You made your New Year's resolution and you've been doing pretty good for those first couple of weeks -- but now you're starting to lose focus and are struggling to stay motivated. That extra hour of sleep sounds better than that morning run, or those free breakfast tacos are more appealing to you than your healthy homemade meal. You still want to reach your goals but you haven't established these new behaviors as habits just yet. This is the critical "make or break" phase where your decisions have enormous impact.
What can you do? Let's talk options.
1. REAL REWARDS FOR YOUR WORK
One surefire way to keep your healthy habits going strong is to give yourself a real reward for a job well done. Working out a positive "habit loop" which involves a cue to trigger the behavior (setting your running shoes next to the door), the routine (running) and then the reward (getting a smoothie or watching an episode of your favorite show afterward) will generate a Pavlovian response to the behavior, increasing the chances of the routine becoming habitual according to Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.
Over time, the extrinsic motivation (that is, the tangible reward mentioned above) becomes an intrinsic motivation and the brain begins to associate the sensations of the new behavior with a surge of endorphins. Once your brain is trained to recognize the workout itself as the reward, you won't feel the need for the treat anymore.
2. JOIN A GYM OR GROUP YOU ENJOY
Logic stands to reason that if you're doing your new activities in an environment you like or with people whose company you enjoy, you're more likely to look forward to going. The cost of a given gym or club membership may be prohibitive for you, but definitely shop around and look at your options as best you can. There are many free or low-cost clubs out there, as well as online groups on social media who meet up in person. So long as you can find a way to look forward to being in the place you perform your new behaviors, or enjoy the company you have when you get there, you will generate a new form of motivation for yourself. A strong and supportive fitness community or appealing environment can make all the difference.
3. DRESS FOR SUCCESS EVEN WHEN YOU DON'T FEEL LIKE IT
Oftentimes putting your running shoes on even if you don't feel like running will help to talk you into enacting the behavior you're trying to maintain. Research suggests that our brains are susceptible to "enclothed cognition," which is a fancy way of saying that dressing the part helps to galvanize you toward completing the task. If you put on your workout gear, even if you don't feel like working out you are very likely to find yourself doing just that.
4. MAKE A COMMITMENT, POSSIBLY COMPETE
Joining a fitness or wellness challenge or signing a commitment contract with a gym buddy is a great way to keep you accountable. But don't just put in the work -- be sure that you check in regularly with the people participating in the challenge, or set up a schedule with your buddy so that you know that someone else is counting on you to show up and get it done. Don't let your gym buddy off the hook -- and make sure they don't let you off the hook either!
When you have a friend or two to train with and they're killing the workout, you also feel motivated to push yourself. If you're a competitive person, set up a competition with other people. Maybe you do a versus battle with coworkers for who has the highest number of steps each week, or set up a weight loss challenge; whatever it is, make sure there are some sort of rewards at the end. Anything from simple bragging rights to perhaps a gift card purchased with a money pool from participants who now have a financial stake in the event. You can even bet on yourself using Pact, where you and others pay into a collective pool and set individual goals. If you meet your targets, you cash out; if not, you lose the money.
5. NO RULES ARE THE BEST RULES
Once you set up strict rules for yourself ("I have to start on Monday otherwise I won't be able to do it") makes it easy for you to talk yourself out of that behavior according to Dr. Deborah Feltz, professor of Kinesiology at Michigan State University and author of several fitness studies. The fact of the matter is that life happens and your hard and fast rules don't allow for the bending that needs to take place on a regular basis when conditions are not 100% favorable. Be willing to be flexible and change up your routine if you need to in order to get in whatever you can. Even if you're scheduled for a long run, if you wake up feeling ill perhaps the most you can do is take a walk or perhaps an easy, short jog -- or maybe you need to change up your activity entirely and do yoga instead. Be willing to be flexible.
6. CHANGE IT UP
If you're a resolutioner and you're only a couple of weeks in this possibly doesn't apply to you just yet, but keep it in mind: you may just be bored of the routine and need to switch up what you're doing and how you're doing it. Once you fall into a rut of doing the same thing every day you stop feeling excited about it and your effort ceases to be focused as you start to run on autopilot.
