10 Steps to Fail-Proof Your Workouts

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What was the last reason you gave for ditching your workout -- no time, lack of results, boredom? Whatever the excuse, you’re in good company. More than half of new exercisers quit within three to six months of starting an exercise program, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. Taking a proactive approach and planning for bumps in the road can help you make a plan and stick with it. Read on to find out how to fail-proof your workouts.

1. Consider Your Current Fitness Level

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Once you make up your mind to get in shape, it may be tempting to jump into an extreme workout such as CrossFit or P90X to get you on the fast track to flat abs and sculpted biceps. But if you haven’t been off the couch since the 2000s (or earlier) ,an extreme program might injure you, according to Tom Holland, MS, CSCS, author of “Beat the Gym” and Connecticut-based exercise physiologist. “If you’re a beginner, you’ll need to build your base strength first,” Holland says. “Once you establish a base of strength (which takes several weeks), only then should you transition into higher intensity and more complex workouts.”

Related: Gym Exercises for Beginners

2. Create S.M.A.R.T Goals

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Your approach to a program should vary depending on whether you’re striving to lose weight, gain strength, increase cardio endurance or training to compete in a 10K. Your fitness goals should be personal for you, according to Franklin Antoian, trainer and founder of iBodyFit.com. “If you hate running, don’t make completing a marathon your goal for next year,” says Antoian. “Sometimes a good goal is to simply workout every day (or most days).” Antoian recommends creating S.M.A.R.T. goals: specific, measurable, attainable, relative and time-sensitive. For example, a typical goal may be “to lose weight.” A S.M.A.R.T. goal may be: To lose 10 pounds by January 1st by running five days per week, lifting weights two days per week and eating 1600 calories a day.

Related: 4 Easy Tips That Can Help You Lose Weight

3. Consider Your Lifestyle

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A long commute, late nights or early morning meetings may limit choices and require flexibility on your part when planning time to exercise. Plan ahead to allow for such constraints. For example, frequent business travelers should look for hotels that offer gym services. If you tend to work late, strive to get your workouts done first thing in the morning before kids and work get in the way, says trainer Franklin Antoian. Or use your lunch hour to get in a brisk walk and plan your weights workouts for weekends.

Related: Change Only 1 Habit and Lose Weight

4. Look at Your Exercise History

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Consider exercise and activities that worked for you in the past, and take a look at what did not. If you enjoyed running or biking with a group when you participated in Team in Training, for example, seek out other similar groups. History tends to repeat itself, says trainer Franklin Antoian. “Think about the past times you got on a fitness kick, why you started and why you stopped. If you went all-out in the first few weeks but ran out of energy and quit your new routine, you may be better off starting with one or two days a week and gradually adding days as you progress.” If you thrive on variety and tend to drop out of the same old routine quickly, mix up your routines or add a yoga class, mixed martial arts session or Pilates segment, every few weeks or so.

Related: 9 Strategies for Mastering Motivation

5. Determine the Best Number of Sets

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Starting a weight training program requires establishing specific exercises geared to your goals along with determining the best number of sets and repetitions. The number of sets performed often depends on the person’s fitness level, says Benjamin Thomas, PhD, associate professor, department of human performance and sport, Metropolitan State University of Denver, Colorado. “A sedentary person who has never done resistance training should start with one set of each exercise (one for every muscle group) for overall muscular fitness; over time you gradually increase the number of sets to two to four.” Doing fewer sets (usually two) is adequate if the goal is muscular endurance, due to the larger number of reps per set, says Thomas.

Related: Training 101: The Ultimate Guide To Sets and Reps

6. Know How Much Weight to Lift and When to Progress

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Figuring out the amount of weight to lift comes down to your specific goals, says Benjamin Thomas, PhD. “If you want to develop muscular strength, you want to use more weight and perform fewer repetitions. Muscular endurance requires the opposite.” The National Sports and Conditioning Association (NSCA) recommends using a weight you can lift no more than six times if your goal is strength; for muscular endurance choose a weight you can lift 12, 15 or more times and target 6-to-2 repetitions for muscle growth/hypertrophy. Use the two-for-two rule to determine when it’s time to increase the weight, says Thomas. If you can perform two additional reps over your goal on two consecutive workout days, increase the resistance.

Related: The 6 Rules of Gaining Muscle Mass

7. Know the Number of Reps You Need to Reach Your Goals

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“There is always interplay between the intensity (i.e. the amount of weight lifted) and the number of repetitions you perform,” says Benjamin Thomas, PhD. If strength is your goal you’ll need more weight and fewer reps. Strength coaches use a 1RM or “one rep max” as the basis for determining the amount of weight for an athlete. As it indicates, 1RM refers to the heaviest weight a person can lift for one single repetition. “The closer you get to lifting your 1RM, the fewer repetitions you should perform,” says Thomas. For strength, do six reps or fewer; for overall toning and strength go for 12-to-15 reps. For muscular endurance, where you want to train for long periods of time without fatiguing, you’ll want to perform 15-to-20 repetitions.

Related: 13 Benefits of Weightlifting That No One Tells You About

8. Determine Rest Periods

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Taking the appropriate amount of rest time between sets is as important as the weight, number of sets and number of reps. “Rest between sets allows the muscles and the body’s system that provides energy to do the exercise time to recover,” says Benjamin Thomas, PhD. According to Thomas, the amount of weight lifted influences how much rest to take. “Typically I recommend between 60 to 90 seconds of rest between sets, although lifting close to your 1RM (training for power or strength) may take up to five minutes of rest,” he says. Muscular endurance training requires less rest between sets (30 seconds or less, according to the NSCA) of higher, lighter reps; training for hypertrophy and muscle growth requires 30 to 90 seconds.

Related: 5 Tools to Help You Recover Like a Professional Athlete

9. Have a Travel Plan

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Whether you travel frequently for business or several times a year for vacation, keeping up with some level of activity while you’re away can help you feel good about yourself, says exercise physiologist Tom Holland. “You don’t have to do your usual hour-long workout. If you’re on the road for three days and can do three, 15-minute mini workouts, you’re fine.” Holland recommends lowering your expectations about how much you’ll achieve when away. “You likely won’t travel long enough to lose your fitness (which takes weeks but varies with the individual’s initial fitness level), but doing a condensed version of your regular workout will enable you to maintain, feel good and likely help you make better food choices as well.”

Related: A Do-Anywhere Workout

10. Determine How You Will Measure Your Progress

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Figuring out a way to measure your progress depends on your initial goals. If you’re trying to lose weight, the scale is only one way to see if you’re making progress, says exercise physiologist Tom Holland. “You may be better off with a scale that measures body fat, since your [total] weight may not change as you lose body fat and inches. Or use your clothing. How your clothes fit makes the biggest difference.” Some tracking apps, including Livestrong’s free MyPlate Calorie Tracker which tracks calories and exercise, may work for you. “A simple chart or Excel spreadsheet can also help you track your goals and progress,” says Holland. “No matter what you track, just show up for your workouts and you will see change!”

What Do YOU Think?

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What most often causes you to “fall off the wagon” with your fitness program? What helps you to stay on track? Have you used or will you use any of these tips to fail-proof your workout? Leave a comment below and let us know.

Related: 22 Lessons I Learned in a Fitness Program Test Group

Circuit Training Benefits

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What was the last reason you gave for ditching your workout -- no time, lack of results, boredom? Whatever the excuse, you’re in good company. More than half of new exercisers quit within three to six months of starting an exercise program, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. Taking a proactive approach and planning for bumps in the road can help you make a plan and stick with it. Read on to find out how to fail-proof your workouts.


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