From changing the time you work out to creating the right kind of environment, these hacks are guaranteed to help get you into the swing of things.
We all know strength training is good for us. Not only does it physically make you stronger, but research shows regular strength training can boost your metabolism, improve your mental health and even extend your lifespan. But committing to a regular workout – and making strength training a habit – is easier said than done.
We know how it goes – you tell yourself you’re going to “exercise more”, but before you’ve set foot in the gym a last-minute deadline crops up at work or your childcare plans fall through. You’re left feeling exhausted, unmotivated and totally fed up. Sometimes, life just gets in the way.
So, how can you prioritise strength training so it becomes a non-negotiable part of your weekly routine? And if you miss a session (or two) how can you get back on track? We asked sports psychologists, personal trainers and fitness fanatics for their top tips on creating a strength training routine we can stick to.
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Create an environment for success
“The three pillars of intrinsic motivation (the type that makes you excited to train purely for the love of it) are belonging, mastery and autonomy,” explains Dr Josephine Perry, sports psychologist and author of The 10 Pillars of Success.
“If you design your environment around these, you are more likely to stay on track and enjoy the routine.
“Think about the gym you train at, do you walk in and feel at home? Do you have friendly faces you look forward to seeing? Do you have people you can ask for advice? All these are needed to feel like you belong.”
“Measure your metrics: the reps, weights, new skills mastered and elements where you felt effective. These all help remind you that you can do what is necessary.”
“Know why you are strength training (perhaps health, physique, social life, to aid sporting performance or injury prevention) and regularly remind yourself of this.”
Track your strength training progression
Celebrating the small wins – however incremental – will help you to feel like you’re improving. “Write it down, or track in an app how many reps, sets and what specific weight you used for each exercise,” says Gede Foster, personal trainer and director of fitness at FIIT. “Tracking your progress will give you a focus and purpose to each session and mini-goals within each session to achieve.”
If you find yourself feeling disheartened, remember that strength training, like pretty much all exercise, is a long game. “The most common thing I hear people say is, ‘When does it get easier?’” says Foster.
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“The truth is, it never does. Let go of the assumption it will never feel easy. With consistency, you will get stronger. Your 70% effort today will feel just as tough as your 70% effort six months from now, but your metrics will be completely different whether it’s running faster or lifting heavier.
“To progress and get stronger, we constantly have to challenge ourselves. This is why tracking your progression is far more beneficial than going off feeling.”
Set realistic, achievable goals
You don’t have to know all the exercises and be able to lift ‘heavy’ from your very first session. In fact, making sure you can actually complete the exercises at the beginning is really important, as it will give you a sense of achievement. You need to ask yourself, “is it doable?” says Peloton instructor Joslyn Thompson Rule.
“Strength takes a lot longer to build than cardiovascular fitness, and there is so much learning along the way,” she says. “Allow yourself enough time to get to grips with movements. The more you practise, the better you will get.”
These minor accomplishments can help you stay motivated. “If you’re completely new to strength training it may feel like there are so many new movements to grasp, while others seem to sail through each exercise. Again, the more you practise, with clear concise guidance, the better you will get.”
Do the exercises that you enjoy
Research suggests you’re more likely to stick at something you enjoy. “My top tip for starting – and sticking to – a training programme would have to be finding a class that you enjoy,” says Alex Rodgers, PT and trainer at KXU. “Whether that’s the music and vibes that the instructor brings or the atmosphere and community within the gym.”
“Do what you enjoy,” reiterates Thompson Rule. “Your friends may love a high-energy circuit class, but you may prefer a slower pace where you can be intentional about your movement.”
Strength train with friends
Starting a strength-training routine when you have little or no experience can feel daunting, so why not go with a friend? They’re arguably the best fitness motivators – they hold you accountable to show up and support you when you don’t.
Joining a class with a friend can be so much more enjoyable than going at it alone, says Rodgers. “Also, accountability is a game changer. Ask a friend who has similar aspirations if they would like to commit to starting the programme together.
“Discuss what approaches you will use when one of you is not feeling up to it and encourage your friend knowing they will do the same for you. Talking about your goals openly with friends or a professional coach will allow them to help you towards success.”
Work out first thing in the morning
More often than not, if you plan to workout in the evening – after a long and stressful day at work – those sessions just don’t happen. Whether it’s meeting that overruns or you simply run out of steam by 5pm, it’s so hard to motivate yourself into extending the day when you’re already on red.
The best way to stick to a strength training habit is to get it done early in the morning (before anything else can crop up).
“If someone had told me when I began my fitness journey that I would be up at 6am most days to head to the gym, I would have laughed in their face,” says Rachael Sacerdoti, PT and founder of It’s So Simple.
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“I was neither a gym person nor a morning person. Fast forward to today and my secret weapon is getting my workout done first thing in the morning. Strength training first thing in the morning is the simplest time to train. It comes before everything else: no distractions, nothing to get in the way and there are no excuses to hide behind.”
Our top tip: leave your workout clothes near your bed so you see them first thing in the morning.
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