You may want to select a fresh goal (even if it's only slightly adapted from your original goal) and adjust your plans accordingly. You may want to find a new place to execute it or new method to enact it. Your goals that you set may simply be too far off and you need to add some smaller sub-goals to keep yourself going. In either event take a look at what's making you lose interest and swap things up as needed.
7. RETHINK POSITIVE THINKING
Everyone's heard about the power of positive thinking, and perhaps have even experienced it for themselves. But visualizations and other mind tricks only work when you add realistic problem-solving to the mix according to Dr. Gabriele Oettingen, psychologist and author of Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation.
It's not just about making a SMART goal and visualizing the outcome (as discussed in last week's article), but it's also about identifying what is holding you back and then troubleshooting. During a study of students who wanted to eat fewer junk food snacks, researchers asked participants to imagine the benefits of snacking on better foods. Those who identified the thing that made healthy snacking difficult for them and came up with a plan to counteract it were most successful at sticking to their goal. The trigger? They wanted something sweet. The solution? Eating fruit.
If you feel too tired after work to work out, try swapping to lunchtime or morning workouts or go straight to the gym after work rather than stopping at home first.
8. TRACK THAT
Nothing kills motivation like the sensation that you're getting nowhere. Chances are you're making progress, but you may not notice if these changes are gradual. Weighing in each week or noting how much weight you're lifting and keeping a record -- or participating in a fit test each month for example -- are great ways to see where you're at with regard to your wellness goals.
Moreover, tracking what you eat raises your awareness and personal (internal) accountability when you log that cheat meal in on MyFitnessPal or your tracking app of choice. Especially when you link up with a friend and allow them to see what you're up to, you know that someone else is noticing what you do and that allows for external accountability as well.
9. PLAN YOUR ROUTE AND SET REMINDERS
Planning is a crucial element of reaching any goal, and most of us need reminders as well in today's culture of distraction. I talked all about it in last week's article, so check it out!
10. THE EARLIER THE BETTER, OR PACK SNACKS
If you're finding that you get distracted by the events of the day and your plans are consistently getting derailed you may benefit from waking up earlier and getting your workout in before your day begins. Getting out of bed is tough especially that first week, but it may just be your path to success.
If low energy is the cause of your after-work workout woes, be sure you're eating breakfast and packing snacks. Eating breakfast helps you stay energized all day long according to Wendy Bazilian, RD and co-author of The Super Foods Rx Diet: Lose Weight with the Power of SuperNutrients. Be sure it includes protein, a fruit or veggie, and a complex carbohydrate such as whole grain toast. A pre-exercise snack to eat about 45 minutes before you train is an optimal habit as well to attain energy to power through. Your snack should be small and easily digestible, and mostly carbs with a little protein. Something like an apple with peanut butter, for example.
11. CALL IN A PROFESSIONAL
You may find that you've reached the limits of your personal knowledge and need some expert advice. A certified fitness instructor or registered dietitian may be just what you need to help you reach your goals. These folks can program training that works best for you, teach you how to use your gym's equipment, account for your personal situation and conditions, set up a meal plan etc. If you have a professional service contract in place, this is also a tangible, financial commitment that may help you feel more obligated to your goals (yes, this is really a thing that helps motivate people).
12. STOP MAKING WELLNESS ABOUT HOW YOU LOOK
A frequent pitfall of resolutioners is obsessing with how they look and making that the be-all, end-all for their wellness goals. Chances are you desire to look like someone who has an entirely different body type and wellness history than yourself. While sometimes it's possible to reach a state of having six-pack abs or whatever your goal may be, it may also be outside of your genetics/body type. I for example will never have an hourglass figure because I have a short torso; I will also never have a thigh gap regardless of how small I am because of how my hip and leg bones are positioned. Set goals that begin with where you are and are attainable, and be sure to break down your goals into smaller victories along the way such as losing 5% of your body weight for example, executing a perfect push-up or running a full mile without stopping. Review last week's article for more about successful goal-setting.
13. DO WHAT YOU LOVE
If you hate every moment of the thing you're doing, you're not likely to keep up the habit. Prioritize workouts that you'll look forward to and plan meals that are appealing to you (but still healthy).
