We can blame a lack of desire to exercise on almost anything we want, but as The American Council on Exercise (ACE) points out, our excuses really boil down to the fact that it’s our brains that are holding us back from reaching our goals. The mind is often the main obstacle, so we have to develop strategies that can help us overcome not only the extrinsic roadblocks that frequently get in our way, but the mental hurdles, too. To help you learn how to identify and overcome these issues, we collected a list of ten common obstacles that often pop up on the road to fitness success, including a few that were recently deemed the most common by the expert professionals at ACE. These are the top reasons your fitness plan might be failing.
The experts at ACE found that for many, stress is (ironically) the number one exercise deterrent. It’s ironic because when you’re feeling stressed from the taxing hurdles that everyday life throws your way, exercising is one of the best thing you can do to help your mind and body unwind and relax. “Exercise helps alleviate stress, anxiety, and depression and helps boost your mood, enabling you to cope with whatever you’re facing,” ACE said.
“It takes at least six weeks of regular exercise and sometimes more for physiological changes to kick in,” the experts at ACE explain. Basically, you can’t begin a new exercise plan and then feel defeated when you haven’t reached your goal after just one or two weeks. You’re more likely to quit when you’re feeling disappointed with yourself, but this can easily be avoided by making sure that you understand how much time it will really take to achieve the results you want by “setting realistic goals” and “practicing extreme patience.” The experts at ACE say that after some time you'll know you're on the right track because you're workouts will start to feel easier.
Sometimes we demand too much of our bodies, thinking that it will help us reach our goals faster. But if you tax your joints, bones, and muscles too much without allowing for adequate recovery between workouts, you’ll likely notice a decrease in your performance and will ultimately hinder your progress. “A day or two off from vigorous exercise each week is recommended for rest and recovery,” ACE says. “This can be done through a combination of scheduling rest days into your fitness plan and alternating hard and easy workouts.”
Sometimes we have to deal with things that are completely out of our control, like getting stuck in traffic or having to pick up the kids from school because your spouse got stuck at work. The key to dealing with obstacles like these, says ACE, is learning to accept the situation and “roll with it.” “Resilience is your ability to bounce back quickly from life’s surprises and setbacks,” they said. “As you become more resilient, you’re less likely to ditch your workout when something comes up. Instead, you’ll be able to quickly modify your plans and move forward.” Smart strategies for improving your resiliency include sleeping-well, cultivating good relationships, practicing optimism, and learning to take decisive action.
The experts at ACE say that negative thoughts like, “I’m so lazy,” “I didn’t even make it to the gym once this week,” and “I’ll never be fit,” quickly destroy your confidence and cloud your ability to visualize success. Basically, if you talk negatively to yourself and approach your fitness plan with a bad attitude you’ll destroy your motivation. ACE explains, “The next time you recognize a critical thought, stop it and replace it with a positive thought, like this: “I’m so proud of myself for walking at lunch time today. It took a lot of effort, but I did it.” Changing your habits and behaviors is hard work, which is why you have to give yourself praise and credit, even for each small step you take along the way.
You have to set your sights on a very specific achievement. If you only have a general idea of where you want to go (lose weight, build muscle, get abs) your motivation will start to wane quickly because you’ll essentially be wandering around aimlessly with no real plan or clear path defining where you want to go. Make a point to define tangible parameters for your goal and also provide a realistic time period for when you want to achieve it by.
After determining your overall, long-term goal, it’s important to step back from the bigger picture and zoom in on smaller, short-term goals. Think of them like stepping stones that will eventually help you reach your ultimate goal. Additionally, celebrating small success along the way will help to reinforce your motivation and they also serve as a way to check-in and evaluate whether or not you’re on track and if anything needs to be adjusted.
If you don’t plan for and schedule your workouts, they’re much less likely to happen. This includes both the need to schedule dates and times of your workouts as well as an overall fitness plan that will define what each workout will entail. “Write your workouts in advance,” says Crystal Reeves, a NASM certified personal trainer and co-owner of MadSweat . “What will your sets, reps, and weight be? Keep a log so you can see what you’ve done, what has worked and what hasn’t so you can modify it as you progress.”
Not only do you need to include different types of exercises so that you’ll continue to challenge your body, but also so that you won’t get bored. Try new exercises and stick with the workouts that you love most. If you’re excited about and can look forward to working out, it’s much more likely that you’ll stick to your fitness plan in the long-term.
Before you get started, make sure that your goal, or at least part of it, is something that’s really important to you. Extrinsic motivators like reducing body fat or fitting into an old pair of jeans will only sustain you for so long, but targeting an intrinsic goal, like finishing a marathon or reducing stress—something you can attach great value and meaning to—will keep you going long after your initial motivation fades. “Ask yourself, ‘Why would I get out of bed on a cold, dark, winter morning to knock out a workout even when I’m at my ideal weight?’ says Lisa Hisscock, an ACE certified personal trainer and Interval Training Rx coach. “Find the authentic answer to that, commit it to memory, and that is your ‘magic pill’ for exercise adherence,” she said.