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Change Your Mind, Change Your Body: Hack Your Brain to Nail Your Next Personal Record

Trouble staying motivated? It happens. Here’s 7 tips from the experts to stick to your exercise routine during those moments you feel like throwing in the sweat towel.

By Leslie Barker

Exercise, when you get right down to it, can be a best friend or a nemesis. We love it; we barely tolerate it. One day, we’re reveling in how it lifts our spirits and boosts our heart rate. The next, we’re bemoaning how it frustrates us and makes us hurt.

If you’re one of those dedicated folks who works out religiously — twice a week? three times? more? — hooray! But chances are you know (or periodically might be) someone who struggles to get off the couch even once a week. That’s not unusual: Estimates vary, but the percentage of people who start a program and don’t stick with it seems to be around half. At least.

“Keeping people motivated for exercise is the million-dollar question,” says Irene Lewis McCormick, senior director of fitness education for Orangetheory Fitness. Even Orangetheory, with its million members in 1,300 studios around the world, has attrition issues.

But Irene is optimistic about finding ways to alleviate those issues. Even for folks who start out gung-ho and then peter out when results don’t come quickly enough. Or those who are intimidated by a gym or just flat-out don’t enjoy the workout they’ve chosen. Or who reach a point mid-workout and think, “I can’t go on” — so they don’t.

“The hardest thing to battle and push through is our own thoughts. I learned that if I take it one step at a time, I get very far. I might not be the fastest, but I still get there.”
- Ida Mohebpour, Orangetheory member

One basic way to make exercise at Orangetheory a habit? Purchase and use a heart rate monitor, she says. When members wear one, a coach can use their personal data to ascertain where they are in their training, and use that information to help them achieve optimum results.

“If I can see where you are, I can see what you need to hear to keep you engaged,” she says. “You don’t have to wear a monitor, but the program is based on it. Showing up just two to four times a week, you’ll experience the physiological crescendo of all things that will happen during exercise.”

Another roadblock? No guidance from a coach or mentor. Without it, people flounder and lose interest. By sharing concerns and goals with a coach, though — or even a friend in class — they are more likely to stay the course.

There are 7,000 fitness coaches in our network,” Irene says. “They are equipped to deal with all sorts of issues. We love coaches who look great and are funny and have wonderful personalities. At the end of the day, though, it’s remembering members’ experiences that trumps all that.”

Coaching is an “empowerment process,” says Fabio Comana, an exercise physiologist and a scientific advisor for Orangetheory, “and OTF is about transforming lives through empowerment. We want to enrich their lives. That’s what wellness is — spiritual, mental, physical.”

But often, people just plunge into a plan without first thinking through the reasons. And if the only reasons are “because my doctor said so,” or “because it’s January 1 and I need to be skinny for summer,” odds are that the plan will be far from a lifetime commitment.

“They never sat down and established sensible goals,” says Fabio, who teaches behavioural science at San Diego State University. “A structured plan takes you from preparation to action.”

So does the dynamic of working out in a group setting like that found at Orangetheory.

“When you feel like, ‘I just want to stop,’ you see others who are challenging themselves,” Fabio says. “For some, it’s competitive. For others, it’s a nice support system.”

Ida Mohebpour, a member of Orangetheory in Glendale, Ariz., can speak to that. Since joining in August, she’s lost almost 10kg. Just as importantly, she’s gained confidence.

“The hardest thing to battle and push through is our own thoughts,” she says. “I learned that if I take it one step at a time, I get very far. I might not be the fastest, but I still get there.”

Here Are Some Tips From The Experts On Staying Motivated:

Make a game plan. Keep it simple; if it’s too involved or extreme, you’re less likely to stick to it.

Find workable solutions. If you’re not a morning person, go to a class later in the day.

Reinforce good behaviour; never punish yourself. If you miss a class, don’t take two the next day or double up on effort. “By doing so, you’re associating punishment with your behavior,” Fabio says. Workouts shouldn’t be considered punishment.

Ask for help. We’re all on this fitness path together.

Rest. “The workout is the stimulus and the magic happens between workouts,” Irene says.

Separate your life from your workout. “You can’t quantify your life based on your workout,” Irene says. In other words, a bad workout doesn’t make you a bad person.

Alter your goals if need be. “Most individuals have that ‘all or nothing’ thinking, me included, which means we fail if we fall off track on a goal we set for ourselves,” Irene says. “It doesn’t. It just means I must take another route to get to my goal.”