14. SHARE YOUR PROGRESS
Posting your gym selfie or results of your meal prep, checking into your accountability group, or just talking to a loved one about how your training or meal planning went is a great way to hold yourself accountable. Very often people I don't even know are paying attention to my posts will ask me during a lapse what I'm up to and when I'll be posting again; sometimes when I'm engaged in an easy-to-follow daily challenge others will participate along with me without posting about it. Knowing that people are watching and deriving inspiration from what I'm doing is a tremendous motivator for me.
15. DON'T BE AFRAID TO START SMALL
Got 5 minutes? Apparently you do if you're reading this! So make a plan to do a 5-minute workout every day and stick to it. Work your way up from there -- when you're comfortable with 5 minutes, bump it up to 10 minutes.
There are all kinds of free workout videos on YouTube for 5-minute workouts you can do right where you are. Take a look, set up a playlist and get crackin'!
16. DO IT FOR A NOBLE REASON
Sign up for a charity race or event or participate in an event that offers charity fundraising. Once you begin raising money for a cause you believe in, you now have a sense of debt that you need to strive for and a deadline in sight, the end goal of completing that marathon or finishing that event for the sake of the people receiving the charity and the people who donating on good faith that you'd execute your training. This is a phenomenal way to keep you focused on your target.
17. CONSIDER EXERCISE AN ESCAPE FROM THE DIGITAL WORLD
Put your phone on Do Not Disturb if you use it to listen to music while you work out or pick up a now-archaic MP3 player that's not attached to any network. Drop your phone all together in your gym locker, leave it at home or in your car. Take your fitness time as time in the real world away from your devices and think of it as your time off the grid.
18. ...OR MAKE IT A GAME
For some folks, the digital world is absolutely essential. So why not use that connection to your advantage? Try Zombies, Run! for example, or any app from MapMyFitness Inc which all have some "fun" components to them.
19. MAKE IT CONVENIENT
Train at a gym close to home. Train at home. Start your run the moment you step outside the door. Set up your meal plan and write up your grocery list in advance of the day you to go to the store. Prep your healthy snacks (cut up fruits and veggies etc) and put them into single serving containers and bring them along. Carry your water bottle everywhere.
The easier you make it to adhere to your chosen behavior, the more likely that you will engage it.
20. TRY THE 5-MINUTE RULE
What is the 5-minute rule? Set a timer and start your workout. If after five minutes you still don't want to be doing it, stop. In most cases, once you get started it doesn't seem so bad after all; starting is the hardest part!
21. TAKE A BREAK
Yes, that's right. Your lack of enthusiasm may potentially be a sign of overtraining and you may just need a day off particularly if you have been consistently training for a long time. If you do take a break, don't make it open-ended: set a hard end date for the break when you resume your normal schedule.
Maybe you made a New Year's resolution. Perhaps you have a special event coming up. You may just have woken up one day and realized that you aren't at the place you want to be with your overall health and wellness. For whatever reason, you start a training plan. It's going great, and you begin losing weight and building muscle. You stick to what works for several months, and end up hitting a plateau. Now the weight stops melting off. Maybe you even gain a little back. Suddenly you're having trouble getting back to that state you were in at first, with the type of strength and endurance gains that you were seeing so quickly at first. This is a natural result of becoming fitter. Your body adapts to the demands placed on it, and it requires new stressors (new movement types, training intensities and styles) in order to yield fresh weight loss and muscle gain.
PERIODIZATION: WHAT IT IS AND HOW IT CAME ABOUT
Periodization is an organized approach to training that involves progressive cycling of various aspects of a training program during a specific period of time.
Periodization is known to have been used in sports as far back 2nd century AD, when Galen and Philostratus developed training theories which laid the foundation for contemporary training periodization in order to excel at the Olympic games. Galen in particular implemented the idea of building strength without speed and speed without strength, and then using intense exercises to combine both elements after they had been trained individually.
In the 20th century, a couple of fresh faces offered up the bones which would eventually meld together to form modern periodization.
A factory supervisor named Frederick Winslow Taylor founded the Principles of Scientific Management which laid out a systematic method of organization and planning in order to achieve the best outcomes in the most efficient manner.
