I don’t know about you, but I always find that my own workout routine starts to decline at this time of year because I lose motivation as the days get shorter and the weather gets colder. When you can’t be outside doing the things you love, it’s easy to get discouraged and to just quit working out altogether (seriously, I have so been there).
Last week, I talked about burnout and because physical activity was one of the things I suggested trying out, I thought it would be appropriate this week to talk about strategies for creating a workout routine that really works for you (plus, I’m hoping it will help motivate me to keep going). Wherever you are in your own fitness journey, I hope you will find some of these suggestions helpful in embarking on new goals or continuing your success.
I also want to make a quick note to say that I am not a certified trainer or nutritionist. The items included in the list below are based on what has worked for me as well as other good resources I have collected. Please consider consulting with your physician or another professional before making any changes to your fitness routine and/or diet.
I think the single most important thing to keep in mind when developing a workout routine is to make it your own. If you don’t like what you’re doing, chances are you won’t continue to do it for long. That said, here are some of my best tips to help ensure you get the most out of your own workout routine:
Choose to do things you enjoy. I LOVE running. It’s one of the few times I experience this sense of euphoric weightlessness (so weird, I know). In fact, I often find myself smiling as I run (which probably really weirds other people out). Plus, I feel immensely sexy right after a great run (maybe it’s that glowy look from all the sweat?). If running’s not your thing (you aren’t alone!), consider alternatives that may appeal to you like taking a boot camp, Zumba, jazzercise, or a yoga class.
While working out with a group of people can be fun, you may also consider working with a personal training (even just for a session or two) to help introduce you to some new options and prevent injury when trying new things (a good trainer should always check and correct your form if needed). Working with a trainer can also be an excellent option if you have a previous injury and you’re not sure of the best options available to you.
I have a SLAP tear in my left shoulder which has taken about 6 months of recovery to be fully functional (as much as a SLAP tear will heal at least) and I’ve been working with a trainer recently to design a regimen for strengthening my upper body that won’t put me at risk of further injury. So far, so good!
If you enjoy being outdoors and the climate permits, options like kayaking, biking, hiking, and paddle boarding can also be fun. Or, in the winter months, skiing or snowboarding could be great options (depending on where you live). Of course, you may find that you want to try all of these and that would be great as well!
Integrate a good mix of cardio, strength training, and flexibility exercises. While I do run most days, I also add in some strength training by stopping at our local outdoor fitness pad (check it out here) which allows me to focus on targeted strengthening for upper and/or lower body. I also frequently follow my run with a quick core workout (like this one from XHIT). On days that I don’t run, I generally take a long walk and follow it with some Yin Yoga (which provides lots of deep stretching).
When I’m unable to be outside (because it’s pouring rain, or snowing, or whatever), I hit the gym and typically do some targeted strength training for upper body, lower body, or core and follow it with some cardio on the treadmill or stair-stepper.
Again, the key is really to find what works for you — your ideal balance may involve less cardio and more strength training, or more focus on flexibility and less of the others. My routine is constantly changing based on my personal needs and goals, so don’t feel like you’re limited in any way! This is something that you can absolutely change and adapt over time as your own needs change.
Find a workout partner. Accountability can be a powerful tool for getting you motivated to workout. If you’re worried you may find yourself pushing your workout to the bottom of your to-do list, or maybe off of it altogether (or, if you just enjoy working out with a friend!), I encourage you to find someone to workout with you. This might be a significant other, colleague, family member, friend, or someone you meet during a class at your gym. Set a regular time to meet, discuss what you want to do ahead of time so that you already have a plan in mind, and then, actually show up (because no one likes being stood up).
I have typically struggled to find consistent workout partners in the past because I have an unusual schedule (I generally workout in the late morning or mid-afternoon), so some potential alternatives that have worked for me (in terms of accountability) include scheduling sessions with a trainer 1-2 times per week, signing up for classes at designated times, and/or marking off time to get to the gym on your calendar so that you’re less likely to compromise on making it there (because you already planned it into your schedule).
Change it up throughout the week. Even if you absolutely love a particular workout, you’re bound to get bored with it at some point. The best way to combat this it to ensure you have a variety of workouts throughout your week. A common option is to alternate focal areas such as leg day, upper body day, and core day. You may even want to consider taking alternate routes if running or walking is something you regularly enjoy.
I also try to change up the types of yoga I do throughout the week depending on my mood and needs. For example, a Yin or Hatha Yoga class can be really calming because they’re slower moving, whereas an Asana Flow class will get your blood pumping.
If you’re not sure which class to take, read the description (these are usually available on the studio website) or stop by to chat with an instructor about the best options for you. There are also some great videos available online (like those on YogaGlo) if you prefer to practice at home.
The bottom line is – don’t be afraid to try new things and to challenge yourself by adding new exercises that may be out of your comfort zone (like lifting weights, for instance). Of course, it’s always a good idea to work with a trainer when you’re trying something for the first time to ensure you don’t cause injury to yourself.
As long as you keep an open mind and willingness to try new things, you’re sure to find things that provide your routine with lots of great variety.
Work up to a more rigorous routine over time. It may be tempting to start out full force by working out 7 days a week or running 8 miles the first time you go out, but this is bound to set you up for failure. When you’re starting a new fitness routine, it’s important to set realistic (as in, actually achievable) goals for ourselves.
