(Even If You Think You Hate The Gym)
If every session feels like a Herculean effort, you’re doing it wrong, says Joel Snape, editor-at-large for Men’s Fitness magazine. Here’s how to nudge yourself into shape – gently.
Do the bare minimum
Yes, seriously: modern behavioural science has your back. According to ‘micro-habits’ pioneer BJ Fogg, the important thing is to build the habit you want – and the smaller the steps you can use to do it, the better.
Fogg suggests life-shifts as fractional as just putting a pan on the hob (but not actually cooking) or putting your trainers out (without going for a run) to ease into things. But if that’s too weird, spend a week or two just going to the gym, doing a handful of pullups, and hitting the showers. Habit thusly established, you can increase the workload without every session feeling like penance.
Establish a pre-gym routine
No, not slapping yourself across the face and bellowing ‘Arnold!’ Real talk: there will always be lunchtimes when the prospect of a few intervals on the Wattbike seems vastly less appealing than a Pret meatball wrap and half a Louis Theroux documentary at your desk.
These are the times you need a pre-planned strategy – and, since caffeine and music both have proven workout-enhancing qualities, it should probably include both. Treat yourself to a double espresso and a quick blast of Enter Sandman at quarter to one: if you still aren’t fired up for a lunchtime session after that, you can honourably award yourself a day off.
Set some (sensible) goals
‘Get a six-pack’ isn’t always constructive: progress is likely to be slow, and even a couple of Jammie Dodgers can prompt blistering ‘I’ll-never-do-this’ periods of self-recrimination. You’re far better off focusing on performance: aim to get your first pull-up, squat your own bodyweight, or row 500m in a respectable time.
The numbers going down/up will give you a tangible sense of progress, and (as long as you keep the biscuit consumption to single figures) the body-composition results will come naturally.
Find a training style you like
Nobody’s blaming you for hating distance running: it’s the legacy of our schools’ cross-country-centric PE system. You might not even like the idea of lifting weights – though it comes in enough flavours (bodybuilding, powerlifting, Olympic-style weightlifting) to please almost any temperament.
But have you considered kettlebells? Calisthenics? Boxing? Bouldering? There are so many ways to work out that claiming you ‘Don’t like exercise’ is like reading one Dan Brown book and swearing off the written word: find a style you like, and then research how to tweak it to mould yourself into the shape you want.
Get it done early
Yes, you could go after work, but will you? In the morning there’s basically nothing to do but sleep, while in the evening you can do…well, anything. The pub! The cinema! That pop-up BBQ smokehouse! There’s always going to be something to distract you – and even if you turn it down, you’ll start to resent the gym for making you into a social pariah.
Force yourself up when the alarm first goes off, though, and not only will you stroll into the office with the glow of a man who’s already ticking off his to-do list for the day – you’ll be able to enjoy your IPA-and-pork-cheeks combo in a delicious fug of smugness.