Three Steps to Starting a Workout Program and Sticking to It!

I started going to the gym when I was around 17 or 18, to a mildly seedy YMCA in downtown Ottawa. I had a handful of friends who worked out, and I suppose I just wanted something to do after school other than watch The Simpsons.

My first years of going to the gym were pretty silly. I knew nothing about weights, so I would do about 100 repetitions of one exercise using 2 lb dumbbells and then an hour on the elliptical,  finishing my workout with about 150 crunches.

Nowadays, my gym time looks pretty different. I get my workout done in about an hour (including warm-up and cool down), I have abandoned those crazy crunches, and I even hired a personal trainer to design bad-ass workout routines that I can do on my own.

I’m a gym bunny.


[Photo taken by Clance Laylor]

We all know the benefits of exercise, but knowing something is good for us doesn’t always translate to action. If you are someone who knows you need to start exercising but can’t seem to rally the initiative to get moving, please read the following advice. Actually, my tips below can be applied to any situation where you may be dragging your feet and procrastinating, so basically, you have to read this no matter what.

Here are my top three tips for cultivating and staying with a workout (or any) program!

1) Don’t Wait to Feel Motivated

If you waited to “feel like” going to work, your boss would probably fire your butt. A big false assumption made about exercisers by non-exercisers is that regular exercisers have all this motivation and energy to work out.

It’s not true.

It’s not about motivation or feeling inspired. There are days when I literally stomp and growl my way to the gym. I let myself feel annoyed and even angry that it’s time to go to the gym and I do it anyway. And I always feel amazing after. I PROMISE you will too.

Feeling inspired and excited to work out can and does happen, but to be successful at anything, we must learn to do it even when we don’t feel like it. Be rational about the time your schedule allows to devote to exercise, and block off three to five 30 to 60 minute sessions to go for a power walk, lift some weights, or do a yoga class. And just do it!

The resistance involved in a mental battle between your “I-want-to-fuse-to-the-couch” side and your “I’m-Michael-Jordan-bitches” side requires more effort than actually working out. Think about that.

2) Focus on Specific Behaviours, Not Goals

There are two sides to goals. On one hand, they can be great motivators (think about that picture of the Brazilian supermodel that made you want to start working out because you want to look like her). On the other hand, they can be very discouraging (think about that picture of the Brazilian supermodel that made you want to stop working out because you still don’t look like her).

While goals are fine to have, a more encouraging thing to work towards is behaviours. If you have a goal of weighing 10 lbs less in a month and don’t reach that number despite sticking to your diet and exercise regime, you’re going to feel discouraged and may be very vulnerable to giving up altogether.

Focus instead on healthy behaviours, and the goals will be met naturally, at their own time. Be specific, for example committing to adding three servings of dark leafy greens a day, limiting alcohol to five drinks a month, and exercising for 60 minutes on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Specificity increases the likelihood of following through. Again, it’s important to be REALISTIC here and choose behaviours that are healthy and SUSTAINABLE. If your target behaviours involve skipping meals or exercising seven days a week, you will burn out. Be kind when considering your ambitions, and aim for long-term health rather than short-term fixes.

3) Put Your Shoes On, Girl!

When someone tells me they have a hard time going to the gym, I always tell them that the next time they feel themselves resisting exercise to suit up anyway. Even if the thought of 8 minutes on the treadmill or 12 bicep curls is too overwhelming, get your gym gear on. You can lace up your running shoes, right? You can walk to the gym, right? If you can do that, then start with that. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, once you are at the gym, geared up, you will be ready to work out. If not, promise yourself just TWO minutes on the treadmill or just ONE set of squats. You can do that, right? If you feel overwhelmed, just break it down into small steps and give yourself permission to stop at any point. The point is that you took some steps forward.

This practice of doing something rather than nothing also trains you to trust yourself and what you commit to. When we don’t trust ourselves to make good on a promise, we’re more likely to give up even before we start. Faith and confidence in our ability to carry out an intention makes us that much more likely to succeed.

I hope those tips have been helpful!

And remember, exercise is natural! Release the idea that it’s torture or that you’ll hate it. Your body loves and needs to move and sweat. It’s your head that makes exercise hard. So stop fighting yourself! Cue James Brown! Get up!

Take care,



Filed under Body Image, Fitness, Mental Health, Motivation

4 responses to “Three Steps to Starting a Workout Program and Sticking to It!

  1. Artine

    Alex, how have you been? I’ve greatly enjoyed reading your blogs on such a wide variety of topics…keep it up!

    • Alex

      Hi Artine! So nice to hear from you and so sweet to share your encouragement! I’m glad you are enjoying my blog.
      Hope all is well with you :)

      • Artine

        I’ve been seriously considering a Nutritional Sciences program like the one offered by CSNN (after having done a M.Sc. in Microbio/Immunology, I’m not sure lab research is really for me) – did you take the one offered in Ottawa?

      • Alex

        No, I studied in Toronto.

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