How to develop a fitness routine you’ll actually stick with, according to personal trainers

  • It’s not always easy to develop an effective workout routine, especially if you’re just starting out. 
  • You’ll first want to determine your specific goals, such as building strength or improving cardio. 
  • It’s also important to start a routine you’ll stick with long-term, instead of something you’ll burn out on.

Having a consistent workout routine is essential when it comes to getting in shape. But creating a fitness plan that fits your lifestyle can be tricky — especially if you’ve never followed one before.

An effective workout routine should cater to your body’s specific needs and your personal fitness goals while still being relatively easy to follow. To help you achieve that optimal balance, I reached out to two personal trainers and fitness experts for insight into how to develop a fitness routine that works for you.

How to develop a fitness routine

The seemingly never-ending supply of health and wellness information might be overwhelming to sift through. But personal trainer, Danielle Gray, says that after your doctor clears you to exercise, the first step in developing your routine is to know your “why.”

“Figure out what your goals are and then you can determine what type of training will help you get there,” she says. Some common goals include muscle building, weight loss, or increasing endurance.

Personal trainer, Ben Reale, agrees with the importance of finding your “why,” adding that the next step after goal-setting is to do a self- and physical assessment to determine your current fitness levels. Some gyms and personal trainers offer consultations that can help with this, or you can use an app like Fit Body or Le Sweat TV.

“Free information is widely available on the internet,” Reale says. “It just takes a little research. Make sure whatever source you’re following the advice of has the credentials to back it up.”

What should I prioritize? 

What you prioritize in your fitness routine depends entirely on the goals you set. 

For instance, if you want to lose weight, focus on cardio-based exercises like:

Weight training is another good exercise to implement into your fitness regime because it can help you build strength and lose weight. 

One study found that doing just 11 minutes of strength exercises three times a week can increase your resting metabolic rate (which is how many calories your body burns while resting) by over 7%. Weight training may also strengthen your bones and joints, and allows you to lower your overall risk of injury.

But you don’t necessarily have to choose between doing one form of exercise over the other and can instead do a healthy mix of both throughout the week.

Here’s a sample fitness routine broken down by each day of the week, as provided by Reale:

What exercises should I avoid? 

Studies show the risk of injury is higher for novice exercisers than for people with experience. Reale says that a good rule of thumb is to focus less on the intensity of your exercise and more on the quality of movement, such as learning proper form and technique. 

“The reason why people end up getting injured is that they’re just trying to do the most challenging thing they can without the ability or experience needed,” says Reale. “When done repeatedly, the probability of some kind of injury increases exponentially. Instead, focus on developing quality movement patterns and progressing aerobic ability at easy paces.”

Should I do the same routine every week? 

Consistency is key and you need to stick with an exercise routine in order to see results. While the science is still out on exactly how long you need to do the same routine, Reale encourages people not to change it for at least 6-12 weeks when starting out.

“People often change exercises entirely too frequently,” he says. “This is why most people cannot seem to lose weight, gain muscle, or get faster. Constantly changing workouts, in the absence of any long-term plan, makes it impossible for the body to adapt.”

But that doesn’t mean you have to do bicep curls until you can do no more; Reale says you can switch up the individual exercises you’re doing so long as they target the same muscle group.

How to stick to a fitness routine

The last step in developing a successful fitness routine is sticking with it. To do that, Gray suggests getting realistic in terms of what you can commit to doing on a regular basis, and then creating a non-negotiable time in your schedule for it.

“Blocking out time in your calendar forces you to prioritize,” she says. “Treat your training and recovery time as an important meeting with yourself. Sometimes even creating a fitness profile and sharing your progress is a great way to keep yourself motivated, receive encouragement, and practice a routine.”

Gray adds that beginners should develop a schedule they can stick to at least 90% of the time, even if that means they only train once a week to start. “Start small and grow gradually,” she says.

Tracking your routine is another effective method for keeping yourself motivated. Gray has her clients keep a fitness journal to document not only their workouts and how they’re progressing but also how they feel after a workout. Here are a few things she says to track:

  • The difficulty of your workouts on a scale of 1-10
  • Measurements like how fast you’re running during your morning jog or the amount of weight you’re using for a deadlift
  • Progress photos

Insider’s takeaway

Creating a successful fitness routine doesn’t have to be intimidating or overwhelming. The key is to set realistic goals and expectations while staying consistent with your workouts. 

By intentionally building a workout plan that fits your lifestyle and by tracking your progress, you can find a routine that serves you well both in the short and long term. And finding something you’re able to stick with goes a long way toward allowing you to see genuine progress. 

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