By Lara McGlashan
Gave up on the gym already? Maybe it's your workout. Maybe it's your mind-set. Either way, let us get you started again — with a program you'll never abandon.
Can you imagine what it would be like to get to the gym every day — or even three times a week — like you said you would? Neither could these former wannabe hard-bodies. We challenged them to break their workout inertia: Could they develop a gym habit with some goal-setting, a good program, and a little introspection? We had personal trainer Johanna Subotovsky of Equinox Fitness give each woman a cardio and resistance-training program to follow on her own. See who fell in love with her workout, who's still searching, and how each one can inspire you.
"I Lost My Motivation" —Kristine, 27, graphic designer
Before: 0 workouts per week
"Three years ago, I worked at a gym and was in the best shape of my life. But my job and relationship took priority, and in the past two years, I have gone up three dress sizes and can't go up a flight of stairs without being winded."
Her "Aha" Moments
If you keep waiting for tomorrow, it's never gonna happen. "I discovered I've been making lots of excuses about why I can't work out. I just had to break the cycle and do it. I'm not a morning person, and it's especially hard to get out of bed because my room is cold in the morning. I told myself that I'd been given an opportunity by participating in this article, so I forced myself to get up. Later, I was saying to myself, 'Thank God I went.' I'm really proud I didn't let myself down."
Being accountable is crucial. "I'm not motivated to do things by myself, so I had a workout party with my boyfriend, some other friends, and personal trainer Jennifer Cassetta. She taught us martial arts moves — we even held up pads for each other to kick. It reminded me how much I liked martial arts when I was younger. Toward the end, we were trying to keep up with her, and we were all dying, but we made it through! Then we had tea and chatted. I loved it. Plus, my boyfriend was ready to collapse at the end of it, and it made him realize how out-of-shape he is, so we're making a resolution to get healthy together. It's impossible to get someone to work out if they're not motivated to do it, but it's easy to invite someone to do something active with you."
After: 3 workouts per week
"I kept up the routine, even though one of the weeks involved lots of hours at work. Next, I'm going to join a dance studio with my friends and take hip-hop classes (I'll be more likely to stick to a program if I have someone to work out with). I'm considering martial arts classes, too."
Trainer Johanna's Tips: Shorten Your Workouts
Do a resistance-training circuit if you're limited on time. Kristine did exercises that work more than one muscle group at a time, such as push-ups and squats, so that she would be done in 30 minutes. Doing the exercises consecutively, without taking a break, burns calories, builds strength, and keeps things interesting all at once.
Add 20 to 25 minutes of cardio after the circuit sessions. This burns more calories and builds endurance, so Kristine will be back to sprinting up the steps in a couple of months. Adding this workout to the circuit saves time you only need to get to the gym, change, and shower once for two different types of workouts.
"I'm Totally Bored by the Gym" —Brett, 31, craft designer
Before: 0 to 2 workouts per week
"In the past three months, I've gone from six workouts a week to two (or some weeks, none). I'm bored by the gym, and I'm losing the high level of fitness I worked so hard to build over the past two years."
Her "Aha" Moments
The first week sucks. "In the beginning, I had no energy or desire to do the workouts, and was bored stiff at the idea of long cardio sessions. Plus, every workout was hard, and I was sore every day. But I committed to sticking to it for a couple of weeks; after that, I was home free. You've got to hang in there until the magic kicks in. Then you feel great and don't think about it anymore."
I literally ran my errands. "I had a tight deadline on a project and needed to go to the button store. I wanted to work out — but knew doing both would eat up my afternoon. The old me would've skipped the workout, but I had a brainstorm and decided to run to the store and back (two miles each way). I'd normally never even attempt a four-mile run, but this felt easy: I think that having a destination made this less boring than trying to run a certain distance. And it was way more interesting than the treadmill. I definitely need some diversion to keep me doing cardio, so after that, I added Spinning class and some interval workouts."
Your mind affects your workout. "I took a class by Patricia Moreno, and it was insane: She constantly tells you to fill your mind with positive thoughts — it prevents you from thinking the negative ones ("This hurts/I can't do it") that make you want to stop. It's like a Jedi mind trick, because I pushed myself harder than I ever knew I could — afterward, I was exhausted and weak but was so pumped up, even the entire next day."
