tips on how to make exercise an unbreakable habit…
How to make exercise an unbreakable habit
1. Do something daily
You might not like to hear this but my best tip for getting into a great routine and sticking to it is to make movement a priority every day but keep it short.
So every day do something for at least 20 minutes (but ideally around the half-hour mark). This doesn’t (and actually shouldn’t) always be high intensity, it’s really sensible to have active recovery and gentle movement in there too.
I’ve found when I workout for longer workouts for 3 days a week then when I’ve had my off days it’s harder to get back into it and the breaks can easily stretch out and before you know it you’ve taken a long break and can’t get back into it.
When I do shorter workouts but every day, it just becomes a habit. It just becomes ingrained that I need to prioritise my movement at some point every day.
2. Get workouts in as early as possible
Get your workouts in early – I try to get my workouts in early in the day so that it’s done when I have energy and nothing can get in the way of it.
I try to workout around 2 hours after eating – after this, I start to get hungry and need to eat again.
It’s a bit of a tightrope walk as you want to leave it as long as you can so your body isn’t spending energy digesting your food but not so long that you get hungry and weak.
I’ve learned when I work out before breakfast I’m not as strong as afterwards so key times for me to workout are mid-morning or eating lunch and working out mid-afternoon (which is a great way of beating the afternoon slump).
3. Make it sustainable
Make it sustainable – you will not stick to something if you don’t enjoy it. It has to fit into your life and your schedule at a level that you could maintain long term/forever.
If you start something, ask yourself, could you see yourself still doing this in a year or even 5 years time? If not then it’s not sustainable.
In my opinion, it’s better to do less but be consistent. Hate gyms? Then don’t work out in them, you’ll never stick to it.
Pick something that’s you, whether that’s dancing or walking or whatever. I get bored easily so I keep it fun and varied.
I do mixed martial arts, HIIT, boxing cardio, yoga, weights/strength, pilates, raw functional movement and Foundation Training.
I find steady-state cardio mind-numbingly boring most of the time so I just don’t do it – unless I’m in the mood. I’m terrible at coordination so I suck at dance type aerobics classes but maybe you love Zumba?
My point is, figure out which things work for you and just don’t bother doing the things that don’t – life is too goddamn short.
Part of this is stopping seeing exercise as punishment and moving for fun. When we were kids we used to do exercise without even thinking about it because it was play. We need to get back to that. It’s a privilege to be able to move your body.
When you focus on exercise for pleasure rather than to lose weight then you can see the joy in it. I genuinely enjoy exercise and if I don’t enjoy a particular exercise then I just don’t do it anymore. It’s about finding what works for you!
4. Make working out work for you
Make working out, work for you. Look at your daily routine and see where exercise could fit in exercise so you are killing two birds with one stone. It could be walking or running your commute. It could be using your lunch break to exercise.
For me, with two kids, a job and a business, I’m time poor, so wasting time heading to a gym and back doesn’t work for me when I can work out from home or outside and get my workout done in what would have been my travel time.
Now both my kids are in school I wear my work out gear for the school run and run the journeys that I don’t have the kids with me for. This adds anywhere between 1-3 miles of running a day to my routine and will actually save me time.
I’m forced to take a 30-minute lunch break at work, so I eat at my desk while I work and then a couple of hours later I take the 30-minute break to exercise. I simply don’t shower afterwards, it’s really not that big of a deal! Think strategically about your week and figure out how you can make working out work for you.
5. Be organised
Have an organised area for your workout clothes and have a gym bag ready to go. Anything that can deter you from working out, make plans to avoid it.
Clothes can be a big one to put people off. If it’s all laid out ready then it’s one less excuse to get past. I created a draw for workout bottoms and a draw for tops and bras.
I’ve got 3 pairs of leggings, a pair of shorts, quite a few tops and 4 bras. I’ve built them up over time but I’ve found the more, the better as I work out every day and this avoids not being able to work out if my clothes are in the wash.
Also, I only wash them when I need to. I can often get a couple of wears out of less sweaty sessions like yoga or pilates. I
also have a gym bag that I keep an outfit in, a water bottle, my headphones, a towel, my skipping ropes and some resistance bands.
I make sure it’s packed up if I’ll be going somewhere where I need to work out on the go. If I’m going to work I pack it the night before so it’s done and can’t become an excuse the next day.
