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How to Make a Workout Plan (And Stick to It!)
The hardest part of doing anything is often showing up. And when it comes to exercise, it’s easy to think up a billion and one reasons to put gym time on the back burner. But a simple way to stay committed and turn workouts into a no-brainer habit is to schedule them in. Research suggests it can take as little as 18 days (but an average of 66 days for most!) to form a new habit, and penciling in gym sessions ahead of time (like an important meeting or a friend’s birthday) is just one way to get that butt into gear — for the long-haul.
Exercise Autopilot — Your Action Plan
Ready to put the planner to work? Check out some of the best ways to create and stick to a successful workout routine.
- Get out the gadgets. Thank goodness for technology. Whether it’s creating a Google Calendar or setting a Blackberry reminder, schedule workouts on a smart phone (or favorite device) to keep in check anywhere you go. Need an app for that? Try one of these to-do list applications to make committing even easier.
- Use time wisely. When the goal is making workouts consistent, even a shorter-than-usual gym session is better than none. So if you’re short on time, go for quality, not quantity. Try circuit training or intervals to get that heart rate pumping without running against the clock.
- Be accountable. Sign up for a dance class, book a training session, or meet up with a friend for a run. It’s harder to ditch workout plans if someone is waiting. Bonus: Quality time with pals will make the time go by even faster. Still missing more workouts than planned? Try GymPact, an app that charges when you bail on the gym (and lets you earn cash every time you meet your pact!), or 21habit, a 21-day challenge to help you make (or break) a habit.
- Break it up. When life gets hectic, setting aside a solid chunk of time to work up a sweat can be tough — just ask this guy. One solution: Try scheduling in shorter, 10-15 minute blasts of exercise throughout the day to reap the same benefits as a single workout.
- Be realistic. Hit the snooze button five times each morning? It’s unlikely an early AM fitness routine will last longer than a few days. The most important part of figuring out when to work out is to find a time that's convenient for you (just make sure the gym or studio of choice is open during those same hours!).
- Add some variety. Schedules are great for starting a routine, but even the most exciting workouts can start feeling stale — and easier to skip after awhile. Whatever those goals or interests, try designating different days for different workouts (like a kick-butt cardio class on Mondays, strength training on Wednesdays, and some time-to-unwind weekend yoga).
- Stay flexible. Even the best-laid plans can go awry. Deadlines at work, family obligations, and travel plans can all get in the way of a scheduled workout. Don’t beat yourself up about missing a workout, though. Instead, focus on eating well, stretching, or making whatever healthier choices are possible until you can get back into the groove and jump into the next scheduled workout ASAP.
- Have fun (seriously). No surprise here: The more fun the workout, the more likely we’ll keep at it. Hate cycling? Don’t force yourself to sit through a spin class. One caveat: Give activities a fair shot before writing them off for good. Though the first few minutes of a workout might be unpleasant, the exercise high at the end might make up for it — and keep you going back for more! 
Working out can be hard, it’s true. But carving out time in the calendar for some fun, effective, and totally tailor-made “you” time can make exercising on the regular a reward — and not a chore.
What are your favorite ways to stick to a workout schedule? Tell us in the comments below!
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I find that getting there is always the most difficult part and even making through the front door isn't enough. Recently when I've been going to the gym when I'm the most tired, I'll do a light jog, jump rope or do core exercises for about 5 -15mins. The pre-workout warm makes a huge difference and gives me a boost to complete the rest of my planned workout.
@MatthewCool Hey Matthew, thanks for the tips! Do you dive right in when you're not tired, or do you warm up for 5-15 minutes before every workout?
@DavidThomasTao Hi David, Great question. Most of the time I warm. If I have a lot of energy and I'm there for a full workout then I start with 30-45min of jump roping/ core exercise. Then I do about an hour to 1.5 hour workout...of course this is time permitting. You'll notice a huge difference in your exercise routine if you do a core muscle warm up
@MatthewCool , I'm totally impressed with your dedication! Do you usually do a "full workout" everyday, or how many days a week do you do that routine? I'm usually only able to squeeze in an hour or more in the long run I do on weekends, but on weekdays I make do with 20-45 mins at a time.
@50by25 Hey Laura, I do a full workout 4 days a week and 2 45 mins days of core and circuit training. I also joined GymPact and I'm signed up for the Tough Mudder which motivates me. Besides that I don't have any secret tips. The biggest thing is that no matter how tired/unmotivated I am, once I am done with my workout I'll feel great. It's a mental hump if you can learn to get over it makes a huge difference. Congrats to you are your 50 Marathons in 50 states, did you run the Boston Marathon?
@MatthewCool I did run Boston and had a fantastic time! Love your city, and am currently in the midst of planning another trip there for a beer festival :)
Over the years, I've learned a lot of exercises that can be done with no equipment and minimal space. That takes a lot of the hassle out to be able to do it right where you are! (And if you're in the privacy of your own home, you may not even have to put on a whole workout outfit... just saying).
To me, the key is making the workout a requirement, but deciding WHAT the workout is can be flexible. If I'm REALLY not feeling my plan of weight lifting, I let myself do some cardio instead. If I don't feel like going for a run, I can do a dance video. Etc. While I usually stick to my lifting plan and do the rest ad hoc, it helps to just make a daily workout a habit but leave the specifics up to your mood.