In the first two articles of this series we looked at techniques for shifting toward a more empowered mindset and understanding the unique barriers often faced in the pursuit of health and women’s fitness. Today we will be exploring more specific techniques you can use to successfully structure your exercise life in order to maximize your enjoyment, success and longevity. It’s important to keep in mind that there is no one-size-fits-all fitness prescription and an approach that is perfect for you might not work at all for someone else. The goal here is exploration, increasing self-awareness and continual evolution.
To successfully integrate a new exercise plan into your life almost always requires an examination and reordering of your personal priorities. This is because in order for new habits to stick they need to be given significant time and energy. One former client of mine—who went on to lose over 75 pounds—chose to transfer to a less stressful job with fewer responsibilities before beginning her serious pursuit of a healthier self. She intuitively understood that this undertaking was going to demand serious resources and that if she didn’t take these resources from other aspects of her life she was unlikely to stick with her plan.
Not every reprioritization will be as significant as that, but some shifting of time and resources is likely needed if you have struggled with making fitness a regular habit in the past. In my experience, for the best chances of success your fitness life will need to be one of your top three priorities for the first three months. This will give you the energy you need to deal with inevitable setbacks, challenges and to make sure you are giving your plan your best self. After three months your program will be more established and you may be able to shift your priorities again while still maintaining your routine. Expect some internal and external resistance as you make your health a priority. Change is challenging, but worth it!
Write your own top five priorities as they currently are, and then reorder them with your personal health and fitness moved up to the top 3. Post these top three priorities someplace prominent and revisit them when planning your days, weeks and months. Remember that whatever falls off the list can be added back to the top later, but for now your health and fitness is on or near the top of the list. If you need support in order to make these priorities a reality, consider how you can enlist it and who in your life would be willing to step up and help.
Reflection isn’t just for poets
What exercise requires very little physical effort, no expensive gym equipment and has the power to transform your fitness life? Guided reflection.
Women’s fitness can often be elevated by guided reflection. For this practice, you simply take a couple of minutes after each workout to jot down your positive and negative impressions about the experience. This type of active reflection has several benefits: it will help you be more mindful and observant during your workouts, make you more likely to notice physical trends that could lead to injuries if not addressed, assist you in discovering what you enjoy so you can do more of that and what you don’t, so you can look for better alternatives. In short, it’s a way of continually evaluating and adapting your workouts so that they best serve you. For example if you noted that you felt bored and uninspired in the last 3 of your workouts, you may be experiencing burnout and need a break or maybe you need to spice up your routine and try a kicking boxing class instead? These reflections can also be a wonderful way to track and celebrate your progress, “I did 3 more push-ups today! Feeling much stronger!”
Choose a notebook, electronic document or app to keep your fitness reflections. Commit to spending 1-2 minutes after each workout jotting down your impressions. Reflect back on a weekly or monthly basis to notice positive and negative trends and how you can proactively address these issues.
Happy endings and beginnings
How you choose to start and complete your exercise sessions is a super important part of the longevity of your plan. This is because how you begin and end your workouts is what you are most likely to remember and recall when you are deciding to do your next workout or skip it.
With this in mind, figuring out a warm-up and cool down that you enjoy is one of the keys to your success. A warm-routine that gently invites you into your workout is much more likely to help you build a habit than jumping in at 100%. Also, a cooldown that involves movement and stretches that feel good is a wonderful way to end your workout session. If you really don’t like an exercise and are beginning to dread it, it is likely best to replace it with an alternative that you enjoy more. Be honest with yourself about what you are liking about your routine and make changes as needed. A fitness coach or trainer can give you ideas for alternative exercises and help keep your plan fresh. This is key, because one of the most common reasons for quitting exercise is boredom.
Consider what you enjoy most about your workouts. Consider restructuring them so that they begin and end with something you enjoy. This could also include an after-workout snack or beverage that helps motivate you.
Don’t wait for someone else to affirm you
Affirmations are a powerful and simple way to begin to plant healthier ideas in your mind about the importance of taking good care of yourself and prioritizing your fitness life. Just like strength training makes your muscles more powerful, affirmations strengthen your thought life, helping you to become more positive and resilient.
A woman who wants to exercise more but is struggling with feeling like she deserves the time to take care of herself could use the following statements: “I am important and valuable. I deserve time to take care of my physical and mental health.” or “Every human being deserves the chance to be healthy and happy. I will take time this week to exercise and eat well.” Saying or writing affirmations may feel silly at first, but they are proven to help shift mindsets and make starting and maintaining new habits easier. The more you use them, the more effective they will be. What positive statements do you want to imbed in your brain?
Write out three affirmations and post them in a place where you will see them regularly. The most powerful affirmations are written in the first person, present tense and with a positive point of view. A good place to start is by asking yourself what beliefs about yourself would like to change or improve on. Commit to saying or writing out your affirmations daily for at least two weeks. You can also say them before your workouts for extra inspiration. Note shifts and improvements in your self concepts in your reflections journal.