Quick, what's the most difficult aspect of your fitness program?
If you're like most guys, it's getting to the gym regularly and eating right every day, even when you don't feel like it. You're a little tired, the dog needs walking, they're rerunning The Sopranos, etc.
It's easy to slag off once in a while. Unfortunately, it's the little slips that can really eat into your progress, or even stop it.
To provide ideas about keeping a fitness program afloat when the going gets tough, we turned to the real experts in the subject—guys who've been following this advice themselves for months, years, even decades.
In addition to a number of fitness professionals and experts in the field, we asked readers to tell how they keep themselves motivated week after week, and they responded with some great suggestions. So the next time you're tempted to skip a workout or gorge on a bucket of tater tots, keep these real-life maxims in mind.
Have a Purpose
1. I write down time-specific goals in my diary, so I can see whether I have attained them when the time is up.
—Gary Lee, reader
2. I write down what I want to achieve for the day, how I will achieve it, and check it when I have accomplished it. And I keep the list posted on the mirror in my bathroom.
—Jason Sablan, reader
3. What helps me the most is setting up short-term goals—I always make sure that I have certain points along the way that I can track my progress with. This keeps me going when times are tough and I don't feel like working out.
—Kevin Valluzzi, in-home personal trainer and triathlete in Bergen County, N.J.
4. I keep a daily journal of my cardio/weight-training workouts as well as everything I eat. This holds me accountable and allows me to chart my progress in a specific way.
—Barry Cook, reader
5. I have to make a million decisions during the week, both at work and at home. Working out may be hard, but it's also an hour when I can relax and focus on one thing.
—Michael Arens, reader
6. My cross-country/track coach has told me to pick one guy on the team and set my goal to beat him. You have to constantly think, If I don't work out today, ‘so-and-so' is going to get ahead of me and have a greater advantage.
—Demetri Limberis, reader
Make Exercise a Habit
7. I make lunch hour on Tuesday and Thursday my “workout time.” If someone wants to schedule something for those times, I'll say, “Sorry, I'm busy then.”
—Lee Carlsen, reader
8. Working out and eating right can be a habit. Establishing a regular routine and following it for two or three months will condition the body to do it.
—Jim Wilson, a 69-year-old personal trainer (and retiree from the oil-refining industry) in Denver, CO
9. I find it helps to start thinking of my next workout immediately after I finish my current workout. This way, when I get in the gym I know exactly what I will be doing, and I'm totally prepared and ready to go.
—Gordon Jack, reader
10. A little planning will go a long way. During the workweek I pack my own lunch and bring my own snacks. And I pack my gym bag every night with the essentials…. It's always waiting for me in the front seat after work.
—Aaron D. Sudduth, reader
Remember the Benefits
11. I think about how much better I'll feel when I'm finished with a workout. Also, I keep in mind that workouts don't have to be all-or-nothing—when I don't feel like exercising I can decrease the workout intensity, because it's better to do some form of exercise than nothing at all.
—Jeff Rutstein, personal trainer in Boston, Mass.
12. On days when I feel flat, I wear sweats, lower the weight, and just try to work up a sweat. At the end of the workout I feel great, my endorphins are high, and my batteries are recharged.
—Dennis Dewane, personal trainer and trainers' supervisor in Syracuse, NY
13. My family history includes quite a bit of hypertension and cancer, and I want to stay as healthy and functional as possible for as long as possible.
—Tim Rochford, personal trainer and
kickboxing/fitness instructor in Sandwich, IL
14. I dream about bumping into my ex the next time we're at the beach, and can't wait to see the expression on her face. It'll be nice seeing her drool.
—Andrew Owings, reader
15. At my heaviest I weighed 260 pounds and I was miserable, but I have since lost 100 pounds. A great way for me to stay motivated is to carry a picture of myself at my heaviest weight in my wallet. If at any time I get the urge to eat unhealthy food or skip a workout, I just look at the picture, and immediately I change my mind.
—Ryan Penney, reader
16. Seeing younger men who look years older than me is a great motivator.
—Joseph A. Brozowski, reader
17. I believe that muscles are the badges of the soul. And the physically fit get to wear their badges, no matter what their job, education or social status. What could be more inspiring?
—George A. Baselice, a trainer in Levittown, NY, and the 1999 winner of the Met-Rx World's Best Personal Trainer contest.
18. I stay focused and motivated by thinking of girls on trampolines.
—Brian Magnoli, reader
Work Out Right
19. I look to see how many hours I'm training compared to the amount of rest I'm receiving. If I'm working too much and not getting enough rest, that needs to be modified.
—Daniel Farley, personal trainer in Pasadena, CA
20. If something hurts, I'll stop what I'm doing and take care of it. I don't mind slowing down when I need to, because I know that if I injure myself, it will keep me from making progress for a long time.
—Adam Bers, reader
21. I've sold myself on the adage that some is better than none, meaning that a 20- to 30-minute strength-training session or a comparable cardiovascular workout will help me remain on the road to staying strong.
—Brandon Flowers, trainer in Pasadena, CA, who specializes in portable strength-training programs
22. I focus on increasing the amount of weight I can lift every week while still maintaining excellent form. Seeing how much I can progress while still doing things right has become a kind of game for me.
—Lou Ratner, reader
23. When you start a set, don't say to yourself that you are going to try and do eight reps—tell yourself that you are going to do eight reps, and you will.
—John Ellis, reader
24. When I'm on the treadmill, I stay motivated by looking straight in front of me and imagining there is something there I really want, so I try to catch it by running faster and faster for a long time.
—Daron Karsenti, reader
25. I'm 23 now, and I try to visualize what shape I want to be in when I'm 30 years old, then when I'm 40, 50 or older.
—Frank Downey, reader
26. I imagine myself being 50 years old and still able to play sports with my son. I want to be able to work out for my whole life and stay fit, not only physically but mentally as well.
—Mark Limbaga, reader
Let Others Help
27. It helps to start an e-mail group for the regulars of your gym or club, where everyone can send in motivational tips and get advice from others.
—Lee Aylett, reader
28. Being on a team helps me to stay motivated even when I don't feel like training. Your mind says, “I can't let my team down,” even when your body
doesn't feel like doing it.
—Mark Talesfore, personal trainer and triathlon and adventure-racing coach in Sacramento, CA
29. I have a buddy who works out with me. We encourage each other to do better, and it makes the time go by a lot faster.
—Eric Rasmussen, reader
30. I read Men's Fitness articles that I consider important, not once but several times. Whenever I have trouble remembering your advice, that works very well for me.
—Elias Lopez, reader
31. Working out has become my personal time. Those few hours at the gym are when I can focus on nothing else but myself. No problems, no worries—just me and the weights. That's where I can make my own personal goals happen.
—Ford Buena, reader
32. I frequently remind myself, If doing the Stairmaster on level 20 is the hardest thing I have to do throughout the course of a day, I'm going to have a very easy day.
—Able Simmons, reader
33. My girlfriend and I have a bet going as to who can look the best … and whoever wins gets their fantasy fulfilled.
—Jack Jones, reader