Starting an exercise regimen is one thing, but continuing said regimen is a whole different story. Even the most impressive exercise veterans have “those days” where they just want to quit (myself included!). Some individuals will be able to make it to the gym, but will be so frustrated and bored by their workout, that the idea of returning to do it again tomorrow is unfathomable. It is a well-known statistic that more than 50% of people who start a new program will drop out within the first six months.1 Successfully adhering to a long-term exercise program isn’t easy for anyone; so, how can we beat boredom and make that trip to the gym a highlight of our day, rather than the most dreaded part of our day?
One of the biggest mistakes I see people make in their exercise regimen is wildly unrealistic goals mixed with a lack of variety. When I decided to go to the gym for the first time, I suffered from both of these errors: my goal was to run on the treadmill for one hour, on at least five days per week. Going from complete inactivity to running that often left me both injured with severe shin splints, and frustrated by the fact that I couldn’t power through a full hour of running (let alone 30 seconds!).
My doctor recommended that I try a different mode of cardio, such as the elliptical, swimming, or cycling, and adjusting my running goals. By increasing variety in my own exercise regimen, I was not only able to ward off feelings of frustration and boredom, but I also experienced significantly fewer overuse injuries.
Here are some of my favorite tips for finding variety in your exercise program:
1) Change up your cardio both from day to day, and even within a single workout session! Want to get 30 minutes of cardio in, but can’t run for 30 minutes straight yet? No problem! Spend 10 minutes on the treadmill, 10 minutes on a stationary bike, and 10 minutes on the elliptical, for example. Additionally, changing up your workout from day to day will keep your routine from feeling monotonous (see my sample week of exercise for beginner / intermediate, and intermediate / advanced gym-goers below). As a general rule, I avoid doing the same activity two days in a row.
2) Set a variety of small, attainable goals for each exercise session. When I went from complete inactivity to attempting to run for a full hour five days a week, I set myself up for failure. I could barely run for 30 seconds straight — how did I expect to run for a full hour?! So, I started to set smaller, more attainable goals to break up a 20 minute run.
For example: at first, I ran for small durations of time (such as 30 seconds), alternating these short bursts with longer periods of rest (such as 1 minute). This is called interval training. Eventually, I increased the duration of my work interval to 45 seconds, and decreased the duration of my rest interval to 45 seconds, et cetera. When I inevitably became bored with time intervals, I switched to distance intervals by running 0.1 miles and walking 0.1 miles, and progressing it over time, just as I did with my time intervals. Eventually, I was able to work up to alternating all-out running with jogging, but only upon completion of months of working toward smaller goals.
3) Try something new! When you’re getting bored with your current routine, try something totally new! Go kayaking, take a new group fitness class (such as PiYo®, kickboxing, a different form of Yoga, etc.), do partner workouts with a buddy, run a different trail, try out that new machine at the gym…the possibilities are endless!4) Women: don’t forget your strength training. Men: don’t forget your cardio. Both: don’t forget your stretching! 🙂 By engaging in all three of these important components of a well-balanced workout regimen, you are also increasing the overall variety of your exercise program, thus reducing boredom and burnout. When I reduced my cardiovascular training time from one hour to 20-30 minutes, I still wanted to spend a full hour working out at the gym. So, I discovered the magical world of strength training, and suddenly spending an hour at the gym was easy! No more staring at the wall, praying another 5 minutes would hurry by so I could get out of there. To the contrary, when I include cardio, strength training and flexibility training in a single workout session, spending just one hour at the gym never feels like enough!
In my experience, women tend to underestimate the power of strength training (no, you will not get bulky if you start lifting weights — that’s a myth), men tend to underestimate the power of cardiovascular training, and pretty much every population tends to forget their post-workout stretching. The fact is, it is recommended that healthy adults engage in cardiovascular training, strength training, and flexibility training. You need all three to attain full health benefits from exercise, and by engaging in all three, your workout routine will be infinitely more exciting and, perhaps even downright fun!
* [Editor’s note: These sample workouts are not an individualized exercise prescription. They are merely meant for educational purposes. Red indicates group fitness classes, bold black text indicates solo strength training, and normal black text indicates solo cardiovascular exercise]
1 American Council on Exercise ACE Group Fitness Instructor Manual, Third edition