Starting a workout routine feels good. Sure, it also feels exhausting and often painful, but in a good, doing-something-for-yourself way. The real struggle is keeping it up, and that’s where most people fail.
But what if the trick to success is more than just watching motivational videos to get you pumped up or blasting the theme from Rocky at full volume to start your run? Because that’s what a lot of people do, and a lot of the time, they still fail (like I did ― and I stopped counting how many times I failed a long time ago). Two months into it, the new routine is still a struggle, the smell of the gym is giving you flashbacks and you grasp at any excuse not to work out for a week... then two, and then you’re done.
There are so many different versions of this story, but the end result is always the same.
Before I started swimming, I would have said the secret was in choosing the time that works for you. But that’s just a part of the solution.
This was my personal experience with morning workouts: I struggled for years to develop some sort of a morning routine around my favorite HIIT exercises and I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t getting anywhere. I could easily manage the same workouts in the afternoon, but starting my day with them was simply impossible. So I told myself I wasn’t a morning person and stopped. That was it for morning exercise – until I began training for my first triathlon and got a swimming coach to work on my (non-existing) freestyle technique.
Her name was Fiona Fairbarn and she worked at our local community pool. The problem was, we could only find time to work together mornings. Early mornings. She had an adult group she would coach from 6.30 onwards, so she was available for private lessons at 6 a.m.
I’d get up at 5.20 a.m. to be in the water at 6 sharp, and she would coach me for 20 minutes and then give me the main thing to work on until our next session. And the strangest thing happened – not only did I go from barely managing a single pool length to swimming 1.2 miles in open water on race day in less than 6 months, but I found that I actually enjoyed getting up early and doing an hour of swimming before breakfast. Getting up at 5.30 three times per week to be in the water at 6 is still a part of my routine.
Can you now guess what the biggest reason is why so many people try hard, push themselves, but still fail to get a workout routine going?
What I’ve learned is that the biggest reason you’re probably failing at workout routines is that you are trying to do the wrong thing at the wrong time. But mostly, it’s about trying to do the wrong thing because you believe it’s the right thing or the best thing to do.
You have a glorious vision of jogging in the pre-dawn stillness, out to greet the sun and a new day while most people are still hitting snooze. Or you want to join a Zumba class because your friends are going. It can work for a while. But if your exercise is always a struggle, you’re missing out on the benefits.
You’re already dealing with enough stress at work and during your daily life – why make working out so stressful, too? Unless you’re in an actual military bootcamp getting ready for situations where you have to perform under stress or else get killed, the extra cortisol is not doing you any favors. Besides, stress is a proven enemy of health and weight loss – the two biggest reasons people decide to work out.
Your goal should be to create a workout routine that works for you personally. That means it doesn’t feel like a struggle all the time (some struggle is good – just don’t get so far out of your comfort zone that it starts feeling like punishment). And it needs to make you feel good. Really good, not just endorphine-rush good. Remember, you’re exercising to keep your body in shape and give your mind a chance to unwind from the daily grind.
For some people, that means churning out 10k before dawn. For some, it means going all out on the gym floor after work. For me, it’s getting my one hour of swimming (Fiona still supplies me with training routines so no morning is exactly the same). For you, it’s probably something else.
The best gift you can give yourself is the permission to try different things at different times to see what feels right. And when you discover your sweet spot and find yourself actually looking forward to your workouts, go all in! You’ll see you’re suddenly able to push yourself more, and reaching your goals faster than you thought was possible. And who knows, you might discover you are a morning person after all.