Habit Forming: Build activity into your daily routine to reach fitness goals

It’s April. Those New Year’s resolutions about getting back into shape? Chances are they’ve gone by the wayside by now—unless you’re one of the 8 percent a University of Scranton research team suggests actually sticks to their plans. The other 92 percent of the population have gone back to old habits.

If you belong to the latter category, don’t despair. Mark McKown, director of sports science for the Utah Jazz, says that most people fail at their fitness goals because they become too stringent with them too quickly.

“Such a tiny percentage of people really follow through, and the ones that resolve that ‘I’m going to start exercising’? They do—they go out and bust their [butts],” says McKown. “Then it becomes this little slope; it just [descends] until it’s no more. It’s because they overdo it early, and they don’t always have a method to the madness. If you haven’t been training, then the first thing is establish the habit doing something that is easily to moderately demanding. Then you go from there.”

Start slow.

Creating a habit of fitness is the most important step to leading a fit lifestyle, says McKown. His prescription is to start slow. “Set [a timer] for five or 10 minutes,” he says, and then do whatever is comfortable for you. McKown suggests a vigorous walk, or to learn how to do a short core routine, working out your abs and low back for that small time frame. “Research has supported this—if you establish one good habit, then other positive habits tend to follow. Establish the habit.”

After you feel comfortable with your five minutes—at least six times a week, says McKown—then start to increase your fitness workload. “Honestly, you’ve got 10 minutes,” he laughs. “No matter who you are, you’ve got 10 minutes that you could give to making yourself feel better and function better. That in turn helps you think better and perform better, physically and mentally.”

Consider a trainer.

From your 10-minute daily workout, start to push yourself. McKown suggests adding a personal trainer. Trainers can work around your personal injury history and limitations (should you have a weak back or trick knees), can run assessments and help you achieve your fitness goals in a responsible way. Furthermore—and perhaps best of all—they keep you accountable, says McKown, in a way that people don’t feel as much in a large class or by themselves.

“A financial investment with one person tends to be more effective than a financial investment with an institution, because you can get lost in a crowd. If it’s just you and me, then I’m not getting lost,” he says. “You hold me accountable. I’ll get embarrassed if I didn’t show up. You develop a relationship with that personal trainer.”

Don’t get comfortable.

For people who work out alone, McKown stresses good workouts should be well-rounded. Ideally, workouts should address mobility, stability and cardiovascular systems. But most people tend to stick with what’s comfortable for them after they find it.

“Our players do it. I do it. … We fall into doing what we enjoy and what is comfortable for us,” says McKown. “I might be that person who likes to go to the gym and hop on the elliptical and get a great workout on the elliptical and call it a day. But it’s really not enough. Again, it’s better than nothing—but my body adapts. It becomes accustomed to this.”

What will happen next, says McKown, is that your gains will plateau or even begin to regress after that point. “Your body needs a new stimulus,” he says. “If you mix it up, your body is going to be in a constant state of adaptation, so you’re going to make better gains.”

Give it a shot.

Below is a 20-minute beginner workout from McKown, using a stability ball and a suspension strap. As with any strength and conditioning program, make sure you are medically cleared to train, see your physician and use good judgment.

Equipment Motion Sets Target Area
Strap Row, rotate and press 1-3 sets, 10 total reps Shoulders
Strap Assisted squats 1-3 sets, 10 total reps Glutes, quadriceps
Strap Chest press 1-3 sets, 10 total reps Pecs, anterior deltoids
Strap Pull-n-row 1-3 sets, 10 total reps Lats, rhomboids
Stability ball Squats 1-3 sets, 10 total reps Glutes, quadriceps
Stability ball Hamstring curls 1-3 sets, 10 total reps Glutes, hamstrings, spinal erectors
Stability ball Crunch 1-3 sets, 20 total reps Abdominals
Stability ball Crossover 1-3 sets, 20 total reps Abdominals, obliques
Stability ball Hip extensions 1-3 sets, 20 total reps Spinal erectors, glutes
Stability ball Cobras 1-3 sets, 20 total reps Spinal erectors, glutes