After: 5 workouts per week
"Once I stopped making excuses and whining about working out" — a Moreno no-no — "I was able to be focused and diligent."
Trainer Johanna's Tips: Keep It Interesting
Long cardio workouts (Brett needed 45- to 60-minute sessions, since she does triathlons in the summer) shouldn't be boring. Brett did some interval workouts (systematically playing with speed and elevation) to improve running speed and endurance and make her workout time fly. Intervals also give each workout a purpose, which boosts motivation.
To increase muscular endurance for longer, stronger workouts, Brett did eight to 10 weight-training moves with very little rest in between.
"I Don't Have Time" —Larissa, 35, planner for a cosmetics company
Before: 0 workouts per week
Her "Aha" Moments
Three days a week is unrealistic. "In the beginning, my goal was to get to the gym three days a week, but I was just too busy. I commute three hours a day, so I have to go really early in the morning or come home really late, and I feel like my kids need me to be home with them. I fell short of my expectations and disappointed myself. So I took that goal back and committed to the gym twice a week. And, what do you know, every week after that, I achieved or even exceeded that goal, which was really motivating."
Working out at home is still a workout. "My cable company has free workouts on demand — everything from 10-minute ab routines to 60-minute cardio sessions. Exercising at home is so much easier. I'm totally discombobulated at the gym: The first day, I forgot a lock, so I was walking around with my purse, my workout program, and a bottle of water. I forgot a towel and was grossing myself out about other people's sweat on the machines."
My kids can wait (at least for a little bit). "One day, my son wanted me to play a game with him. I said, 'OK, but I have to do this first,' and did a workout-on-demand. He lay down on the rug and waited for me to finish. Now I know I can really fit this in."
Activity adds up. "On the weekends, I logged more than 4000 steps on my pedometer — that's as many as I get when I go to the gym, and twice as many as I get on weekdays. I go up and down the stairs, do laundry, play with the kids, walk the dog. This showed me that if I can be more active during the workweek, it will really help me with weight loss and fitness."
After: 2 to 3 days in the gym; more activity during the day
"I'd forgotten how good it feels to move my body. Now I crave it. I weighed myself after three weeks and had lost four pounds."
Trainer Johanna's Tips: Do Anything More Than You Did Before
If getting to the gym is an unrealistic goal for you, add more activity into your day (it won't get you to the Olympics, but it will make you healthier and possibly even slimmer). Get a pedometer like Larissa did so that you can see if you're over- or underestimating your distance.
"I'm Just Lazy" —Christine, 31, private chef
Before: 2 to 3 workouts per week with a trainer
"I am naturally lazy, so exercise is a chore to me. In the past, I've gotten good results with a trainer, but I would like to learn to work out solo."
Her "Aha" Moments
More than my body benefits. "I took a yoga class and loved what it did for my body and my mind. I realized that the mental benefits of working out are almost as important to me as the physical ones: I really enjoyed being able to spend some time with my thoughts. I liked it so much that I booked a yoga retreat vacation for myself."
There's nothing like a written plan (except, maybe, a personal trainer). "Usually, I am too lazy to complete the given number of repetitions for an exercise: If I'm supposed to do 10 crunches, I will only do eight for no other reason than that there is no one to tell me to do 10. I don't know what to do on my own, so having a program written out for me was really helpful. I actually took my printed routine to the gym and followed it exactly — no shortcuts! I was really proud of myself, and I feel like I might be able to do this on my own after all. Of course, there are still obstacles: One night I went to a party and could not commit to a workout the next morning. But other times I just pushed myself to go. How do I feel? Better for at least trying."
Friends get me going...in the wrong direction. "If I'd been with a friend at the gym, I think that I wouldn't have been as serious about it; I might have cut the session short. But now, I bring my list of exercises with me and do what I'm supposed to do — that's not my typical self!"
After: 2 to 3 workouts a week on her own
"Having started to work out, it's easy for me to see how people can get addicted to it. It gives you a slight buzz and clears your mind and makes you feel really good. It's almost like a new drug."
