Stick to Your Resolutions

January is always the busiest time of the year for gyms — some even call it the industry’s Black Friday. After a holiday season of eating, drinking, and being merry (often in excess), many gyms see 25 percent more members join in January than at any other time of the year. Regardless of all that enthusiasm, gym attendance is usually back to its normal, pre-New Year level by mid-February.

Perhaps that's because, for many of us, New Year’s Resolutions are a bit of a joke: Most people will break them before the year is out (a third won’t even make it to the end of January). But you don’t need superpowers or an iron will to stick with those 2014 resolutions to get fitter and fabulous. Whether your goal is to do 10 push-ups, run a marathon, or to just take the stairs more often, you can accomplish it, no sweat (okay, maybe a little sweat). Check out these tips to have the fittest year yet, from January all the way through next December.


1. Write It and Measure It

Resolutions should be both specific and measurable — a recent study found that setting broad, vague (and thus tough to achieve) goals can make people depressed [1]. Writing down goals is one of the best ways to accomplish them, and so is figuring out the exact steps needed to get there. “I want to get stronger” is a pretty common New Year’s resolution, but how exactly do you go from point A to point B? Choosing a more specific result, like “I want to add 15 pounds to my bicep curl,” breaking down the goal’s components (like specific exercises and stretches), and keeping a regular checklist will help solidify the task and keep you on track. Try to make resolutions that follow the SMART model: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-focused, and Time-bound.

2. Make Resolutions Manageable

A resolution shouldn’t be a fantasy. If you’ve never lifted weights before, attempting to hit the weight bench seven days per week is probably setting yourself up for disappointment. For most people, upending a lifetime of habits can’t happen overnight — even if that night is December 31. The reason is partly physiological; the brain just likes comfortable old habits over new, different ones [2]. The key to sustainable resolutions is to make changes smaller and more gradual. So if your goal is to go from never running at all to finishing a marathon in 2014, start training gradually. Begin by running a few miles twice a week, and steadily increase the workload over a few months. That’s the best way to approach all fitness resolutions — slow and steady wins the race.

3. Break Up the Goal

Resolving to do 10,000 burpees in 2014 is pretty intimidating. But 192 burpees every week… okay, that’s still pretty scary. Breaking it down to 28 per day looks a lot more manageable, right? A goal that’s either far in the future or far out of your comfort zone can be tough to start, so break the resolution down into achievable steps, or better yet, give yourself several smaller resolutions throughout the year. Instead of aiming to add 80 pounds to your bench press in 2014, aim to add 6.6 pounds per month. Seems much easier, doesn’t it?

4. Treat Yo' Self!

When you hit those hard-earned benchmarks — fifty laps of the pool, holding a handstand, the perfect pirouette, the first week you managed to walk 30 minutes a day — treat yo' self! Choose a reward that won’t undo your hard work, like a mani-pedi, a massage, some new fitness swag, or a movie date. Regular treats can help you reach those milestones faster than you previously thought possible.

5. Question Your Motives

A steady gym habit can result in six-pack abs and bikini bodies, but superficial goals may lose their appeal after endless weeks of diet and exercise. Instead, try framing fitness as a direct path to health and happiness. Regular exercise has unexpected benefits including lowering cholesterol, slowing the aging process, boosting overall energy, and even increasing happiness. Bringing some deeper intentions to your workout can make all the difference in sticking to your goals. Before hitting the gym, ask yourself some tough questions, like: Why did you make this resolution? What do you want to achieve? Developing answers that elicit a deep and powerful emotional response can help motivate your goals.

6. Ask for Help

Not knowing how to do a certain exercise is no excuse to write it off completely. If you’re curious about new techniques, or find some exercises that are too intimidating (we’re looking at you, deadlifts!) book a session with a personal trainer to clear up confusion and help prevent injury, and learn to love your new moves. Trainers and instructors are there to help, so don’t be self-conscious about asking for advice.

7. Keep Things Interesting

If your resolution is to exercise consistently three or four times per week, it’s time to think beyond the treadmill and the weight rack. Even for experienced gym rats, sticking to one or two types of exercise can get a little mind numbing. Experiment with yoga, rock climbing, martial arts, team sports, kettlebells, and everything in between. The more variety in your exercise program, the more fun it will be to follow, and the more likely you’ll find something you absolutely love. The best way to test-drive a new form of exercise is to take a group class or book a session with a personal trainer — think of the extra cost as an investment in your health. Just remember to take care when trying new workouts, since incorrect technique can result in major resolution-breakers like injury or burnout.

