How To Make Exercise A Habit
If you’re new to exercise or you want to help others achieve their fitness goals, then you need to know how to make exercise a habit. For some people, skipping a workout isn’t an option. In fact, daily exercise is more than just a habit, it’s a way of life. However, for most other people, getting exercise each day doesn’t come as easy. If you’re trying to help someone else make exercise a habit, or if it’s for yourself, this is for you. The science and psychology of fitness motivation are still evolving. Likewise, research on habit formation is also still developing. Key things you can do to make exercise a habit include making exercise prep activities a habit, giving yourself a learning goal, and lowering the precision of your outcome goals.
Here, we’ll explore the latest on how to make exercise a habit.
Hint: It’s not just about giving yourself a reward or incentive.
Instead, we have new motivation tools to help transform the intermittent exerciser into a consistent fitness pro.
And, if you’re ready to take the next step and learn the secrets personal trainers know, you can be an EMAC Certified Personal Trainer in about 30 days. Or, if you want to learn how accountability in fitness works, read more in our other blogs.
Why Is It So Hard To Develop An Exercise Habit?
If you or someone you know doesn’t love exercise, it comes as no surprise. Working out and the different components of fitness elevate the heart rate, change your breathing rate, and contract large muscle groups. All of this leads to an unpleasant feeling (for most). Not to mention especially with strength training, you often feel your muscles burning. Therefore, just the physical experience of exercise alone makes it difficult for someone to develop full exercise habit formation.
Then, you must consider getting a workout in has to compete with other important priorities. Most people have to balance this healthy habit with a career, family, and other time-consuming obligations. And, if that isn’t enough to prevent someone from developing a fitness habit, we all have to enjoy life a little. So, exercise further is in competition enjoying happy hours, brunches, reading or watching tv, vacation, and even sleep.
But exercise is all a part of making time for self care–which most people tend to prioritize last. So, it makes sense that it’s easy to put on weight and develop more than one bad habit.
However, you can use psychology and principles of behavior change to combat the barriers against you or your clients.
Read more about developing a weight loss workout plan that you can stick to and gets you results.
The Best Ways On How To Make Exercise A Habit
The good news is, you don’t have to wake up and hope it’s the day that your fitness motivation kicks in. Instead, there are smaller, easier things you can do to find exercise–and even healthy eating–part of your daily routine. Here are three simple things, backed by research, that can help anyone develop an exercise habit.
Primarily, it all comes down to teaching yourself how to build intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is doing something because the activity itself is enjoyable. While extrinsic motivation (like financial incentives or activity badges) works well to get you starting physical activity, it can quickly wear off.
Although we just mentioned, for so many reasons, exercise might not be enjoyable for some, enjoyment can increase. For example, finding mastery in a new skill or feeling prepared for a workout are ways to increase enjoyment and, ultimately, build a new habit.
Tip 1: Make Exercise Prep Activities A Habit
There are so many things that go into preparing to exercise. You have to find the time, have clothes, go to the gym, sleep well, and eat to name a few. Rather than focusing on the end outcome, which for most is to lose weight, focus on the very initial things to make this a more realistic goal.
Studies show that making prep activity a habit will lead to a greater likelihood that you’ll do the exercise itself. For example, instead of making it a goal to make exercise a habit, make the prep activities that make working out a possibility a habit. This makes sense because of all the potential variables that could prevent you from following an exercise program.
Consider if working out five days a week is your goal and the habit you want to build. If you aren’t ready for the obstacles that can prevent you from exercising, you’ll feel defeated. And, when you feel as though you failed in your goal, it can turn into a negative feedback loop that further keeps you from trying to get this new healthy routine on track.
For example, instead of trying to make an exercise, make it a goal to do some (or all) of these things:
- Prep your gym bag or get your workout clothes ready the night before.
- Drive past the gym on your way to or from work, even if it isn’t a workout day.
- Pack yourself a healthy snack to fuel yourself for exercise.
- Block time off in your calendar for the days you want to workout.
- Have a plan for what you’re going to do when you go to the gym.
- Decide on a playlist to increase your motivation and focus during your workout.
As you can see, each of these carries much less emotional impact if you aren’t able to fulfill them. And, these are the types of habits that are building blocks for making exercise a regular habit.
Tip 2: Create Performance And Learning Goals
Most of us have an outcome goal, like losing weight or increasing muscle mass. It might also be just to be healthier, which is what we see in functional fitness workouts. These are all outcomes. If you’re good, you likely also have process goals. These are the short-term goals needed to achieve the outcome. It’s good because it breaks it up into the steps that need to happen. It’s likely that your process goals should also include those prep habits in Tip 1.
Performance and learning goals are different. They drive intrinsic motivation because they help you feel confident, empowered, and looking forward to your next workout. This is because humans like to feel as though they’re improving. A learning goal, for example, is learning a new skill that translates to your outcome goal. And, if you want to make exercise your habit, then you give yourself different exercises or movements that you can’t do yet, but want to. Research on learning goals states that they have a positive impact on the ability to form habits for those who don’t currently exercise regularly (most of the population).
Examples of learning goals you can give yourself include:
- Doing a bodyweight pullup
- Performing a pistol squat with no assistance
- Perfecting a tasty and healthy meal
- Increasing the number of pushups you can do in a minute
- Being able to do a handstand pushup
- Finding 10 ways to do a lunge differently
- Learning the right heart rate training zones for you in HIIT
Similarly, performance goals are how to do something better during the workout. These too have a positive influence on your intrinsic motivation levels. For example, if you attend a cardio dance class, a performance goal can be to never miss a move. Or, if you’re a runner, maybe your performance goal is to decrease your average minutes per mile. Both performance and process goals have much greater impacts on developing exercise habits and don’t leave you with feelings of failure if you don’t achieve them.
Why? Because it’s part of a longer fitness journey.
Tip 3: Lower The Precision Of Your Goals
Most of us follow the goal acronym SMART, standing for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound. However, there’s research to support rethinking the “specific” part. This is especially the case when we talk about outcome goals like losing weight or working out X number of times per week. This goal-setting research suggests that when you lower the precision of your goal, it helps you feel as though you have power and control over your environment.
This is a great thing because empowerment and mastery drive how motivated we are to exercise or achieve a fitness goal. Additionally, a goal that’s too precise is harder to hit and can create unpredictability for the process. This is even the case when you exceed a goal. Life has its ups and downs, and so will your ability to achieve a specific goal. So, it makes sense that the lower your goal setting precision is, the more likely you are to hit it (which, in turn, makes you feel more positive about the entire process).
Some examples of how you can decrease your goal precision include giving yourself:
- A weight loss range, rather than a specific amount per week or month
- A range of minutes you want to exercise each day rather than an exact amount
- A variable speed for how fast your pace is during your cardio workout
- A minimum and maximum number for the sets you want to finish
These emerging tips on activity and how to make exercise a habit show us some differences from what we traditionally thought. It’s all part of the psychology behind fitness coaching and what makes EMAC Certifications different. EMAC has a strong focus on the psychological underpinnings of exercise, healthy eating, sports performance, and business development. When you know the secrets behind making behavior change last, you’re more than halfway to the finish line.
Learn more about EMAC Certifications and how to become an EMAC CPT today! You could be a personal trainer in less than 30 days, with the exercise science background and the psychology of change you need to help others live healthier lives.