10 Tips for Starting and Sticking with a Workout Routine

If only you could carve out more time in the day, fitness could finally become part of your regular routine. If only there was a gym closer to your house, or if it wasn’t so cold (or so hot) outside, or if you had more energy, or more confidence, or more money…

The truth is, the only thing holding you back is all of those "if onlys." If you wait for the perfect conditions to materialize before you start exercising, you’ll never get started. As the old saying goes, "an object in motion stays in motion." If you move your body every day, even just a little, those consistent efforts will propel you toward your goals over time.

Whether you’ve never exercised a day in your life or you’re returning after a long hiatus, these simple tips will help get you on the path to a more active lifestyle. Remember, the hardest step is always the very first one. Then, as you see what your body is capable of, it will become easier (and more fun!) to exercise every day.

1. Start slow.

Fitness trainer Julia Buckley says the most common mistake beginners make is trying to do too much too soon. If you’ve been doing no exercise at all, it’s best to start with an easy and achievable plan, such as two or three 20- or 30-minute workouts per week for the first few weeks. "This will help your body adapt to exercising at a safe and healthy rate, and will also help you start building a sustainable habit," she says.

2. Create an "accountability team."

Fitness trainer Lisa Reed stresses the importance of finding a workout buddy, whether it’s your partner, friend, child, co-worker or even a pet. You might even consider hiring a personal trainer to help you perform each exercise with the proper technique while keeping you on track with your goals.

3. Know your exercise personality type.

Are you a lone wolf or a pack animal? As fitness trainer Jill Brown points out, some people love the energy and camaraderie of being in a group workout setting, while others prefer taking a bike ride, a run or a swim alone. Determine which workout style best meshes with your personality, and plan your sessions around that.

4. Be firm with your self-talk.

Once you’ve made a plan, Buckley says to avoid thinking or saying things like, "I’ll try it," "Let’s see if this works" or "I hope I can stick with it." That mindset creates an "out" that makes it easier to quit. Instead, simply tell yourself, "I’ve decided to do this, so I’m going to do it."

5. Plan your workouts in advance.

Don’t wait until you feel motivated or until you have "enough" time. Add your exercise sessions to your calendar just as you would a meeting or appointment. "Don't think, ‘I'll try to find time tomorrow or on Tuesday,'" Buckley explains. "Set a time and stick to it."

6. Work with a personal trainer or coach.

"Having someone guide you through exercises and routines without risking injuries cannot be underestimated when you're new," says Brown. "Plus, being accountable to this person to show up will get you into the habit of exercising regularly." Brown suggests getting a recommendation from a friend, co-worker or physical therapist. Be sure to interview them and check their level of expertise with your specific goals, age and limitations, as well.

7. Don't try to fit a square peg in a round hole.

Not every trendy workout will be the right fit for your personality type, your level of coordination or what gives you a sense of satisfaction, notes Brown. "Don't be peer-pressured into signing up for a program that goes against your grain just because all your other friends love it," she warns.

8. Don’t get stuck on the outward benefits.

While it’s fine to strive for weight loss and a healthy, fit physique, try not to get too caught up in hitting a certain number or looking a certain way. Instead, focus on how much better you feel, the benefits to your overall wellness and longevity, and the example you’re setting for those around you. Those deeper incentives will help keep you going even when the scale doesn’t reflect your efforts.

9. Spring back from setbacks.

Reed reminds her clients that if they miss one workout, it doesn’t mean they should skip the whole week and start over next week. "If you have a small failure and take one step backward, pick yourself up, stay positive and take the next step forward," she suggests. "If you do this each time you encounter an obstacle, you will build mental toughness and make consistent progress."

10. Remember, it gets easier.

As with any activity, the more you exercise, the easier it will become to stick to a routine. "Take it one day at a time," says Buckley. "You'll discover what works best for you, new habits will become embedded and progress will come—[all of which] will bring the motivation to keep you going."