5 Reasons You Can't Stick to An Exercise Program

Do your workouts really work for you?

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Sticking to an exercise program isn't easy, even for the most committed exerciser. Even the best-laid plans get derailed by life: Work, family, illnesses, bad hair days...some of them expected, many of them not. We can't control everything, but we sometimes make exercise harder than it has to be, putting obstacles in our own paths without even realizing it. If you have trouble sticking to your workouts, there may be something you can do about it.

Below are some of the most common reasons you can't stick to an exercise program and what you can do about it.

1.  Your workouts are too hard

Whether you've taken a short break or it's been many years, you may make the mistake many of us do: Thinking you're in better shape than you are or that you should be in better shape than you are. That leads us to do too much too soon rather than easing into your workouts.  Instead:

  • You try to make up for lost time - Once you realize how long it's been since you've worked out and how much weight you've gained, you may launch yourself into a high intensity 7-day workout routine your body isn't ready for.
  • You do the workouts you used to do...20 years ago - Another mistake we make is going back to workouts we did years ago, thinking, "I was in such great shape when I used to run 10 miles a day/exercise for 2 hours straight/do Ironman triathlons...I should do that again!" Unfortunately, you may not be able keep up or, worse, end up with an injury. You forget that what you did in the past won't always fit your current life. You have a different body, schedule, level of energy and goals now.
  • Your try to force your body to be in shape on command - We sometimes force our bodies to conform to the 'rules' of exercise and weight loss (an hour a day, most days of the week) in the hopes of losing weight fast. The result? A sore, tired body that never recovers from your workouts.

Solution: Start Where Your Body Is Now

Approach your workouts from where you are now, not where you used to be or where you want to be. It's tough to do that when you want fast results, but you'll get no results if you can't exercise at all. Before going all out, consider the safest way to get back on track:

  • Start Easy: If it's been more than 12 weeks since you've worked out, you've lost much of your endurance and strength. Taking the time to gradually build them back up will help you avoid injury and make your workouts easier to stick with. Start with a simple program, for example, 3 days of moderate cardio for 20-30 minutes and 1-2 days of basic strength training, adding intensity (frequency, sets, weights, etc.) as your body gets stronger. More about getting in shape with exercise.
  • Modify: If you're going back to previous workouts and it's been more than a few weeks, back off. Do one set of each exercise and use less weight, for example. Or, if you were doing an hour of cardio, take it back to 20-30 minutes and stay at a moderate intensity for the first couple of weeks. Gradually work up to where you were over a period of weeks, not days.
  • Listen to your body: If you experience severe soreness (lasting more than a few days), you'll know you overdid it. Some soreness is to be expected, but if you can't get out of bed or brush your hair without pain, schedule 1-2 rest days and make a mental note to modify your workouts using the guidelines listed above.
2. Your workout schedule doesn't fit your lifestyle

The exercise guidelines tell us that, to lose weight, we have to exercise most days of the week for about an hour. The trouble is, many of us don't have the time, conditioning or energy for an hour every day. The result? We end up skipping workouts instead of doing what we can in the amount of time we have, thinking that shorter workouts are a waste of time.

Solution: Create a Doable Workout Schedule

Before setting up a routine, ask yourself two important questions:

  • How many days can I really exercise? - Every week is different. Some weeks, you'll have more time and energy and others, you won't. Set aside time each week to schedule your workouts, choosing days where you're at least 90% sure you can exercise.
  • How much time do I have to exercise? - This includes the time needed to:

The key is to figure out how much time you really have (not how much you want to have or hope to have) and fit your workouts into that time, rather than trying to create more time for workouts. You don't need an hour to get a great workout. The right exercises can make even 10 minutes count:

3. You don't like your workouts

There are lots of reasons we hate exercise, but part of overcoming that involves adjusting your attitude about exercise and finding workouts you enjoy. We often try workout programs to lose weight without considering our own personalities and what we enjoy. You don't have to start a running program just because your friend lost 25 pounds while training for a marathon or go to spin class just because your spouse thinks it's the greatest thing since carb-less bread. You have to find what you like and, sometimes, that takes a little experimentation.

