I have worked full-time in the fitness industry since 2007. I have worked with thousands of people, and have shared both their successes and their challenges. As you might suspect, over these last 15 years I have noticed some patterns and familiar circumstances that present themselves over and over again. Some challenges are actually pretty easy to overcome – for example, if someone doesn’t know how to lift weights or structure their workouts we have a great team of coaches to help with that. All the person has to do is keep showing up and follow instructions, and it is all but guaranteed that they will get better. However, the pandemic has shifted things in ways that not many people realize; or at least they do not talk about it. One critical shift is, in my opinion, now the biggest obstacle that people are facing when it comes to their fitness.
The obstacle I am referring to is “routine.” I don’t mean a workout routine (legs on Monday, chest on Wednesday, etc.). What I mean is a routine of even going to the gym at all. More accurately, I should say a routine of even exercising at all. Never in history have more people had home gym equipment – there are more Pelotons in people’s living rooms and squat racks and kettlebells in people’s garages than ever before – and yet our country is in the worst shape it has ever been in. Americans are gaining weight at unprecedented speed. I snagged the graphic below from Dr. John Rusin’s Instagram account, which he posted on January 13th of this year. As you can see, my age range (Millennials) has gained an average of 41 lbs since the start of the pandemic!
We are seeing the same challenge with the people who train with us in person. When gyms first opened back up after the lockdowns, we struggled to get our existing members to come back. Even those who would tell us they weren’t nervous about COVID would give us some form of “I’m not motivated” or “I just need to get in a routine of doing it again.” This was across the board, even from some of the people who were our biggest die-hards prior to the pandemic.
It is even a bigger challenge for new people who are getting started with us. We always start people with either some personal training sessions or our On-Ramp program (a structured course that new members take together for one calendar month). For those not familiar, the On-Ramp course involves them taking twelve classes over four weeks at pre-determined dates & times, and only after completing those do they move to our regular classes. The new folks do pretty well in those structured formats, but when it comes time to start going to our other classes is when the struggle starts. People are consistently having a hard time making (and keeping) reservations for classes; in spite of them coming fresh off of a month-long program designed not only to teach them technique, but also to help them create a routine of going to class 3x/week. We have quite a few cases of people finishing a program like that and then we don’t see them again for a month or more. Keep in mind that prior to the pandemic situations like that basically never happened – in fact I cannot recall a single example of it – and now it is quickly becoming the norm.
Why is this? It is hard to say exactly. However, I do have one observation that I suspect will be relatable to a lot of people out there. What I have noticed is that people who work from home are the ones struggling the most with routine (or more accurately a lack of routine). The “flexibility” to fit in their workout anytime actually results in them not ever doing in. On the other hand, people who physically go to work are more successful in scheduling their trip to the gym either in the morning before work, or hitting the gym immediately after work before going home for the night. The people who work from home have almost no structure in their schedule to build their fitness routine around, and unfortunately – in spite of the perceived “schedule flexibility” – they just can’t seem to develop a routine and struggle to get in consistent workouts.
If you are reading this and find yourself relating to it I want to share some advice that I think will help. If you want to workout, you want to feel strong and fit, you want to be consistent in the gym, but you just are struggling to get back into your routine, then this is for you.
- Start by committing to one day per week – and having it be THE SAME DAY OF THE WEEK. I strongly suggest this day be Monday … the earlier in the week the better. Commit to yourself that you will go to the gym every Monday.
- Committing to the same day every week is much better than just saying “I’ll go to the gym one day this week.” By committing to a specific day you start to make it part of your routine, which is the whole goal here.
- To help you succeed at that, make a commitment to take a moment on Sunday of each week to prepare for Monday’s workout:
- Make a reservation for class if required by your gym, or if not, then put it on your own calendar. THIS ALSO INCLUDES ANY ONLINE WORKOUTS YOU DO. If you follow one of our online programs, do virtual Peloton workouts, or any other format, PUT IT ON YOUR CALENDAR. It is important to treat it as a high priority appointment that cannot get moved.
- Set out your workout clothing and any gear you need
- Pack a snack, workout drink, or whatever you like to have before your workout
- Go to the gym as early in the day as is realistic for you.
- I am convinced that the “early morning crew” at any gym in the country is always the most consistent. If you go in at 6:00 AM then work doesn’t pull you away, no surprise meetings, usually traffic isn’t bad, and so on. Working out later the day creates a situation where there are more opportunities for excuses to come up (either legitimate … or not). The 6:00 AM crowd always has the highest level of consistency and least amount of excuses – if you find that “work always gets in the way” then I’ll see you at 6:00 Monday morning 🙂
- Once you have a couple weeks of success with one day per week as described above, then start adding a second day. So now you are up to Monday + Wednesday weekly. Do that for a few weeks, and then add in a third day (Friday or Saturday). If you get into a routine of 3x weekly that is plenty for most adults.
BONUS TIP: Create a support system. Getting back in the routine can be hard to do on your own. It is a lot easier with the right support. Some ideas:
- Get a workout buddy and commit to going together
- Talk with your significant other and make sure they support you. If you are trying to do something good for yourself I have no doubt they will not only support you, but they’ll help and encourage you too!
- Hire a personal trainer – if you paid for an appointment, you are WAY more likely to go.
Lastly, one responsibility of my job is to give a little tough love from time-to-time. Sometimes there is just no substitute for honest, direct feedback. That said, it is important to state clearly that YOU HAVE TO DO THIS FOR YOURSELF, NOBODY ELSE IS GOING TO DO THIS FOR YOU. You can have the support of family and friends as mentioned above (and hopefully you do), but at the end of the day you have to be the one who does the work. The advice above is intended to help you do that in a way that is sustainable and customizable to fit your lifestyle. Who knows … maybe down the road you’ll be the one helping a friend or family member make going to the gym part of their lifestyle 🙂