Your best friend loved yoga and swore it changed her life. So you tried a beginners' class at the gym -- but after 10 minutes of Downward Dog, you found yourself bored, uncomfortable, and constantly glancing around the room to see if someone else was doing the poses better than you were.
On to an indoor cycling class. You expected a challenge, but you didn't expect to be struggling for air after 10 minutes (again) and watching the 65-year-old guys on either side of you breeze through the program. Needless to say, that class wasn't for you either.
For a lot of people, that's how it goes with workout after workout. They try something new, and give them up in frustration, boredom, difficulty, or annoyance. Are you doomed to be an exercise dilettante? Not necessarily. You just need to find activities that suit your "workout personality."
When a new fitness craze comes along, it's easy to be convinced by all the hype that you should love it, too. You need a yoga mat, a set of Rollerblades and pads, your own Billy Blanks Tae-Bo library. But before you commit, and wind up discouraged, ask yourself a few questions that will help you figure out your own "workout personality" and choose the exercise program that will keep you motivated.
Owl or Lark?
First, figure out your body clock, says Pamela Peeke, MD, author of Fight Fat After Forty and an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland. "If you're an early morning type and like to kill your exercise off first thing in the morning, then get to bed at a reasonable hour and get going early. If you're an owl, schedule your workouts for late afternoon or the evening," she says. "If you're an owl, don't be doing lark stuff, or vice versa. You won't stick with it." You might think you hate that yoga class, but maybe you just hate getting up at 5:30 a.m. to get to the gym in time.
Then, ask yourself some questions about other people. Do they motivate you, or do they make you nervous? Are you a social animal, or a solo-flying eagle? "For some people, exercise must to be a social activity. They need to be able to go somewhere, see their friends, talk, and motivate each other to achieve a goal," says Melanie Polk, RD, director of nutrition education at the American Institute for Cancer Research. "Other people want quiet time for themselves while they exercise." Running, swimming, and cycling are all great solo activities. And some workouts can be adapted to suit your sociability. If you'd love to run but hate being out on the road alone, try signing up for a local road-runners club.
There's a scene in the movie Kissing Jessica Stein in which the heroine is trying the yoga her girlfriend loves. She sits appropriately cross-legged, breathing deep -- and keeps casting sidelong glances at the clock, which refuses to move. Jittery, energetic Jessica is a runner. She wants to "get somewhere" with her workout. Her more inner-focused girlfriend loves the relaxed, centered feeling she gets from yoga.
If you're like Jessica's girlfriend, find a workout that lets you get into the depth of the experience itself -- something like one of the many forms of yoga, Pilates, or tai chi. "Hammering it out on the treadmill might not do it for you," says Peeke.
While some people look inward during their workouts, others look outward. "Maybe you need a goal," suggests Peeke. Are you the kind of person who works best when you have a deadline? If you sign up for a race three months from now, you'll have a reason to slip on those running shoes every day. If you're not that competitive, but you do need to feel "rewarded," consider other goals. "Sign up for [an indoor spinning class] that will prepare you for a fall cycling trip to beautiful B&Bs in New England," Peeke says.
Of course, people don't fit neatly into boxes. Just because you love running solo doesn't mean you'll hate a Pilates class, and just because you enjoy the reflective, slow movement of tai chi doesn't mean you'll be jangled and jostled by a fast-paced kickboxing class. Once you've found the "workout you," try things that don't fit on occasion. "Exercise and physical activity needs to be individualized just like eating patterns do," says Polk.
Still not sure where your workout personality falls? Try this quiz from the American Institute for Cancer Research:
1. When I think about physical activity, I:
a. can't wait to put on my walking shoes
b. really want to exercise but need a push
c. dread the idea of moving a muscle, but am happy once I get moving
2. When I am physically active, I enjoy exercising:
a. by myself at my own pace
b. with a team or group
c. with one or two buddies
3. I exercise because:
a. I want to stay in shape, slim down, or improve my health
b. I want to see my friends and catch up on the latest news
c. the weather is nice or I just feel like it
4. When I take part in a physical activity, I usually:
a. plan the event ahead of time
b. participate when someone else has set up the activity or attend a class
c. pull it together quickly and do something active when the mood strikes
5. Others see me as:
a. a leader
b. a team player
c. someone who goes along with a good idea
6. I enjoy physical activities that are:
a. set by my own routine
b. set by a professional, teacher, or group
For every answer, give yourself:
A = 1 point
B = 2 points
C = 3 points
If you scored ...
6-9 points: you are a self-motivator
10-14 points: you are a team player
15-18 points: you are spontaneous
You like structure and organization. Creating and sticking to your own exercise plan is relatively easy, but you may find yourself losing interest in your usual routine. Try adding a few new activities such as biking, rowing, gardening, or hiking. Or try alternating your favorite workouts such as walking, swimming, and weightlifting on different days of the week.
To you, exercise is a way to socialize and stay connected to friends and family. Group activities and classes are a natural selection for you. Sign up for an exercise class; put together a group of friends for walking; or join a team sport or sports league such as bowling, softball, or doubles tennis.
You love freedom and loathe conforming to rigid rules. Things that get you moving might include a call from friends who need a fourth player for a round of golf, a hike in the woods to enjoy a beautiful fall day, or a walk to the store when you are out of milk. These activities are great, but make sure you're doing something active on most days.