8. Keep a Schedule

Time management is super important for accomplishing any goal, and fitness is no exception. Research suggests that early morning exercise may be best — it’s a great way to fit a workout into a busy day, and it may encourage healthier eating and more movement throughout the day [3]. But if waking up early is your idea of cruel and unusual torture, then sweating at 6 am is probably not a sustainable system. Make your fitness routine work for you: Pick a time of day when you have energy, schedule a workout, and rinse and repeat.

9. Hold Yourself Accountable

Stay on track by putting your money where your mouth is: Pay in advance for an exercise program that demands attendance. If working out with a trainer or group class isn’t your style, pencil in regular gym dates with friends or your partner to stay accountable. Knowing that someone’s waiting for you at the gym can help prevent skipping workouts (or sleeping through them), and it’s a lot more fun than going it alone [4]. Plus, according to some studies, sweating with a buddy improves results — even if it’s a virtual friend on a video game.

10. Think Outside the Box

Exercise doesn’t have to be a formal activity that requires carving out a big chunk of time in your schedule. If your New Year’s resolution is to simply be more active and burn more calories every day, there are plenty of creative (and free) ways to achieve that goal. You can fit extra movement into the day by walking during phone conversations or even taking point on household chores. Even something as simple as drinking water throughout the day will ensure regular trips to the faucet and the bathroom. Pick up a pedometer, grab an activity tracker, or download an app like RunKeeper or MapMyWalk to keep track of how many steps you take, then try to beat your own record. Every minute you’re not sitting or lying down is a step toward better overall fitness.

11. Choose the Right Tech

There are scores of gadgets and apps that can help motivate would be gym-goers, but the most useful might be those that connect the user with a community of health-oriented peers. After all, it’s easier to stay on the right path with a supportive community cheering you on. MyFitnessPal, RunKeeper, and Noom are great places to start tracking progress and setting new goals, and the apps are well known for their online communities. Looking for a simpler approach? Try Commit, a super simple app that asks the user, every day, if they’ve achieved a goal they’ve set. The app features a progress bar that tracks how many days you’ve committed to your goal in a row.

12. Reevaluate Resolutions Often

How many people resolve to finish a marathon, only to realize they kind of hate distance running? Or decide to take up kickboxing and quickly learn they don’t particularly enjoy being punched in the face? A lot of things seem like fun from a distance, but might not be a good fit in reality. If this happens to you, it’s time to switch gears and pick a different resolution. The NYPD (New Year Police Department) won’t arrest you for changing course — all paths that lead to health are good ones.

13. Buy Some Cool Gear

If you’re serious about fitness, consider investing in a pair of kickass walking shoes, a high-tech sweatshirt, some rock climbing gloves, a swimsuit, a cool yoga mat…whatever will get you excited about exercise. Something as simple as new workout clothes can improve confidence and help you get to the gym — nobody wants to spend fifty bucks on a shirt that doesn’t get worn, right?

14. Don’t Be Afraid to Scale Back

You don’t need to be doubled over in pain, sweating out of your eyeballs, or dry heaving into the trash to have a “productive” workout. Some people love intense workouts, but for others, ramping up the pain just means they’ll dread exercising — and nothing derails a fitness resolution like learning to hate exercise. A challenging workout should push you a bit outside your comfort zone, but there’s no need to catapult yourself a thousand miles from it. Talk to a trainer or coach, find the right group instructor, or pick a workout buddy who knows just how hard to push. 

15. Be Forgiving

Even the best-laid resolutions can lose steam by spring. Once the excitement of a new regimen or new goals has worn off, it’s easy to justify taking a few days (or weeks) off. For some people, going on lengthy, unscheduled breaks can easily lead to an, “Ah, screw it,” mentality and a cancelled gym membership. But slipups are completely fine (even expected), and there’s not a single person on Earth who hasn’t stumbled in their path to success. If taking time off means slightly tweaking your resolution, then so be it — but don’t give up entirely.