Whether you’ve never bothered or you’re stuck in a no-exercise rut, Stylist contributor and fitness enthusiast Katharine Busby has all the ideas to get you moving…
Over the past four years I’ve gone from being a person who goes to gym because she feels she “should”, to one who owns an actual punch bag and goes out interval running even when on holiday. If you’d told the 20-something me that the 30-something me would turn out this way she’d have laughed in your face.
Nowadays, I have to be vomiting or have a high temperature (measured, not guessed at) to miss a planned exercise session. But in the past, no matter how good I felt for doing it, I would still find it very, very difficult to get going and would often come up with countless reasons why I simply couldn’t.
So, here are my top 10 tips to get yourself exercising - even when you haven’t for months.
1. DON’T do something you hate
For a long time (too bloody long, frankly) I took myself to gyms. So many years, so many intermittent phases of enthusiasm, so much wasted money. One year I had a gym membership I used twice. Twice. I am a bad person.
I have since realised – ah, hindsight – that I hate gyms. I hate how they smell, look, I even hate that sound the machines make. I never really even knew what I was meant to do in them, and was too embarrassed to ask. In recent years I’ve discovered I love boxing. And interval running. And circuits. And swimming (especially followed by a sauna). So it turns out I can exercise and enjoy it.
Life is too short, and exercise feels too much like hard work, to do something you hate. So try everything. You can go along and watch an exercise class (or just try one). Or…
2. DO try a personal trainer
Personal trainers can be expensive, but it’s all about value (remember what I told you about going to that gym twice in one year?)
A personal trainer might cost you £45 a session, but no one’s saying you have to see said PT twice a week for years on end. The options are worth investigating: you may be surprised how many trainers offer taster sessions and fitness assessments, so you can get a feel for what they can do, with no obligation to continue afterwards. Others offer flexible schemes such as paying for 10 sessions up front and taking them over as long a period as suits you.
Read more: How to stay motivated to exercise in winter
A good personal trainer will show you exactly what your body can be doing to get and stay fit. They’ll push you much further than you’d ever push yourself. Perhaps they’ll take you to the park and give you exercises and ideas you’d have never thought of. Or perhaps they’ll pick up that pair of cheap Argos dumb bells you bought seven years ago and suddenly give you a host of different “sets” to do with them. They’re not sergeant majors yelling at you with a whistle (but if you want that, they’ll do it). Remember: you’re paying them, so get what YOU want out of the sessions.
3. DON’T run before you can walk
Set your original bar low: if you’re currently doing no exercise each week, just leaving the house for a five minute walk is an improvement. When you haven’t done exercise in a while it’s tempting to tell yourself you need to do a massive workout, which then seems daunting and unachievable so doesn’t happen.
Once you’ve got some walking under your belt, set yourself a goal of walking for half an hour each day and doing two exercise sessions (a gym workout, a scheduled exercise class or a swim) each week. Sound like too much? Halve that goal and make that your challenge for a month’s time instead: for now, just walk 15 minutes per day and do one exercise session a week. Each week, up it a little: as you meet your challenges, you’ll feel better and more enthusiastic about setting new ones.
4. DO be honest
For whatever reason you want to start exercising, be honest about it, and don’t fall under pressure to pretend you don’t care about your health and wellbeing. When a friend invites you for a drink on the same evening you’ve planned to go spinning, there’s no reason to sack off your schedule: if you’re not ready to admit you’d rather spin than gin, just say you have plans and arrange another date for that drink. But don’t lie and say “Yeah, I was going to go spinning but who cares?” Er, YOU care - that’s why you were going spinning in the first place.
You’re not 14 anymore, so don’t bow to peer pressure. Plus, the more you tell people you’re upping your exercise game, the more likely you are to actually do it, and to pick up fellow enthusiasts along the way, making it easier to achieve.
5. DO be realistic
This goes hand-in-hand with being honest. It’s all about the expectations you have and the time you’re willing to give to meet them.
Start by writing down the five things you spend most of your leisure time doing. If you’re waking up at 7am each day, would it kill you to get up half an hour earlier twice a week to meet your exercise aims? If you watch TV in the evenings, look into gyms where you can watch while you pedal. Go out for dinner three times a week? Cut it to two and suggest a walk or bike ride with friends after work before heading home for your meal instead. Priorities – think about them and then rethink them.