Hans Selye was an endocrinologist who studied non-specific responses of an organism to stressors. He identified two types of stress: eustress, which generates beneficial muscle strength and growth; and distress, which leads to tissue damage and disease.
Selye's General Adapatation Syndrome (GAS) model describes predictable way the body responds to stress, outlined in 3 phases: the alarm stage, where the body isn't sure of what's happening and provides a burst of energy (also known as "fight or flight"); the resistance stage, where the body attempts to fight back by adapting to the stressor (muscle growth and improvement); and the exhaustion stage, when the long-term stressor is not removed and the body has depleted all of its energy (over-training). Speaking in terms of the GAS model, the principle of periodization is used to prevent over-training (the exhaustion stage) and keep the body constantly adapting to new stressors (the resistance stage) in order to consistently achieve beneficial results.
Modern periodization combined the principles of Taylor and Selye with Soviet 5-year plans. It originated in Russia after the 1956 Olympic games and is credited to sports scientist Lev P. Matveyev. After its initial implementation, Romanian sports scientist Tudor Bompa further expanded its scope.
In more recent years, GAS has been criticized as a basis for periodization theory because it describes response to a general stressor and was not created specifically for fitness training. As a result, two new models were developed: the Stimulus-Fatigue-Recovery-Adaptation (SFRA) model which states that training stress is dependent on many factors such as intensity and volume of training; and the Fitness-Fatigue model (also known as the Impulse-Response model), which suggests that fitness and fatigue are inversely related and thus strategies that maximize fitness and decrease fatigue are most optimal.
The SFRA model can be seen in the progressive overloads found in strength training and the implementation of rest days in order to give your body time to recover. A well-known example of the Fitness-Fatigue model is tapering, where training volume is dialed back in order to eliminate fatigue and express maximal strength, power and endurance leading up to a fitness event.
WHY YOU NEED PERIODIZATION
There are several proven benefits to utilizing a form of periodization in your workout cycles, as follows:
A study performed at the Human Performance Laboratory at Ball State University has shown that a periodized strength traning program can produce better results than a non-periodized program. It was published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise in 2001 and its purpose was to determine the long-term adaptations associated with low-volume, circuit-type training vs. periodized, high-volume resistance training in women. These effects are also seen in periodized cardiovascular training as well, so regardless of the type of training you perform, periodization will accelerate your progress.
THE THREE CYCLES
There are 3 types of periodization cycles: a microcycle is a period up to 7 days; a mesocycle is anywhere from 2 weeks to a few months; and a macrocycle is the overall training period (usually a year).
Training programs placed on an indefinite loop (i.e., for general health and wellness not tied to a specific event) use 1 week for the microcycle, 1 month for the mesocycle, and 1 year for the macrocycle. If you have a hard deadline (such as an event), however, your cycles will change according to your needs.
Before discussing how to use periodization in your own workout cycles, it's critical to go over some of the fundamental concepts:
The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) uses the Optimum Performance Training (OPT) model. Clients of a NASM trainer will work on different aspects of physical fitness according to their goals on a periodized cycle. These cycles focus on certain key elements of fitness as shown in the diagram below. As a client progresses through cycles of the OPT training phases, their training intensities and loads increase per the aforementioned concepts.
Stabilization endurance refers to your base fitness and works on improving your balance, coordination, endurance and core stabilizer strength. This is also where corrective exercise is performed in order to ameliorate muscle imbalances, posture and general stability and proprioception.
Strength endurance trains up muscle strength while still working on your core stabilizers and endurance.
Hypertrophy cycles focus on muscle growth using high volume with short rest periods.
Maximal strength increases the recruitment of more motor units, rate of force production and motor unit synchronization. This is more sport-specific and often a main focus for bodybuilders and powerlifters.
Power refers to explosive energy adaptation used in sprinting and powerlifting. This is another sport-specific focus that is not often implemented by those seeking general fitness benefits.
The above categories of training are employed in different periodization models according to preference, need, and how the body responds to each. The most common models are linear (traditional) periodization, block periodization and undulating periodization.
