This is a guest post I originally wrote for ooyoosports.com
Making a major lifestyle change, however positive, is never easy and unfortunately many people will go back to their old ways sooner or later. Here are some common mistakes beginners make and how to avoid making them:
1. Take on too much
Far too many beginners set unrealistic goals such as to run a 10k in 4 weeks/marathon in 3 months or going to the gym 5 times a week. The problem with unrealistic goals and taking on too much is not only that you risk injury and exhaustion from over training (which leads to weakened immunity and illness) but it is also very hard to keep motivated after the initial enthusiasm wears off. It is simply too big a challenge that requires too big a lifestyle change to do it so suddenly. The majority of people who start like this will do fine for few weeks, even months, they might get themselves through that 10k or marathon but after that, they find it impossible to motivate themselves to continue training. The reason why is because they did not enjoy the training process in the first place. Why would you want to do something unpleasant and painful daily?
HOW TO AVOID THIS MISTAKE: Start small – your initial goal should be focused on a lifestyle change, getting started and getting into a routine that you can stick to. Any little bit you do is better than being a couch potato! If you are running, start with 3 runs a week, no more than 30-40 minute sessions and never skip your rest days. You can still have that 10k as your one day goal (or even a marathon) but don’t even think about it until you have done a 5k first. It is also important to remember that you don’t have to do a 10k, ever. For general health, just half an hour or exercise a day is great, so as long as you’re exercising regularly, you are doing great. Once you’re in a good routine with running (or whatever activity you’ve chosen to start with) you can add another weekly session, maybe a spinning class or swimming.
2. Lose motivation
The hardest part of regular exercise is keeping motivated, there’s no doubt about that. It is very easy to get excited and then, when it becomes part of your routine, lose your focus. If you take on too much or set unrealistic goals, your motivation is more than likely going to die after the initial enthusiasm wears out.
HOW TO AVOID THIS MISTAKE: Firstly, make sure you follow the advice above – set realistic goals and start slowly with one thing only. Start from the beginning. If you are doing a programme such as couch to 5k, start from week 1, even if you used to run or think you’re fitter than average (you’re most likely not if you haven’t been exercising regularly). Make it easy.
Secondly, spend some time thinking about your motivation. Why do you want to start exercising? What do you want to achieve? (Word of warning – if your goal is to lose weight, you will need to start with your diet. Exercise is great for weight loss but only if combined with a good diet). Visualise yourself in a year’s time, 5 years’ time – how will you feel if you are still exercising regularly? Versus if you go back to your sedentary lifestyle? What will you look like? What about your confidence and your mood?
Make a note of all the positive feelings you have during and after exercise and remember these when you are trying to make excuses not to go running. Notice little improvements, such as you sleep better, you smile more, you are less stressed…. Read books, magazines and websites about exercise and healthy lifestyle for motivation (and, please, avoid women’s magazines talking about, and criticizing, celebrities’ weight and diets!). Surround yourself with like-minded people, join a running club or find a gym buddy – there is nothing like the support and encouragement of training buddies to keep you going.
3. Fail to prioritise exercise
Again, you might start with great intentions to go to the gym three times a week after work. Then one day your colleagues ask you to go for a drink after work. You really should go to the gym but, hey, once doesn’t really matter; you’ve been really good for two weeks now! The following week it’s a dinner, then a movie and before you know it, you’re only making it to the gym once a week and even then you’re looking for excuses not to go.
HOW TO AVOID THIS MISTAKE: You need to prioritise exercise, make a schedule and stick to it. I like to look at my schedule for the next week every Sunday, see what commitments I have and then schedule in my exercise sessions. Once they’re in my diary, I cannot change them, no matter what. This is very easy to do if you’re in a job with regular hours. So if you have a gym session scheduled for Tuesday immediately after work and your colleagues ask you out for a drink, either join them after you’ve been to the gym or suggest another day. Trust me, it might feel difficult to say no to a fun evening but the following day you will feel great about yourself. Sticking to your schedule doesn’t only ensure that you get enough exercise, it will also help keep you motivated.
Remember that if you do fall off the wagon, you can always start again! Just give yourself a little time to re-focus yourself, look back and try to figure out what went wrong, then pick yourself up and try again.