Solution: Find Exercises or Activities You Enjoy

  • If you like a challenge: Try high intensity interval training, training for a race or something like P90X
  • If you're easily bored: Try circuit training or bootcamp workouts or maybe something fun like Zumba
  • If you don't like structured exercise: Try tennis, basketball, or some other sport or use daily chores to get more exercise - Run up and down the stairs when you're doing chores, add squats and lunges as you work in the garden or rake the yard with a little more energy
  • If you're a social exerciser: Try fitness classes, a walking or running club or find a workout buddy.
  • If you don't know what to do: Hire a personal trainer or consider using exercise videos that lead you through different types of workouts.  Another idea?  Just do anything!  Take a walk, do some pushups, move around...it all counts.

Next: More Reasons You Can't Stick to Exercise

4. You're in pain

It's hard enough getting through daily activities when you're in pain, but thinking of adding exercise to the mix may be too much to bear. Whether it's from soreness, an injury, lower back pain, arthritis or headaches, you may be afraid to exercise, worried that you'll be in more pain or make things worse. You should never work through pain during exercise, but exercise can actually help some conditions and, for others, there are ways to keep moving, even if you have to be creative.

Solution: See an Expert and Learn How to Work With and Around Your Pain

  1. See a doctor: I'm always amazed how many of my clients walk around in pain, so used to it, they haven't even considered going to a doctor. We often think there's nothing a doctor can do for us and, for some, that may be the case. However, having a diagnosis can point you in the right direction to either heal your injury or find a way to work around it. If you know what movements and exercises to avoid and the ones that will help, you can build a framework of safe movements that will keep you active.
  2. Never work through the pain: Unless your doctor has told you to ignore it, never continue doing something that's causing pain or making it worse. Sharp pains in the joints, swelling, pulled muscles or pain that goes beyond the normal exertion of exercise are warning signs that something is wrong. We often keep going, thinking it will go away, but doing that can actually make things worse. At any suspicious pain, stop what you're doing and either try something else or take a rest day to see how things feel.
  1. Find a way to work around the pain: Most of us can find some way to exercise, even with an injury or condition. Consider working with an experienced personal trainer or physical therapist to help you find ways to heal your injury while still staying in shape. These resources can also help:

Learn more about how to avoid exercise injuries.

5. You don't know how to set up a balanced workout routine

Finding balance is something we all strive for, but our workout routines often don't reflect that. A balanced routine doesn't just mean fitting in the Big Three, cardio, strength training and stretching, it also means balancing your workouts with your schedule, energy level and body. We often approach our exercise programs as though we can do the same thing every week, but that isn't always the case. When you try to force a schedule you just can't manage, you may end up quitting exercise altogether, feeling like a failure.

Solution: Practice More Balance

  • Balance the intensity of your workouts: There's an emphasis on high intensity circuit and interval workouts these days, which is great for burning more calories and losing weight. Too much of that, however, can lead to overtraining, injury and burnout, all things which also lead to quitting. Cross-training with other activities and having a variety of workouts at different intensities (e.g., two hard workouts and three moderate ones each week) will help you work different energy systems and allow your body, and mind, to recover.
  • Balance exercise with the rest of your life: It's a nice fantasy to think we can work at the same level all the time, but sometimes we can't. The dog is sick, you catch a cold, your boss becomes a jerk...these things will happen. Rather than throw out your workouts completely, figure out how you can fit in exercise (e.g., short walks or exercises at the office), even if you can't follow your original plan.
  • Balance exercise with your body: Another thing to consider is your body. You may want to launch into a killer strength training workout, but notice extra tightness in one hamstring or that your shoulder feels funny every time you move your arm a certain way. Or you may want to do a lower body workout, only to realize your hips are sore from a workout the day before. Be flexible and consider what your body needs, rather than what your mind is telling you to do. An extra rest day, more time spent stretching or lighter workouts may be enough to keep you moving without overdoing it.

The key to weight loss and fitness is being consistent with your workouts and always maintaining some type of activity no matter what's going on. After all, every time you stop exercise, you lose all those gains you've made. Having workouts that fit both your body and mind, as well as what's going on your life, can help you break the cycle of quitting exercise, only to have to start all over again. Paying more attention to what you really need, rather than sticking to a rigid weight loss goal, can help you stick to an exericse program for good.

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