6. DON'T calendar watch
This is important: many of us set particular dates or events as beacons of major importance in our fitness goals. The more we focus on them, the less motivated we get as they start to seem like Such A Big Deal. Suddenly the date in question is two weeks away, you decide it is now too late to make any real difference, then the event passes and quicker than you can say “What gym membership?” you haven’t exercised in weeks.
So: sod that friend’s wedding, sod that beach holiday, sod it all. Just start exercising. Just do it because you want to get fitter/stronger/healthier “for the future” – a vague, general date. Once you’re on a regular exercise plan you might start setting more focused goals, but right now the emphasis should just be on doing something – anything – without an end date in mind.
7. DON’T worry about what others think
Put frankly, no one cares or thinks as much about your body as you do. Neither do they care what you’re doing out in the park (so long as you’re not flashing anyone – that’s generally frowned upon). I used to really care what other people thought: I go very red when I exercise, I'm not very graceful, I look a bit of a mess. I thought people would be laughing at me lumbering along, with my old, rubbish exercise clothes signaling my ‘Not A Clue’ status. And maybe they were. But more likely they were doing what rest of us do: admiring the effort, or not even noticing because they’re checking Facebook on their phone.
As you get fitter, you’ll get more confident. Now, I can run further and faster. But if I hadn't gone in the first place, I wouldn't have got to that stage. And I still don’t look any cooler, I’m just better at talking myself up. In my head I look like Claire Underwood from House Of Cards – a sleek, chic, fitness machine with perfect hair and make-up. In reality, I'm more like Phoebe from Friends.
8. DO buy two things
You don't need to buy a whole new wardrobe to start working out. Chuck on some comfy, weather-appropriate clothes and invest in two well-fitting essentials: trainers and a sports bra. That’s it.
I go running in the most rubbish of old T-shirts, the cheapest leggings and some fairly manky running socks (these I do replace regularly but they’re still not fancy). If it makes you feel better and more motivated to splash out on head-to-toe colour-coordinated garb, then go for it. But most of the time it’s just another procrastination technique that needs to be ditched.
Sweaty Betty Virasana Padded Yoga Bra, £40 from sweatybetty.com
Nike Lunarepic Low Flyknit Women's Running Shoe, £130 from nike.com
9. DON'T keep doing the same thing
Doing the same exercise three times a week is quickly going to get dull and you’ll end up giving up. It may even be the reason you’re in this no-exercise rut now.
Try to have two or three pursuits or, if you just like running, have more than one route you take. If circuit-training is your thing, make sure you’re not just doing the same sets over and over. I also finds it helps me to know I have some routines that are easier than others, as well as those I can do full-whack when I’m really feeling it. If I plan to go running at 6.30am but wake up not really feeling it, it’s nice to know there’s a backup plan of, say, a slightly easier boxing workout. It’s still more exercise than going back to sleep.
Then, every now and then, add something daft in for good measure. In recent years, a trend for exercising while looking a bit silly has started to emerge. (Of course, I’ve been running like Phoebe for years; what can I say? I’m very fashion-forward.) You can do 5km runs jumping over obstacles, get powdered paint all over yourself or become a muddy mess. These are the sort of events where no one asks what time you did and you can just enjoy the daftness with a friend or two while adding an extra fitness session to your schedule that week. Have a look at therunningbug.co.uk for upcoming events in your area.
10. DO start talking positively
You know about excuses: stop making them and stop listening to them in your head. It isn’t too cold, hot, early, late, dark or wet out there. You’re not too tired, bloated, pre-menstrual, hungry, full or anything else. Just go. Yes, the excuses need to stop, but you’ve read that in motivational articles 1,000 times.
The other language you need to quit, however, is the one where you label yourself: why can't you be a morning person or an athletic type? To make exercise interesting, it has to be challenging so go ahead and try. Don’t set yourself up as a failure, as telling yourself you are will limit your potential and ultimately make you more likely to quit.
No one’s asking you to compete in Tokyo 2020. But if you’re reading this article you do want to get a little bit fitter at least, so tell yourself you can and then go and do it.