This New Year, millions of Americans will pick up unused sneakers, shimmy into new track suits, and resolve to transform their fitness in the months ahead.
These visions of physical grandeur vary widely. One person might aim to walk for an hour three times each week; another might plan to run five marathons in 2017. No matter your goal, one thing is certain: Without an effective plan, these dreams won’t turn into realities. In fact, the average lifespan for fitness resolutions is a measly 17 days, says Cindy Boggs, an ACE-certified trainer and author of You Can Find Health in Your Hectic World.
January is always the busiest time of the year for gyms—you might even call it the fitness version of Black Friday. After a holiday season of eating, drinking, and being merry (often in excess), many gyms see their membership double each January. Regardless of all that enthusiasm, gym attendance is usually back to its normal, pre-New Year level by mid-February.
Perhaps that’s because, for many of us, New Year’s resolutions are a bit of a joke: People break them before the year is out (a third won’t even make it to the end of January).
But you don’t need superpowers or an iron will to commit to being healthier this year. Whether your goal is to do 10 push-ups, run a marathon, or simply take the stairs more often—you can get there! Check out these tips to have your fittest year yet.
1. Write it out and measure it
Resolutions should be both specific and measurable. In fact, a recent study found that setting broad, vague, goals can make people depressed. Writing down your goals is not only a great way to accomplish them, but your list can also help you figure out the exact steps needed to get there.
“I want to lose weight” is a pretty common New Year’s resolution, but how exactly do you go from point A to point B? Instead, try setting a more specific goal. For instance: “I want to lose 10 pounds over the next six weeks by eliminating fast food meals and going to the gym three to four times per week. I’ll then maintain my goal weight for six months before setting any other new goals.”
Breaking down the goal’s components (with numeric benchmarks), and keeping a regular checklist will help solidify the task and keep you on track. Make your resolutions follow the SMART model: specific, measurable, achievable, results-focused, and time-bound.
2. Make resolutions manageable
A resolution shouldn’t be a fantasy. If you’ve never lifted weights before, attempting to hit the weight bench seven days per week is probably setting yourself up for disappointment. For most people, upending a lifetime of habits can’t happen overnight—even if that night is December 31. The reason is partly physiological; the brain just likes comfortable old habits over new, different ones.
The key to sustainable resolutions is to make small changes gradually. So if your goal is to go from never running to finishing a half-marathon, start training gradually. Begin by walking a few miles twice a week, and steadily increase the workload to jogging, and then running over several months.
3. Break up the goal into increments
Resolving to do 10,000 push-ups in a year is pretty intimidating. But 192 push-ups every week… OK, that’s still pretty scary. But breaking it down to 28 per day looks a lot more manageable, right? A goal that’s either far in the future or far out of your comfort zone can be tough to start, so break the resolution down into achievable steps.
Better yet, give yourself several small resolutions throughout the year. For instance, instead of aiming to add 80 pounds to your bench press in a year, aim to add just over six pounds per month. Easier, right?
4. Treat yourself! (when you deserve it)
When you hit those hard-earned benchmarks—one perfect pull-up, holding a headstand, the first week you managed to run 30 minutes a day— reward yo’self!
Choose a reward that won’t undo your hard work: a weekend getaway, a beach day, a mani-pedi, a massage (they’re good for you), some new fitness swag, or a movie date. Regular treats divided by goal (or really, divided by anything) can help you reach those milestones faster than you previously thought possible.
5. Question your motives
A steady gym habit can result in six-pack abs, but superficial goals may lose their appeal after endless weeks of diet and exercise. Instead, try framing fitness as a direct path to health and happiness. Regular exercise has unexpected benefits including lowering cholesterol, boosting overall energy, and even increasing happiness. Bringing some deeper intentions to your workout can make all the difference in sticking to your goals.
Before hitting the gym, ask yourself some introspective questions: Why did you make this resolution? What do you want to achieve? Developing answers that elicit a powerful emotional response can help motivate your goals.
6. Keep a schedule
Time management is important for accomplishing any goal, and fitness is no exception. Early morning exercise is a great way to fit a workout into a busy day, and it may encourage healthier eating and more movement throughout the day.
But if waking up early is your idea of cruel and unusual torture, then sweating at 6 a.m. is probably not a sustainable system. Make your fitness routine work for you: Pick a time of day when you have energy, schedule a workout, rinse, and repeat.
7. Keep things interesting
If your resolution is to exercise consistently three or four times per week, it’s time to think beyond the treadmill and the weight rack. Even for experienced gym rats, sticking to one or two types of exercise can get a little mind-numbing. Experiment with yoga, rock climbing, martial arts, team sports, kettlebells, and everything between. The more variety in your exercise program, the more fun it will be to follow, and the more likely you’ll find something you absolutely love.
The best way to test-drive a new form of exercise is to take a group class or book a session with a personal trainer—think of the extra cost as an investment in your health.
8. Get some good gear
If you’re serious about fitness, consider investing in a pair of kickass walking shoes, a few tech-fabric shirts, some rock climbing gloves, a swimsuit, a cool yoga mat… whatever will get you excited about exercise. Something as simple as new workout clothes or a workout-friendly SlimClip Case can improve confidence and help you get to the gym. After all, nobody wants to spend 50 dollars on a shirt that never gets worn, right?
9. Don’t be afraid to scale it back
You don’t need to be doubled over in pain, sweating out of your eyeballs, or dry heaving into the trash to have a “good” workout. Some people love intense workouts, but for others, ramping up the pain just means they’ll dread exercising—and nothing derails a fitness resolution like learning to hate exercise. A challenging workout should push you a bit outside your comfort zone, but there’s no need to catapult yourself a thousand miles from it.
Even the best-laid resolutions can lose steam by spring. Once the excitement of a new regimen has worn off—or your results plateau—it’s easy to justify taking a few days (or weeks) off. For some people, going on lengthy breaks can easily lead to an “Ah, screw it!” mentality and a cancelled gym membership.
But slip-ups are completely fine (even expected), and there’s not a single person on Earth who hasn’t stumbled in their path to success. If taking time off means slightly tweaking your resolution, then so be it—but don’t give up.
10. Choose the right Tech
There are scores of gadgets and apps that can help motivate would be gym-goers, but the most useful might be those that connect the user with a community of health-oriented peers. After all, it’s easier to stay on the right path with a supportive community cheering you on. MyFitnessPal, RunKeeper, and Noom are great places to start tracking progress and setting new goals, and the apps are well known for their online communities.
Looking for a simpler approach? Try Commit, a super simple app that asks the user, every day, if they’ve achieved a goal they’ve set. The app features a progress bar that tracks how many days you’ve committed to your goal in a row!
And, voila! Just like that, you’ve got 10 new tactics to tackle 2018.