By: Adam Campbell
You have the right to remain fat. Or skinny. Or weak. But you should know that every workout you miss can and will be used against you to make your belly bigger, your muscles smaller and weaker, and your life shorter. Unfortunately, most Americans are exercising their right not to exercise.
A recent study by the National Center for Health Statistics found that only 19 percent of the population regularly engages in "high levels of physical activity." (That's defined as three intense 20-minute workouts per week.)
Another 63 percent—about the same percentage as that of Americans who are overweight—believe that exercising would make them healthier, leaner, and less stressed, but they don't do it. At the root of this problem is motivation, or the lack thereof.
It's the difference between wanting to exercise and actually doing it. That's why the advice you're about to read is priceless. We've filled these pages with the favorite motivational strategies of the top personal trainers in the country. Their livelihoods, in fact, depend on the effectiveness of their tips to inspire their clients to exercise—and to stick with it. After all, statistics don't pay by the hour.
And for even more ways to shape your body, check out The Men’s Health Big Book of Exercises. With complete instructions of more than 600 exercises, along with hundreds of workouts and useful tips, it’s the most comprehensive guide to fitness ever created.
Sign Up for a Distant Race
That is, one that's at least 500 miles away. The extra incentive of paying for airfare and a hotel room will add to your motivation to follow your training plan, says Carolyn Ross-Toren, chairwoman of the Mayor's Fitness Council in San Antonio.
Make a "Friendly" Bet
Challenge your nemesis—that idea-stealing coworker or a non-mowing neighbor—to a contest. The first guy to drop 15 pounds, run a 6-minute mile, or bench- press 250 pounds wins. The key: "Make sure it's someone you don't particularly like," says Michael Mejia, C.S.C.S., Men's Health exercise advisor. (It's okay if your rival thinks you're best friends.)
Tie Exercise to Your Health
Check your cholesterol. Then set a goal of lowering your LDL cholesterol by 20 points and increasing your HDL cholesterol by 5 points. "You'll decrease your risk of heart disease while providing yourself with a very important, concrete goal," says John Thyfault, Ph.D., C.S.C.S., an exercise researcher at East Carolina University. Ask your doctor to write a prescription for new blood work in a month. You'll just have to go to the lab, and the doctor will call you with the results.
Switch Your Training Partners
Working out with a partner who will hold you accountable for showing up at the gym works well—for a while. But the more familiar you are with the partner, the easier it becomes to back out of workout plans. "Close friends and family members don't always make the best training partners because they may allow you to slack off or cancel workouts," says Jacqueline Wagner, C.S.C.S., a trainer in New York City. To keep this from happening, find a new, less forgiving workout partner every few months.
Find a sport or event that you enjoy and train to compete in it. "It adds a greater meaning to each workout," says Alex Koch, Ph.D., C.S.C.S., an exercise researcher (and competitive weight lifter) at Truman State University. Consider training for the World Master's games, an Olympics-like competition for regular guys. Events include basketball, rowing, golf, triathlon, and weight lifting.
Think About Fat
Your body is storing and burning fat simultaneously, but it's always doing one faster than the other. "Understanding that you're getting either fatter or leaner at any one time will keep you body-conscious so you won't overeat or underexercise," says Alwyn Cosgrove, C.S.C.S., owner of Results Fitness Training in Santa Clarita, California.
Do a Daily Gut Check
Place your fingers on your belly and inhale deeply so that it expands. As you exhale, contract your abdominal muscles and push your fingertips against your hard abdominal wall. Now pinch. "You're holding pure fat between your fingers," says Tom Seabourne, Ph.D., author of Athletic Abs. Do this every day, 30 minutes before your workout, and you'll find that you'll rarely decide to skip it.
Join a Fitness Message Board
It'll be full of inspiration from men who have accomplished their goals and are working toward new ones. Our particular favorite: the 52-Day Challenge. Created by a Men's Health Belly Off! Club forum member with the username Determined, it's designed to foster encouragement, discipline, and accountability. "Each participant posts and tracks his goals for a 52-day period so that everyone is accountable to the other members," says Determined. To sign up, click here.
