I truly love to exercise. Before you roll your eyes, let me explain. For starters I did not always love to exercise nor was I particularly athletic growing up, in fact I was the opposite of athletic. Secondly, when I say I love to exercise, I do not mean that everyday I’m excited to do a workout and never have lazy days where I’m just not in the mood. What I mean is that I love what exercise does for me and how it makes me feel and look.
I like that satisfied sweaty exertion you feel after a good workout, those little aches from muscles you didn’t know existed until you tried something new, and feeling strong and healthy. I like the way my mind focuses during strength training, wanders when I run and quietens when I swim or do yoga. I like being able to walk for a full day when travelling and not feeling out of breath or sore. And in the interest of full disclosure, I like the way I look when I’m exercising – fit and healthy. I like the lines of definition that come from running, the teeny tiny (but I swear totally visible to me) muscles in my arms, and the feeling of tightness and firmness.
Turning exercise into habit is something I have worked on for years and I very much hope and plan on it being a life-long habit. I know that many do not feel the same as I do about exercise; and with that in mind I’m sharing the things that worked for me. The things that I did to turn exercise into a habit and a habit that I enjoy so much that I cannot do without it for very long.
1. Start Slow
The easiest way to ensure that you keep up with something is to start slow. Not only is it less overwhelming and time consuming; it also ensures you give your body time to adapt so you do not end up injured. If you want to run, start with a kilometer. Want to do a race? Sign up for a 5km to start, not Comrades. Want to try open water swimming? Try the 500m to see how it feels and build up to Midmar Mile or a 3k. Want to master a push up? Start with modified push ups, get your form perfected and work yourself up.
I’ve learned (at times the hard way) that our bodies are incredible at learning, adapting and getting stronger, but you need to start with basics and build on them. I’ve noticed most of my running injuries came when I increased distance in too big increments, too soon, without first letting my body adapt to running for longer. Swimming a kilometer in a dam a few times and feeling confident helped me get through a 3km swim (even if it was the worst swim of my life, but had I not been doing open water swims for a year at that point, I most likely would have jumped into a lifeboat instead of finishing). I’m able to do more advanced weight training because I started with the beginner programs and learnt basic moves, so when moves became compounded and complex, I had a foundation. From a time perspective, starting with 15 or 30 minutes a day is easier to commit to than a full hour.
2. Redefine Exercise
I look at exercise as movement. We know that movement is good for us – both for our mental and physical health. We also know that our lives have evolved to become more sedentary. For most of us, we need to spend hours at a desk working to earn a living and unless you have an active job, it’s impossible to be active during working hours. This is why I like having time set aside for movement. On most days, that is conventional exercise but on some days this may mean going for a walk, a gentle swim or a hike. The time you give yourself for daily movement does not have to be time to complete a traditional workout.
3. Find what you love
When you’re engaging in movement you enjoy, it makes it easier to keep it up and start on days you’re not in the mood. Do not be afraid of trying new things to find the form of exercise you enjoy. There are dozens of way to move – from cardio, to strength, to HIIT, to yoga. Find what makes you feel good and do that. However, you need to be practical. If you love to hike but don’t live near hiking trails, that makes for a better weekend activity than a daily one. Choose not only what you enjoy, but also what you can practically make part of your life.
4. Do it first thing in the Morning
I’m a fan of first thing in the morning exercise for three reasons;
- It’s less likely that you’ll be interrupted, or something will come up. I’ve found it harder to exercise in the afternoon. Things tend to crop up as the day goes on that puts you off schedule or can override a timeslot that was meant to be an exercise session. It’s harder to cancel a morning workout than afternoon one.
- It’s a great way to start your day. I am a morning person, but at the same time I don’t want to jump into work mode as soon as I wake up. I like to start my day with me-time and exercise very much is that. It gives you time in the morning to start your day without external noise and wake your body up slowly. Plus, a shot of endorphins first thing in the morning sets you up for a good day – even if you don’t accomplish anything else you’ve ticked off one good thing.
- If you run/walk/cycle outdoors, the air in the morning is crisper and fresher; and the traffic on the road is quieter.
5. Plan Ahead
I love a good program/ schedule. When it comes to exercise, I find it easier to wake up in the morning and just go, when I know what I’m doing the night before. I follow two plans: one for running and one for weight training. I alternate days between each and try including a bit of yoga or active recovery. Every Sunday I look at my workouts for that week so that I know what’s coming.
In summer I’ll tag a swim to the end of workouts and runs as a cool down, and only follow a set swimming schedule if I’m training for a race. There are tons of apps and programs to follow. Currently I’m using the Nike Training Club App, which I love as it provides so many options and programs to choose from. It includes plenty no equipment and minimal equipment options making it perfect for working out at home.
If you need an added push or guidance, sign up for a program with a qualified trainer – so many are now doing virtual programs – Vicky-Leigh Kruger, Monique Lopez, Carla West, Steven, Patrycja Mochocka and Mia Mocke are all local trainers who offer online coaching, challenges and programs.
6. Be Focused but Flexible
Have a plan, but also be able to adjust it when need be. As much as I love morning workouts, I’ll move them to the afternoon if that works better. I’ll switch a run for an indoor workout if it’s raining, or do a slow run if I can’t manage the speed one.
I’m also ok with missing a workout if needed or taking a break from my set schedule when I’m away. Don’t view a missed workout as the end of your program, it’s a break, not an end.
In this article trainer Vicky-Leigh spoke about the difference in knowing when you need a day off and when you are just making an excuse. To me being focused but flexible means being honest with myself on days I’m feeling lazy and making an excuse (on these days I’ll get up and move because I know I’ll feel better), days when my body needs a rest day (in which case I’ll take the day off) or choosing to spend time on holiday as a break from routine.
7. Celebrate Your Wins
This is especially important in the beginning when you first start out. Acknowledge when you have a good workout, week or can now do something you couldn’t do before. A running friend used to say “A PB is a PB is a PB”, meaning that 1 second faster is a PB, 1 more push-up is a PB. No matter how small, those Personal Bests should be acknowledged.
We focus too easily on the negative and our shortcomings, use those PBs to focus on your improvements and achievements. If this means giving yourself little rewards, do it. If it’s helpful to share it on social media, do it. And if it just means keeping a personal journal or stopping for a moment to acknowledge your win, do it. When you reframe your thoughts from what you can’t do, to what you have done, can do and how far you’ve come (in comparison to yourself), it’s really difficult to not be proud and grateful.
Zissy is the co-founder of Nutreats. She likes to make things, do things and wear things.