January is the time of year most people sign up to a gym. But, how can you avoid being among the 50-odd per cent who quit within the first six months?
According to exercise physiologist and director of UNSW's Lifestyle Clinic Chris Tzarimas, the first step is recognising the obstacles to your success.
Remove barriers, start simple and enlist help.Credit:Getty
“I think people go in with the best intentions, but you find motivation tends to peak and it’s easy to make the commit but sticking to it is the challenge,” Tzarimas says.
“You might decide on the Thursday afternoon ‘I’m absolutely committed and I’m really looking forward to doing this program’ and you walk out of there like you’ve finished an Anthony Robbins session, but the decision making doesn’t actually occur until that Monday morning when you're meant to start … and that depends on what frame of mind you’re in then.
“That’s going to largely dictate whether you follow through with that commitment. A lot of people don’t realise that.”
Barriers likely to influence your decision on that Monday morning broadly fit into four categories: interpersonal, interpersonal, environmental and organisational.
Intrapersonal factors often centre around self-belief and self-efficacy; the belief that you can actually attain your goal or that you are physically capable. Cultural pressures, centred on religion, age or body image, are another type of intrapersonal barrier.
Interpersonal barriers include having an unsupportive partner or boss, commitments to elderly or unwell family members or young children, as well as having too many other commitments in your calendar. “They are the sort of things that take up the time you could have allocated to exercise,” Tzarimas says.
A common environmental barrier in summer is uncomfortable weather, while organisational barriers relate to the convenience and cost of the activity.
“Once you’re able to identify the barriers, then you’re able to identify the enablers,” Tzarimas promises. “So for all the barriers you identify, you look at the solutions and pick at it one by one. It presents a clearer picture and you strategise.”
Say, for instance, it’s environmental and the weather is too hot, you might choose a cooler time of day to exercise. If it’s organisational and the location is a barrier, you might look at public transport options or enlist a friend to join you and share the ride.
If it’s interpersonal and you have an unsupportive partner, Tzarimas says: “There are ways of confronting that situation and work out a schedule and discuss how important it is for both parties, you know 'healthy body, healthy mind'.”
Regardless of the barrier, when we’re starting out it helps to have a support network either in the form of a personal trainer or a friend. Along with keeping us accountable, they can help us learn the ropes.
“You might consult an exercise professional just for a few sessions,” Tzarimas suggests. “That’s quite common nowadays. People don’t necessarily hire trainers for the long-term [but] just to get them started and familiarised with the equipment.”
Working out with others and feeling part of a community is also more likely to keep us coming back. Research by the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) found gym cancellation is 56 per cent higher among members who just use gym equipment compared with those who exercise in groups.
Finally, what you actually do at the gym can make or break your experience. Start simple and work on your larger muscle groups and stabilising your lumbar spine and your lumbar pelvic stability before progressing.
“I see a lot of people doing exercises that are considered to be advanced without a significant training history and they incur injury and it’s just not necessary,” Tzarimas says.
“I don’t think deadlifts, for instance, are a great exercise to do too soon. Kettlebell training is also not something I would jump into without having been previously quite physically conditioned. When you think about it it’s a cannonball with a handle on it.”
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