For virtually any fitness goal, the two most influential determinants of success are hard work and consistency over time. I’d much rather see a client adhere strictly to a suboptimal program than inconsistently follow the “perfect” program for their goals. Hard work and dedication trump science-based programming every time. This blog is going to focus on tools you can use to be consistent, as I think that consistency is the single biggest obstacle for most people.
Make It A Habit
You should be exercising daily. I'm not saying this because the fact that this frequency of exercise is necessarily the best, but because it's the best way to build a habit. You need exercise to be a part of your routine - just like eating, brushing your teeth, or watching that trashy reality TV show no one knows you like.
Put It In Your Calendar
People need to respect your workouts, and this includes you. I used to do this when I trained at a box gym where membership advisors and managers would add sessions to my calendar: I blocked off the time and simply listed it as unavailable. They don't need to know what I'm doing; they just need to be aware that it's something I prioritize. As well, I found making the declaration to myself was similarly important.
Variety is Key
If you're going to follow my first suggestion, then variety is important. You shouldn't do long runs or lift weights exclusively - you need to vary the type of stress imposed upon various biological systems (most notably, but not limited to, the musculoskeletal system). You can emphasize certain types of exercise to address your goals, but unless you're a high-level athlete that has to be narrowly focused, save yourself from the overuse injuries. Most folks will also find exercise more enjoyable when variation is used appropriately.
Workout When You Travel
Travel is not an excuse to avoid exercise. You can and should do some exercise, even if it is less intense and less structured than what you do at home. This is especially true if you travel for work. If you truly want to make it a habit, then you need to really prioritize exercise, no matter where you are - that way you won't be totally ruined when emergencies like illness really do get in the way.
Train Around Injuries
You shouldn't do things that aggravate an injury, but that doesn't mean the alternative is to regress to a completely sedentary lifestyle. If you injure your knee, do exercises with the healthy leg, do more upper body exercises, or try low-impact stuff like swimming. Don't focus on what you can't do, but rather focus on what you can do. Injuries are a part of life; you just need to adapt.
Include Recreational exercise
Exercise doesn't have to mean going to the gym. At least once every few days, do something less structured. Go for a hike up to Twin Peaks, cycle across the Golden Gate Bridge, play tennis, etc. This is great way to incorporate variety, but also helps to make sure you think of exercise as fun and enjoyable.
Limit Alcohol Intake
Drinking is one of the biggest obstacles to a healthy lifestyle, and it's true on so many levels. In addition to it having direct health consequences, it also indirectly affects consistency in the gym. I bet those of you reading this have missed workouts because of hangovers or poor sleep from drinking the night before. Don't add these things to the long list of stuff that can really disrupt your gym consistency.
It's Not All Or Nothing
No one is perfect. You will miss days of exercise, even if it's a fairly ingrained habit. It happens, and it's okay. If you've ever found yourself thinking something along the lines of “well, I missed the first couple of days this week; I'll start again on Monday,” then you know what I mean by the title of this section. Something is a lot better than nothing, and mistakes do happen. Don't let something small progress into full-blown case of falling off the wagon. Don't start again Monday, start again now.