This refers to the system developed back in the 50s and 60s by Matveyev and later honed by Bompa. When using this form of periodization, the training volume decreases over time while training intensity and load increase over time with a taper at the end leading into the next cycle.
This is a training structure in which volume and intensity/load both go up and down repeatedly over time. There are two primary subcategories: weekly undulating periodization (WUP) and daily undulating periodization (DUP).
WUP fluctuates in volume and intensity each week. So if in a linear/traditional style you would lift 70% 1RM (one rep max) on week 1, 75% on week 2, 80% on week 3 and 85% on week 4, a weekly undulating approach may instead be 70% on week 1, 80% on week 2, 75% on week 3 and 85% on week 4. Rather than simply increasing each week, the intensity goes up, down, up, down.
A daily undulating periodization style would mean that if your weekly intensity is 75% 1RM, your first session that week might be 70% and your second session 80%. The overall intensity will equal the week's scheduled load, but how you reach that goal within the week is through a series of different intensities.
This style of programming was originally designed for sports that had more than one major competition or event per year. It is more generally described as having a block focused on strength endurance, followed by a block focused on hypertrophy, following by a block focused on maximal strength, followed by a block focused on power and velocity (followed by a competition block if a team sport athlete).
For years, periodization theorists (and enthusiasts) have argued about which model is the best (and why other models are inferior), which is why the research has treated them as separate concepts.
USING PERIODIZATION IN YOUR TRAINING
If you're working with a personal trainer or following a pre-made fitness program, you are already working within the periodization model. However, if your workouts are independent of this form of guidance, you can style your plan using periodization methods by considering the factors below:
Most sports utilize 12-week cycles, meaning that the training style and focus remains the same for 3 months and then changes using any number of the above-listed variables. If you have a particular event in mind, however, your cycle duration may change.
Depending on your starting fitness level, you may need to cycle between the first two phases of training (stabilization endurance and strength endurance, as described above) a a few times before progressing to the hypertrophy stage. For general weight loss and fitness, you will remain in phases 1 and 2 for most of your training. You may vary any of the aforementioned factors in order to provide variety within that scope, however. A few ideas for starting your own program design can be found here. There are all kinds of periodization samples and mock-ups online, with a variety of theories behind each. Take the time to find what works for you -- or seek out a personal trainer to assist in your personal programming.
WHEN LIFE HAPPENS
Every training plan and trainer says the same thing: consistency is key. The problem lies in the following: For professional athletes, their lives revolve around training. For everyone else, training revolves around their lives.
What I mean by this is simply that life happens and sometimes things come up which interrupts your perfect training schedule: work gets busy; you get sick; your kids get sick; vacation; family joys or crises happen; and so on. Unless you are a professional athlete, this means your training will drop back or be put on hold until things clear up again as working out is not your first priority. Here are a few important things to remember when things come up:
As fall marches on toward winter, it's important to dress properly for your workouts in order to ensure that you may continue training without injury or excessive discomfort. Unless you live in a climate which is mild year-round, the chill of the latter half of the year can present a challenge -- sometimes even a roadblock -- to the maintenance of your usual fitness regimen. Today we'll go over some tips on what to wear, how to layer and how to train as the seasons become cooler.
DRESS FOR SUCCESS
The main thing to remember about training in the cold is that the key is layering clothing made of technical materials.
There are two main methods of dressing for colder temperatures, but what I will describe today is the "Wicking Method" as I find it to be the most common, most popular tactic. For more information on the "Sauna Method," check out this TrainingPeaks article.
DON'T WEAR COTTON.
Cotton is great for towels, but terrible for training gear because it absorbs water and sweat and retains it. There's nothing worse than having cold sweat rubbing up against your skin when you're exercising outdoors in the winter (or any time of the year, let's be real).
Tech materials such as nylon, polyester, spandex, polypropylene and any number of blends wick moisture away which keeps you drier and warmer. They also tend to dry much faster than cotton. If you'd still prefer a natural material, wool is a good choice.
