Fitness resolutions are fraught with mistakes that cause many of us to ‘fall off the wagon’ or face a plateau or injury by February. But it doesn’t have to be that way. To make your new year fitness resolutions last for the long term, try these science-based hacks.
If you’ve ever set a new year fitness goal and fallen off the wagon by February, you’re in good company. Failure rates for new year’s health resolutions are estimated to be as high as 80 per cent. In fact, it’s a wonder any of us continue to make them. Yet somehow many of us manage to conveniently forget what happened last time and set ourselves up to repeat the cycle. Foolish? It depends whether you reflect on factors involved in past failures and incorporate your learning into your new attempt (you know the quote, ‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result’?). If you’re ready to change your relationship with new year’s fitness resolutions, keep reading.
Why fitness resolutions fail
There are myriad physical, psychological and practical reasons why fitness resolutions fail – from flagging motivation to lack of time and pain, discomfort or injury. However, broadly, failure factors tend to fall into two categories: planning and execution. The former relates to setting goals and strategically planning to achieve them. The latter pertains to the implementation. Each of these stages can be a minefield of common mistakes that catch many of us off guard or leave us baffled as to what went wrong.
What could possibly go wrong?
- Your goals are out of synch with your true desires (for instance, you feel obligated to lose weight but aren’t intrinsically motivated).
- Your goals are disconnected from your physical abilities or strengths (if you’re a sprinter with fast-twitch muscle fibres, endurance running or marathons mightn’t be much fun).
- Your goals are unrealistic, setting you up for disappointment at your lack of progress or accomplishment (cue throwing in the towel).
- Your goals disagree with your lifestyle, making it difficult to maintain your regimen.
- You overlook the mechanisms of motivation, which inevitably involves periods of returning to earlier stages (two steps forward, one step back), causing you to confuse a setback with terminal failure and quit.
- These and other missteps can largely be prevented by setting SMART goals in consultation with a physio in a Soaring Health New Year Fitness Resolution Fitness Foundation Physio Consult (only $60 if booked before December 25, 2021).
- You go too hard, too fast and incur pain or injury.
- You repeat the same workout every day, leading to boredom, lack of progress or both.
- You make mistakes with technique or form and fail to progress as expected (and perhaps experience pain or injury).
- You hit a plateau and give up.
- You bypass preparation such as investing in suitable apparel and equipment.
- You fail to make sessions a priority by scheduling them, leading to an inconsistent exercise schedule.
- You decide to ‘wing it’ and design your own workouts without consulting a physiotherapist, exercise physiologist or personal trainer, who could tailor your activity to your physiology and goals.
NEW YEAR FITNESS RESOLUTION SUCCESS FORMULA
Many ‘mistakes’ in both planning and implementation create a negative Domino effect. For instance, setting overly ambitious goals pretty well guarantees that you will soon confront your own failure, which may cause you to train harder or more frequently in an attempt to ‘fix it’. This may lead to physical and/or psychological burnout. Bye bye, resolution. On the flip side, you can use this science to create a positive Domino effect that promotes success (without applying overt effort to each factor). If you’re ready to set in motion a cascade of success, consider these ‘hacks’.
- Mix it up
It makes sense that the more you do the same thing, the better you’ll get at it, right? Not quite. Doing the same workout day in, day out is likely to result in slowed or stalled progress or a ‘plateau’ (that is, you’ll stop seeing results, which may undermine motivation or cause you to push beyond your limits, resulting in over-training and inadequate recovery that further impede progress). Why does this happen? Adaptation. That is, your body adapts to certain activities or movements, becoming more efficient, which means the processes that enabled gains in strength or speed or endurance are dialled down. Depending on your fitness goals, a rule of thumb is to change up your workout routine every two to five weeks. As a positive knock-on effect, this also prevents boredom and apathy and promotes sustained motivation. Between ‘change-ups’, incorporate variety by adding different techniques to your workout program – think supersets, circuit training and HIIT (high-intensity interval training).
- Pace yourself
Fitness is often associated with a gung-ho ‘go hard or go home’ mentality. However, this is actually self-defeating. Doing too much in a bid to attain faster results is often false economy. In fact, over-training is one of the main enemies of successful fitness resolutions. Why? The effects of over-training make it difficult or impossible to maintain optimal training. Form is compromised, which means exercises fail to achieve what they should when performed correctly. Other effects such as joint and muscle pain, fatigue and depleted energy may force time-outs or reduced training that effectively delay results. Along with regulating training frequency and demands, it is important to factor in recovery periods (or rest days). Without this, your body can’t rebuild and repair muscle tissue, which is a key factor in achieving optimal results. Relatedly, to work optimally, your fitness resolution needs to be supported by adequate, good-quality sleep. Sleep enables the body to dedicate resources to repair and recovery and growth. (Yes, some of your ‘progress’ may occur while you’re snoozing.)
What’s the point of setting goals if you’re not keeping tabs on whether your workout program is advancing you towards achieving them? Regular evaluation can reveal what is working as well as what isn’t, providing opportunities to tweak your routine early (rather than blindly continuing with something that isn’t working or isn’t working as expected). Of course, evaluation requires data. To capture the interplay of success factors we’ve discussed, make a habit of keeping a fitness diary, not only to record how many sets and reps you did on Wednesday, but to document associated factors such as nutrition and sleep and the effects of specific conditions (for instance, a workout in which you became fatigued earlier than expected may be explained by missing lunch or a poor night’s sleep). As far as monitoring exercise, for cardio, record intensity, distance and duration. For strength work, record the exercise performed, the weight load and your sets, repetitions and periods. In addition, make a note of how you felt after each workout. Review your fitness log weekly and try to identify both positive and negative patterns or links and make adjustments accordingly.
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