Strike an Agreement with Your Family
The rule: You get 1 hour to yourself every day, provided that you use it for exercise (and reciprocate the favor). So there's no pressure to do household chores, play marathon games of Monopoly, or be a doting husband (a fat, doting husband). "Since it's for your health, it's a contract they can't refuse. And that will allow you to exercise guilt-free while acting as a role model for your children," says Darren Steeves, C.S.C.S., a trainer in Canada.
Burn a Workout CD
Studies have shown that men who pedal stationary cycles while listening to their favorite music will do so longer and more intensely than men who exercise without music. So burn a disc with your favorite adrenaline-boosting songs (maybe something by Limp Bizkit or—if you're over 40—Hot Tuna).
Plan Your Workouts in Advance
At the start of each month, schedule all of your workouts at once, and cross them off as they're completed. For an average month, you might try for a total of 16 workouts. If any are left undone at the end of the month, tack them on to the following month. And make sure you have a contingency plan for bad weather and unscheduled meetings. "You're about 40 percent more likely to work out if you have strategies to help you overcome these obstacles," says Rod Dishman, Ph.D., an exercise scientist at the University of Georgia.
If you have trouble finishing your weight workout, start with the exercises you dread. "You'll look forward to your favorite exercises at the end of your workout, which will encourage you to complete the entire session," says John Williams, C.S.C.S., co-owner of Spectrum Conditioning in Port Washington, New York.
Have a Body-Composition Test
Do this every 2 months for a clear end date for the simple goal of losing body fat or gaining muscle. "Tangible results are the best motivator," says Tim Kuebler, C.S.C.S., a trainer in Kansas City, Missouri. Your gym probably offers the service for a small fee—just make sure the same trainer performs the test each time.
Don't Do What You Hate
"Whenever you start to dread your workout, do what appeals to you instead," says John Raglin, Ph.D., an exercise psychologist at Indiana University. If you loathe going to a gym, try working out at home. (Check the Men's Health Home Workout Bible for ideas.) If you despise the treadmill, then jump rope, lift weights, or find a basketball court. Bottom line: If you're sick of your routine, find a new one.
Go Through the Motions
On days when you don't feel like working out, make the only requirement of your exercise session a single set of your favorite exercise. "It's likely that once you've started, you'll finish," says Rachel Cosgrove, C.S.C.S. If you still don't feel like being in the gym, go home. This way, you never actually stop exercising; you just have some gaps in your training log.
Start a Streak
There's nothing like a winning streak to attract fans to the ballpark. Do the same for your workout by trying to set a new record for consecutive workouts without a miss. "Every time your streak ends, strive to set a longer mark in your next attempt," says Williams.
Make Your Goals Attractive
"To stay motivated, frame your goals so that they drive you to achieve them," says Charles Staley, owner of staleytraining.com. For example, if you're a 200-pound guy, decide whether you'd rather bench "over 200 pounds," "the bar with two 45-pound plates on each side," or "your body weight." They're all different ways of saying the same thing, but one is probably more motivating to you than the others.
See Your Body Through Her Eyes
Ask your wife to make like Howard Stern and identify your most displeasing physical characteristic. "It's instant motivation," says Mejia. If she's hesitant, make a list for her—abs, love handles, upper arms, and so on—and have her rank them from best to worst. Make the most-hated body part your workout focus for 4 weeks, then repeat the quiz for more motivation.
Buy a Year's Worth of Protein
"If a guy believes that a supplement will help him achieve better results, he'll be more inclined to keep up his workouts in order to reap the full benefits and avoid wasting his money," says Kuebler. Stick with the stuff that really does help: protein and creatine, from major brands like MuscleTech, EAS, and Biotest.
Take a picture of yourself shirtless, holding a sign that shows your e-mail address. Then e-mail it to a trusted but sadistic friend, with the following instructions: "If I don't send you a new picture that shows serious improvement in 12 weeks, post this photo at hotornot.com and send the link to the addresses listed below . . . " (Include as many e-mail addresses—especially of female acquaintances—as possible.) "It's nasty, but extremely effective," says Alwyn Cosgrove.