Everyone's cold tolerance is different, as is each person's workout. Someone from Minnesota can handle the cold much better than someone from South Florida. And if you're doing a long run for several hours outside, your needs will be different from someone who is attending an hour-long bootcamp session. A good rule of thumb is to add 20 degrees to the outside temperature to calculate your "training temperature," which is how warm you feel once moving. This doesn't take into consideration the humidity (rain) or windchill, and it's dependent on body size, training intensity and duration of exercise. Smaller people or those working out for a short or easy session should only add 10 to 15 degrees to estimate training temperature.
It's best to try out the information listed below and adjust as necessary for your training needs. Rather than a single thick layer, it is always better to wear several thinner layers so that you may adjust as needed during your session.
Your base layer can be any sleeve length which works for you, but should be made of breathable tech material. It is best if this layer is form-fitted. Your outermost layer should be condition-appropriate: if it's windy, wear a windbreaker or wind vest. If it's sunny, opt for fleece, wool or another cold weather shirt over your bottom layer. Consider arm and leg warmers, particularly if you are a cyclist. Swimmers should consider a long sleeve rash guard to provide an extra later of insulation if they have trouble keeping warm. When it's raining, be sure to always wear a waterproof outer layer.
A great deal of heat escapes from the head, so the colder it gets the more you will want to consider protecting your head and neck. Hats and beanies/skullcaps are warmer than headbands. Turtlenecks help keep your neck warm and protected, but neck gaiters/buffs can be used to protect your face and may also be removed once you warm up. Balaclavas, in addition to making you look like a ninja, provide extra protection for your entire neck and head including your face.
Your hands and feet are most likely to get cold quickly as when the temperature drops your body relocates much of the blood to the core to preserve your internal temperature. This can help protect against hypothermia, but leaves your extremities prone to frostnip (skin numbness or tingling due to cold) or all-out frostbite (damage due to freezing skin). Depending on the temperature, consider gloves or mittens that provide appropriate insulation. If it's particularly cold you will need a glove liner as well. For the feet, be sure to use socks made of tech material or smart wool. Cyclists may consider neoprene booties, toe covers or shoe covers.
If you're training in the snow and ice be sure that your shoes have a good grip. If running in snow, try vapor barrier or waterproof socks (SealSkinz is a good brand); another option is to wear a plastic bag between your socks and shoes.
As it gets dark earlier, be sure to wear reflective clothing or add lights and reflective straps or a vest to your outermost layer. You will also want to keep dry, warm clothes on hand in your car or at your starting point so that you may immediately remove your wet training gear.
Athletes who routinely consume water or sports drinks in the summer heat are much less likely to do so in the colder months. Cold weather is often drier, especially at higher altitudes. More fluid is lost as vapor through breathing. Cold also suppresses thirst so athletes don't think they need as much water. Failure to drink carries the same risks in the cold as in the heat: dehydration, bonking and even fatigue-related injury, so it is critical to establish and execute a hydration schedule during the winter months.
Drink water or a sports drink during all workouts lasting longer than an hour on a schedule of 4-6oz every 10 to 15 minutes. Consider heating your drink of choice before heading outdoors to make it more palatable, as many do not drink because they don't wish to feel cold.
DON'T WAIT UNTIL YOU ARE THIRSTY TO DRINK!
When your body temperature drops, your appetite is stimulated as your body attempts to entice you to consume extra food to keep it fueled and warm. If you become chilled during your winter workout, you will likely find yourself craving more fuel than usual. Due to thermogenesis, 30-60 minutes after you eat your body generates about 10% more heat than when you have an empty stomach.
Cold weather itself does not increase calorie needs and you don't burn extra calories unless your body temperature drops to the point that you begin to shiver. However, your body expends a lot of energy warming and humidifying the air you breathe when you exercise in the cold. If you are wearing a lot of extra gear -- skis or boots, a heavy parka, snow shoes etc -- then you will expend some extra calories from carrying the additional weight but the extra clothing of your average winter runner will not affect nutrition requirements.
Although more calories are burned when the air is especially cold and dry and snow, ice and slush makes your muscles work harder, in milder winter weather your nutrition needs are predominantly affected by your ability to dress properly for the weather. If you're consuming considerably more calories thank usual in temperatures above freezing, you probably need to adjust your training gear.
TIPS & TRICKS