On low-energy days, head to the gym with the promise that you can leave after you finish your warm-up. “Tell yourself you’ll just do the Dynamic Warm-up,” says Rachel Cosgrove, author of The Female Body Breakthrough and creator of the Look Better Nakedfitness program. “Once you get to the gym and get your blood pumping, chances are you’ll finish your full workout. Ninety per cent of the time, my clients do.”
Have your body-fat level measured early in the program and then toward the end to gauge your fitness progress. “You’ll actually have numbers that you can aim for, and something that you can definitely measure, as opposed to, ‘I just want my abs to look better,’” says Tim Kuebler, a certified fitness trainer. A body-fat percentage from the high teens to the mid-20s is considered healthy for most women (ranges vary by age), according to Nutrition Australia. A trainer can estimate your percentage using calipers, and some gyms offer this service for a minimal charge; just have the same person do it each time, as measurement techniques can vary.3 Book it
“You’ll never find the time—you’ve got to make the time,” says Chuck Wolf, manager of sport science and human performance at the USA Triathlon National Training Center. While that seems obvious, lack of planning continues to be the biggest reason people fail to work out. We suggest keeping a calendar and scheduling your workouts at least a week in advance.
Have a contingency plan, too, in case the unexpected cancels your workout. “You’re 40 per cent more likely to work out if you have strategies to help you overcome the obstacles,” says Rod Dishman, PhD, an exercise scientist.
4 Make a date with a friend
Having a pal waiting for you at the gym will get you there. “If you’ve made a commitment to someone, you have a tendency to keep it,” says Tristan Gale, an Olympic gold medallist. But that doesn’t necessarily mean your best friend is also your best workout partner. Look for someone who’s on the same fitness level with similar goals.
5 Target your heart
Heart disease is the number one killer of women, claiming 23,000 lives each year, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Find out what your cholesterol levels are and what they should be. Then work toward meeting that target by exercising regularly. “You’ll decrease your risk of heart disease while providing yourself with a very important, concrete goal,” says John Thyfault, PhD, an assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Missouri, US.
6 Be defensive
Need more inspiration than trimming your waistline? On your do-anything day, consider taking a self-defense class, which will increase your confidence as well as your heart rate. Learning practical defense skills—eye strikes, heel palms, knees to the groin—will also bolster your sense of control, says Dana Schwartz,a self-defense instructor. “You get to fight every class, and every class you see improvement in yourself,” Schwartz says. “I think people are surprised by how powerful they are.”
7 Invest in a trainer
If you don’t know what you’re doing when you get to the gym, it pays to hire someone who does. Beyond helping you plan your workout, a personal trainer will observe and correct your form to make sure you produce results and avoid injuries. “They’ll spot you through the movements, so you can really feel what muscles [are working],” says Brenda Powell, a certified trainer.
8 Find a happy place
You hate fish, but that doesn’t mean you stop eating. The same is true for exercise. “I can recommend running,” says Ronald W. Deitrick, PhD, director of exercise science at the University of Scranton in the US. “But if a person doesn’t like running they’re not going to do it. They don’t care what the benefit is.” The “perfect” exercise is the one you’re happiest doing, so make sure you find yourself wanting to work out.
9 Watch the rut
You found the perfect routine—great. Just don’t let it become as familiar as Friends reruns. What bores your mind also bores your body. You need variety to guarantee results, which is why the Look Better Naked fitness routine varies day to day and completely changes every 3 weeks. If you did the same 3-sets-of-8 circuit week after week, you’d stop challenging your body around Week 4, and progress would plateau. “When you impose a stress on your body, your body adapts to it,” says exercise physiologist Tom Holland.
10 Cut a soundtrack
Leave off the slow tracks and make a playlist that gets you pumped. Upbeat music makes a workout seem easier and go by faster, according to a study led by Deitrick. That’s because high-tempo music is a better distractor, he says. “It helps you block out the sensations you have regarding pain and effort.”
11 Write it down
Record your fitness goals in a journal and track your workouts. Include the usual stats, such as specific exercises, duration, weight, sets, and reps. Write down your perceptions, too. “Think: ‘Am I having fun, or does it feel like work?’” says Sara Ivanhoe, instructor of the Yoga for Dummies series. Note the exercises that make you feel good and produce results, and note the stressors that tend to derail workouts.
12 Work with him
VA Duke University study showed that sedentary men are 50 per cent more likely to work out three times a week if their partners participate. It’ll strengthen your bond, too. “Eighty per cent of couples who divorce say they grew apart,” says Pat Love, a relationship therapist and co-author of Hot Monogamy. “Sharing activities is a surefire way to stick together. Especially activities where you both end up feeling good and energised.” Exercise releases neurohormones that make people feel happier, more motivated, and less anxious, Love says. “And anytime you have a pleasurable experience when you’re with your partner, your brain associates him with pleasure.”
13 Take a chance
On your optional do-anything day, boost your adrenaline with a workout that challenges both your body and your fears—rock climbing, for example. Besides being great exercise, an adrenaline-spiked adventure will help you better manage stress in everyday life, according to a study from Texas A&M University in the US. Adventure sports raise your levels of adrenaline and the stress hormone cortisol, and also provide you with an immediate way—exercise—to efficiently work that stress out. The fitter you are, the study found, the better you handle stress.
See how long you can go without missing a workout, and then try to beat your record. “Every time your streak ends, strive to set a longer mark in your new attempt,” says trainer John Williams.
15 Reward yourself
When you reach a goal—say the end of Week 3—be good to yourself. Celebrate by treating yourself to whatever you want—that massage or long, hot bath, for example. But don’t let the moment pass; sometimes that short-term reward might be the only evidence of your long-term success, says Jacqueline Wagner, a certified trainer. “Some of the things we see in exercise in terms of maintaining balance, of maintaining bone mass, of maintaining function, we’re not going to see for years down the road,” Wagner says. A Swedish massage, on the other hand, can make you feel good right now.
16 Show off
A boost to your appearance—be it a new haircut or fresh-out-of-the-box running shoes—can give you a lift in the gym. “Sometimes those little things can be very uplifting and motivating,” Wagner says. “And when you feel better about yourself, you’re going to function better.”