I’ve been working on new fitness programmes for a few folk recently. The programmes are all different, but the first challenge is the same for everyone: to stick at it through the first three weeks. They say that’s how long it takes to form a new habit, and that’s exactly what you’re aiming for with exercise and fitness: to make it part of how you live your life. Push yourself too hard at the outset, and you’ll soon find you can’t sustain the pace or level of activity you’ve set (or, worse, you’ll risk an injury and end up less fit and healthy than you were before!); make it too easy, and it’s very quickly boring – no challenge; no sense of achievement; no incentive to carry on.

The early days are never easy – but here are five things you can do to give yourself the best possible chance of success:

1: Cut yourself some slack!

Yes, seriously. Be kind to yourself! Starting a new fitness programme (or ramping up an existing one) always demands a degree of lifestyle change, and that’s a big ask for anyone. Be realistic when you think about how much time you can commit to your programme, how often and how long. So, don’t just plan for workouts; plan for rest days too – they’re just as important. Don’t just decide what you’re going to give up; decide what you’re going to allow yourself to indulge in, guilt-free. For me, life just wouldn’t be as much fun without the odd coffee and cake – so it’s important to me that these things are allowed! Your fitness has to fit in with YOU, not the other way round.

2: Stick to what you enjoy.

The bad news is that there’s no magic solution when it comes to getting fitter. The bright side is that there’s no single fitness activity that has to be included in your programme, so it’s up to you to plan to do stuff that you can actually look forward to. Swim, walk, bike, zumba, play netball, football, bootcamps, one-to-one training – choose to do what you enjoy. If you don’t like running; don’t run; if you hate gyms, don’t expect yourself to go. The main thing is that you should never start a programme that feels like a chore.

3: Set yourself a goal.

If you want your programme to stick, you need to have a clear sense of why you’re doing it and how every workout will help. Everyone usually has a ‘Big Goal’ – whether that’s toning up for Christmas; dropping a dress size or running a marathon – but big goals can seem distant and it’s easy to lose sight of them. What you really need are plenty of little goals to keep you going along the way. If you want to change shape or size, take photos and measurements at the beginning so you can benchmark the change after those difficult first three weeks. If you want to run a marathon, set yourself a goal for a 5k or 10k. Give yourself as many opportunities as possible to see success along the way, and it’s suddenly much easier to believe that you’re getting somewhere.

4: Focus on form.

Whatever you do, do it well. There’s no point in battering through 200 sit ups if your abs dome outward every time; there’s no good in doing dozens of squats if your knees are taking the strain. The last thing you want is an injury that will set you back, so don’t try to lift 10kg if you can’t lift 5kg safely; don’t do ‘full’ press-ups if you can’t manage the complete range of movement. Do everything correctly to the best of your ability, and build up slowly. If you can’t do as much as you’d like to start with, then that’s a great basis for goal-setting and an incentive to keep working!

5: BELIEVE!

The single most important factor: you have to believe you’re going to do it. Visualise your goals, believe in them, believe in yourself. Get your friends and family on side, and tell them what you’re aiming for – their support will help keep you going on the ‘do-I-really-have-to’ days. Remember that, whatever you’re aiming to do, others will have done it before – and if they managed, then so can you. The first step to success is to get started, and the best time for that is always NOW.

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