Start by planning 2-3 days per week for an amount of time that fits your schedule (keep in mind that it may only be 20 minutes and that’s totally okay). You may need to start out with something like walking, adding in intermittent running as you build your endurance.
You should also begin all reps and weight on the low end. Then, see how you feel over the next couple of days and adjust as needed. If you over do it, you’re likely to suffer an injury that will force you to stop working out (completely defeating the purpose). If you’re concerned about where to start, I encourage you to schedule a session with a personal trainer (again – sorry, I’m like a broken record on this).
Invest in the right shoes. A good pair of tennis shoes are absolutely necessary, but even more so if you’re someone who plans to do long-distance running. Everyone has different needs when it comes to finding the best shoe, so my best advice is to visit a store where the clerks are actually trained to help you find the right shoes.
I’m fortunate to have the Lincoln Running Company within a reasonable driving distance. They are true experts in terms of finding the best shoe for you. They will watch you walk and discuss your particular needs (like how far you run, if you’re training for a race, etc.) as well as any concerns you may have (like if you’re prone to corns or blisters due to rubbing, or if you have back pain after you run, etc.).
The first time I visited their store, they even guaranteed the shoes I purchased and told me I could bring them back after I tried them out a couple of times (outdoors!) if they weren’t the right shoes for me. Do yourself a favor and do some research to find a store that provides this service and invest in a good pair of shoes.
Having a great playlist is a must. On days that I walk, I love to listen to audio books using Audible, but I know I won’t make it to a good running pace if I don’t have a good playlist to pump me up a bit. Whether you use a streaming service like Pandora or create your own play list, be sure to have a set that makes you want to move!
My playlist totally depends on my mood (and probably a bit on the pace I’m wanting to run). Some days, I love music that’s more along the lines of a dance mix (think Shakira, Lady Gaga, Fergie, Rihanna, Arianna Grande). On other days, I love a sort of punk rock / indie rock mix (think Good Charlotte, The White Stripes, Green Day, My Chemical Romance, Fallout Boy). Whatever your taste in music, just make sure your set list is something you really enjoy and will get your heart pumping.
Workout at a time of day that works for your schedule. I know there’s a lot of articles out there that all seem to share a different opinion on the best time of day to workout. The bottom line is – choose a time that works for you. If you’re not a morning person and you think you want to start getting up early to squeeze in a workout, you’ll probably find yourself hitting snooze and sleeping through it.
I prefer to run outside, but I’m totally not a morning person. Because it’s actually quite dangerous to run outside when it’s around 100 degrees (Fahrenheit), I typically wait to work out until after 7pm during the summer. This means that I work out in the evening, sometimes rather late. For me, it works well with my schedule (as I work from home and set my own schedule) and doesn’t seem to impact my ability to sleep well.
However, the time that works most ideally for you will depend on your own schedule and energy patterns. If you find that you’re tired in the late morning, but have plenty of energy in the afternoon, it may be most ideal to fit in a workout right after work at 4 or 5pm. I would even recommend trying out some different times (if it isn’t too disruptive to your schedule) to see when you feel the most energized and mentally prepared to workout.
Be kind to your body – always replenish yourself. Just as important as your actual workout plan is to your physical health, is the other stuff in your life that helps support your fitness needs. Things like getting enough sleep, drinking plenty of water, and eating nourishing foods.
There are plenty of great resources out there to help you find the best diet / food lifestyle for yourself (like the Whole30, for instance). However, I generally subscribe to the idea of clean eating which focuses on eating nutrient rich, whole foods and avoiding processed and sugary foods. I also try to go through the Whole30 once a year to check what’s working well for me and what may need to be adjusted within my diet.
Again, this should be a decision that works for you and it may take trying out some different options to find the right fit. You may also consider meeting with a nutritionist or your regular doctor to discuss options. Don’t get discouraged if you struggle be successful on your first attempt to follow a diet plan. Part of any process is failure as it allows us to adjust our behavior and become successful!
Check yourself out. Seriously, notice the changes in your body and admire them (like, actually look in the mirror and tell yourself you look good – repeat after me, “I. look. awesome!”). Applaud yourself for your efforts and your successes when you make it to the gym every day you intended this week or when you complete an extra hard work out (you’re a machine!). Celebrate your goals along the way when you drop a pound or lose body fat or when you just freaking feel better!
Above all, remember to focus on what matters to you.
Create a workout routine that is completely your own and don’t be afraid to keep making adjustments until it’s perfect for you (which may mean it’s continually changing).
All my best to you as you create or improve your own fitness plan!
If you have a workout plan that works well for you, I would love to hear about it – comment below and feel free to share your own post-workout photo!
Fetters, K. A. (2016). 13 ways to get the most out of your workout according to research. Time. Retrieved October 3, 2018, from
Robinson, K. M. (2018). Top 10 fitness tips. WebMD. Retrieved October 3, 2018, from https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/fitness-top-10#2
Smith, J. (2017). Dr. Oz’s top 10 health and fitness tips of all time. Shape. Retrieved October 3, 2018, from https://www.shape.com/lifestyle/mind-and-body/dr-ozs-top-10-health-and-fitness-tips-all-time
Photo Credits (in order of appearance)
- Into the street wild, Photo by Oscar Söderlund on Unsplash
- My post-workout picture, Photo by me
- Shoes on stairs, Photo by Bruno Nascimento on Unsplash
- Emptying a glass bottle, Photo by Benjamin Voros on Unsplash