6. Have go to workouts you can do from home or when travelling
Have workouts that you can do from home or when travelling. I like to do a lot of my workouts at home for ease and so I can workout even when I’m solely responsible for my kids.
But even if you normally go to the gym, sometimes you might not have the time or the car might be broken or you might be travelling.
Have some go-to workouts that you can do wherever you are with no equipment. You might want to invest into some small pieces of equipment – a mat, weighted skipping rope, dumbells, resistance bands etc.
Then no matter what, you’ve got things you can do from home. You could never step foot in a gym and still be fit and strong. You can see some of the equipment I use in my Amazon shop here (affiliate link).
7. Just keep moving
Just keep moving. For me, it’s key to always do something.
There is a phrase ‘movement creates motivation’ and I’ve found that to be true. For me, there is no get out of jail free card.
I tell myself there are no excuses. I recently sprained my ankle and injured my toe and didn’t miss a workout. What I did do though was adapt the workouts to ensure I could do something. I adjusted certain exercises to reduce the impact. I altered workouts to focus on other areas and avoid my left foot.
When I get my period and have awful cramps I might switch to a calming yoga workout later that day but I always keep moving.
My personal rule is I always have to do something physical for 20 minutes – if you can’t face something intense it could be stretching or a walk or some gentle stretching. With a little thought and planning, there is always something you can do.
If I’m genuinely sick (from below the throat is a good indicator of a need to rest) though then I listen to my body and rest. Try to lean into your gut intuition and become best friends with your body – could you do something or are you genuinely needing a rest. Listen to your gut, its there for a reason. Rest is important.
8. Prioritise nutrition
Prioritise nutrition – I view food as fuel for my workouts. When you are working out daily you have to eat well in order to sustain your output and grow your muscles.
When I don’t eat nutritious foods then my workouts are much more of a struggle. I think an 80% healthy 20% ‘treat’ ratio is a reasonable one to follow. Life is for living and food should be a joy.
Also, a big mistake women in particular often make is not eating enough as they worry about gaining weight but this mindset doesn’t help you get stronger and healthier. Eat well!
9. Focus on your why
Remember that its an investment – my key reason for moving is my health so on the days I can’t be bothered I remember this. I view working out as an investment in my mental health and physical health, especially as I age.
All the time and money I spend (which isn’t significant) I don’t view as an expense or waste, but like putting your money into property or investments. It will pay dividends back both now and in the future in good health.
To me, nothing is more important than good mental and physical health and the research on how beneficial exercise is, especially for women (through increasing bone density and resistance training lowers blood pressure to a greater extent in women which is significant as the risk for coronary artery disease for women is twice that for men for every 20mm Hg increase in blood pressure above normal levels – Caroline Criado Perez, Invisible Women – affiliate link) is pretty conclusive.
10. Create non negotiable expectations
Create the expectation that this is non-negotiable for you. I always have a half-hour gym slot in my diary on my workdays (I’m fortunate that we have an office gym but if we didn’t I’d still go outside or find some way of working out) and my colleagues expect that I won’t be around then. (I do recognise this is a privilege).
At home, my family, including the kids now understand that this is part of my daily routine and that it is reasonable for me to have half an hour a day to be able to focus on my health and wellbeing.
It took a little time for everyone to get used to the new pattern of me not being available for their needs all the time. At first, everyone used to interrupt me or try to book over my gym slots but now everyone is used to it and they just work around it.
So those are the main ways that I create time and space to get into healthy habits of exercising daily.
I totally recognise that I have many privileges that allow me to do this and want to say that I wasn’t able to get to this point until my kids were older than 3 so if you are sat at home with a new baby or toddler thinking ‘yeah right’, I get you. Don’t worry, I was the same.
There is no rush, exercise can wait, enjoy your baby and live your life. Don’t force this. You’ll get there when the time is right and if that time is now, I hope these tips help you.
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Disclaimer: If you have health issues or disabilities please seek medical advice and work within your own comfort ranges. I’m able-bodied and don’t have any significant health issues so this is what I do but it might not be suitable for you. Trust your body and go easy on yourself. This post contains affiliate links, if you buy through an affiliate link you won’t pay any more but I will receive a small referral fee. For my full disclosure policy, please see my about page.