5 Ways to Find Your Perfect Workout Routine

By , Dr. Thomas J. Kleeman, MD
I hate working out! There, I said it. We all have reasons for exercising, but for many of us, it’s not because we genuinely love it. Working out has a slew of health benefits, makes us feel and look better, and can even slow down the aging process and help boost our immune systems. But sometimes, those reasons alone aren't motivating enough to get us up off the couch if exercise isn't already an established part of our routines.

So, how do we go from being sedentary to making fitness a regular part of our daily lives? Honestly, the hardest part is getting started—and these five steps will help give you the motivation you need to make that first step (literally and figuratively). 

Step 1: Find Your Reason

Before you can get started, you have to have a reason for working out. Maybe you gained a little more weight than you thought at your last doctor's appointment, or maybe diabetes runs in your family. Or maybe, you simply looked in the mirror and didn’t like what you saw. Once you have established your reason, don’t let it go. Hold on to it and keep it in your thoughts every day. 

Step 2: Set a Goal.

This is where a lot of people set themselves up to fail. All of your goals should be easily broken down into smaller goals. If you are trying to lose weight, start with a five-pound benchmark and go from there. If you want to run a marathon, start with a 5K race instead of the half marathon. If you are just trying to look better and become fitter, post an inspirational quote or image in a place where you will see it every day. It is extremely important to visualize your goals. Envision yourself looking and feeling the way you want--and then strive to become that person!

Step 3: Make a Plan

Now that you have set a fitness goal to change your life, you have to figure out the best way to obtain it. Finding the right exercise program that works for your life might take some trial and error. Remember, what works for one person might not necessarily work for you, and you may need to do a little research. Look for programs that seem sustainable for the long haul and remember: If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. A good program should incorporate both cardio and strength training, and should allow you to evolve over time, starting from a beginner level and taking you all the way to a more advanced level as you progress. Start slowly and work your way up—you'll get there!

Step 4: Find Your "When" and "Where"

This might seem like the easy part, but it can be surprisingly challenging to find a place and time to exercise that works with your schedule. What is most realistic for you? Can you work out at home? Do you need to join a gym? Which gym? Once you have done your research and made your choice, schedule your workouts in writing the same way you would write in a business meeting or dentist appointment. Then, make a deal with yourself that you won't change it no matter what comes up. If you wake up in the morning and tell yourself that you are going to work out at some time during that day, the odds are that you won’t make the time. On the other hand, if it is in the book as an integrated part of the schedule for the day, you have a much better chance of not skipping.

Step 5: Form a Habit

Ever heard of the 21-day rule? It's been said that it takes 21 days to create a habit. In reality, it takes some people more and others less, but the concept is the same. Habits are patterns of behavior that, when repeated over and over in the same sequence, create synaptic pathways in the brain. As the synaptic pathways become established, the habit becomes more natural and easier to repeat. For example, on days that I am seeing patients in the office, my lunch routine is to eat a sandwich, grab a bottle of water, and hit the elliptical for 30 minutes. On weekends, the routine is to wake up, make coffee, and do your preferred workout. By linking several established habits to the workout, it becomes a habit, as well.

So don’t worry if you don’t like to work out. Neither do I. But think about this: There are many things in life that we don’t necessarily like, but need to do because they are essential to our health and well-being. Remember the feeling you had after you finished a good workout? It was priceless and it stayed with you for hours. Compare that to the feeling you had when you skipped a workout. That one also stayed with you for hours (for all the wrong reasons). Ditch the excuses and follow the five-step program. It will change your life--and may even save it.