Trainer Johanna's Tips: Overcome Laziness
Keep your resistance-training workout uncomplicated and you'll be more likely to do it. Christine did eight to 10 basic, easy-to-remember moves twice a week using free weights. Her moves hit each body part at least once, and included leg raises, squats, dumbbell chest presses, shoulder presses, and planks.
Group fitness classes are a great way to find a new workout to love.
"Workouts Don't Work for Me" —Jennifer, 27, corporate training coordinator
Before: 0 times per week
"I did a 'buff brides' program and nothing happened, so I gave up on working out entirely. But I really want to be in better shape for my wedding in September."
Her "Aha" Moments
An empty gym is a wonderful thing. "When I met Johanna in the gym, I realized I could either go in there and feel self-conscious that everyone has a better body, or with the idea that one day I will achieve that. The meeting went fine, but I still don't like the gym — I feel like people are staring at me. So I worked out in the gym in my building at night when there were fewer people. I also did a workout DVD or the strength moves Johanna gave me right in my apartment."
The note on the door can stop you. "In addition to working out, my fiancé, Keith, and I tried to make lifestyle changes. We posted a list of rules, such as no eating fast food at
3 a.m., avoiding alcohol during the week, and grocery shopping instead of ordering takeout all the time. We even typed out a sign for the back of the door that says, 'Keith, I know you're drunk, but do not go to McDonald's!' We did go there one night, but I only had a few chicken nuggets. It wasn't horrible."
You don't have to be regimented. "I don't do well with a rigid, inflexible program because if I miss a day I get so discouraged and stressed that I want to give up. So I took each day as it came, adjusting where I did my workouts according to the day or what was going on that week. One week, we went to a bunch of parties, and I stumbled a bit with eating and drinking. But I'm OK with it. I never want to be 'that' person who can't have fun because I'm watching my weight. A little indulgence now and then will not kill me, and I didn't allow myself to get all worked up over it."
After: 1 to 3 times a week ("A huge increase from doing nothing!")
"After three weeks, my engagement ring fits comfortably again (it had gotten tight). I still don't like the gym, but I think I have a better outlook on health and fitness. Before, we'd sit around and watch TV; now we're more likely to do a workout video or go downstairs to the gym and do some cardio."
Trainer Johanna's Tips: Make Progress
Pare down. If you don't like the gym, do push-ups, squats, lunges, and other exercises that don't require hand weights. You can do these any time, anywhere.
Vary your routine. Your body gets used to doing the same thing very quickly. To get stronger and leaner, Jennifer varied her twice-a-week circuit program. One time, she would do 10 repetitions of an exercise with a slightly heavier weight to work on strength; the other time, she'd do 15 reps with a lighter weight to work on endurance. You can also switch the order of your exercises; hold a ball instead of a weight; do upper-body work on a balance board...anything-just change it up.
No Willpower Needed: The True Secret to Sticking with It
What's keeping you from the gym, and from the body you want? "Fear, doubt, and negativity — those voices in your head that say, 'It's too hard; I'm too fat; I'm too lazy; I'm too skinny,'" says Patricia Moreno, founder of IntenSati.com, a fitness, lifestyle, and weight-loss coaching company in New York City. There's no way, for instance, that you're going to do another push-up when you have all this drama in your head about why you can't, she says: "In your workout (and your life), what you believe is what happens."
During your workout, play a game with yourself: Try to crowd out those negative thoughts by replacing them with other ones — like why you're doing a workout in the first place. "The biggest part of turning everything around is connecting to your deep desire to do it," Moreno says. When you figure out what you really, really want and why you really want it, the discipline required to get it becomes automatic. The art of discipline is focusing on your goal and, as she memorably puts it, "replacing the whiner with the winner."
In real life, it goes like this: You're doing lunges because you long for powerful, sexy legs. Resisting what you're doing by thinking, "It's burning like crazy!" interferes with what you're aiming for. Replace that thought with, "It's uncomfortable, but that's a sign that things are changing and I'm getting the legs I want." Time after time, says Moreno, "I've seen people go from 'I hate this' to 'Bring it on' and do far more than they ever thought they were capable of." That's the joy of discipline — and of getting your best body.