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How to Go from “I Should Work Out” to “I Did Work Out” in 30 Seconds

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Working Out On any given day only 5 percent of Americans do some sort of vigorous activity according to the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, even though 86 percent of Americans think they should be. That is a pretty big gap. The good news: teeth gritting every day is not the answer.

At my gym in D.C. we have a saying, “strategy trumps willpower” (which I stole from celebrity trainer Valerie Waters). Willpower is a finite resource that you will be using up every day, or not replenishing it because you didn’t get to sleep – the point is that you can’t count on having a full tank of willpower to spend on health and .

Smart strategies allow you to take the willpower you do have and use a very small portion of it to get consistent results. Willpower without strategy is relying on willpower alone (and lots of it) to get very inconsistent and usually poor results.

The Link Between Homework and Fitness

In the late 90s, German researchers looked at the behavior of two groups of college students. Both groups had an extra credit paper to write over their Christmas break about how they chose to spend their Christmas Eve. The only difference was:

-Group 1 was told to write the paper within two days of Christmas

-Group 2 had the exact same assignment, but before they left class that day they had to decide on three important pieces of information – the day they would write the paper, the time they would write the paper, and the exact place they would write their paper.

Only 32 percent of group 1 completed the paper, whereas 71 percent of group 2 completed the paper on time. This is about 40 percent better follow-through with about 30 seconds of thinking and writing.

You Can Do This!

What do most people say to themselves, or to someone else when they get on an “ kick”? “Oh, I’m going to start exercising a couple times per week.”

How well does that declaration work? Not well. It’s too nebulous – when will you start? How many is a couple? What will you do? Where will you do it? When will you do it?

Putting It into Action

With fitness goals, you have one additional piece of information to decide upon – what am I going to do? (In the above study, this decision was made for them – they had to write a specific paper.)

Step 1: Get out your planner, or your iPad, or whatever you use to keep track of appointments.

Step 2: For the coming week, write in the answers for the four questions:

a. What days and times? Example: Monday at 6 p.m., Wednesday at 5:30 p.m., and Friday at 7 a.m.

b. Where? Example: At the gym

c. What will you do? Example: one hour of resistance training on Monday, 40 minutes of high intensity interval training that includes 15 minutes of stretching and foam rolling before I start (so really 25 minutes of hard work), and then on Friday one hour of resistance training again.

Step 3: Make sure you wrote it down.

Step 4: Show up as close to on-time as possible. (A bonus tip for the “show up” part is to not talk to yourself about if you will or will not. There is nothing productive that will come out of trying to “talk” yourself into working out. Your thoughts are completely irrelevant at this point. Just move your feet.)


Josef Brandenburg is a Washington, D.C.-area certified fitness expert with 11 years of experience. In 2004, he started The Body You Want personal training fitness program, which specializes in weight loss and body transformations for busy people. Read more about The Body You Want at www.josefbrandenburg.com.


(c)2012, Josef Brandenburg. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.


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Article updated on: February 28th, 2012

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