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This is why most new year’s fitness plans don’t work – and how to ensure they do

If you haven’t, at some stage in your life, pledged your allegiance to gruelling daily workouts at the start of January, you’re in the minority. While our attitude to exercise has changed immeasurably – it’s now recognised much more as a tool to boost mental wellbeing, as well as physique – many still make new year’s resolutions to get fit, hit the gym more, or shed some pounds.

But does it work? Personal trainer and performance specialist Luke Worthington thinks not, for the most part. “When it comes to making genuine and sustainable improvements to health and wellbeing, the number one factor to consider is consistency,” he says. “A programme that you can consistently follow three times a week, all year round, will yield better long term results than training every day for six weeks, then giving it up because it becomes too overwhelming.” A new year’s fitness plan shouldn’t be about what you can achieve in January, but rather something you can still see yourself doing in November – the mistake many make. In fact, data compiled by Strava suggests that most people have abandoned their new year’s fitness resolutions by 19 January.

Why do so many people give up?

The simple fact that their new, military workout routines are far too difficult to maintain in the long run. Worthington says that bootcamp-style exercise and hardcore diets feed into the yo-yo relationship that many people have with healthy eating and exercise. “When exercise plans are too intense and nutritional plans too restrictive, they become exhausting – and we either find ourselves yearning for the end or quitting them quickly.” Taking a binary approach to our wellbeing – being “on” or “off” a plan – means that when normal life kicks off, with all its meetings, dinners and other commitments, we can’t keep up with the schedule we’ve set ourselves, and give up. The trick is to build positive habits into our everyday lives, because a consistent fitness routine is an effective one.

Set yourself up for success

Instead of creating a plan that focuses on just one aspect of your health and wellbeing – like losing weight – and then neglecting others, such as mental health, the trick to sticking with your fitness plan is to set yourself tangible goals that help you feel like you’re progressing. “Human beings are task-driven animals, and we all require some sort of feeling of success and progress in whatever we are doing in order to feel fulfilled by it,” says Worthington, adding that goals that are solely aesthetic (and subjective) tend to be less tangible than those that have a performance aspect.

Tie in a measurable performance aspect, whether it’s being able to run faster, move a heavier object or reduce back pain – something quantifiable should be your goal. “Then, you experience a moment when you couldn’t do it, and a moment you could – success and progress improves your ability to be consistent,” says Worthington.

How to find a balance you can stick to

“Seek to understand what your non-negotiables are – that could be a Sunday roast with the family, weekly after-work cocktails, or a Friday night takeaway,” says Worthington. “Then look at how much time you can realistically commit to purposeful exercise and when that may be. For example, if you have a tendency to be pulled into last minute late meetings, don’t schedule a workout for 6pm. Once your non-negotiables are in place, plan around them – your workout regime should be complementary to how you live your life, rather than the other way around – otherwise you won’t stick to it.

The other key thing to note is to find exercise that genuinely makes you feel happy and that you enjoy. You will be far more likely to want to do it. “When it comes to cardiovascular exercise, consider skill or game-based activities, such as rock climbing, dance, netball or tennis; then the focus is on nailing a skill or winning the game, rather than how long you’ve been doing it for,” suggests Worthington. He also recommends looking to increase the amount of “non-exercise activity” you do, such as walking up the stairs, cycling to work or walking to the supermarket, which alone may not sound that significant, but performed consistently over time can have a dramatic impact.

The ideal workout schedule

It will be different for everyone, but Worthington says that a balanced health and wellbeing regime should show success and progress, and address all five pillars of wellness: strength, cardiovascular fitness, mobility, body composition and emotional wellbeing. “When it comes to choosing the activities to help address these five pillars, resistance training should form the basis of any exercise plan, and we then look to build our cardiovascular activity around that,” he says.

Here, Worthington breaks down a suggested well-balanced – and consistent – plan:

Monday: Full body resistance workout

Tuesday: Low-intensity cardio

Wednesday: Full body resistance workout

Thursday: Low-intensity cardio

Friday: Choice of full body resistance workout or high-intensity cardio (not both!)

Saturday: Option of active recovery or mobility work (slow, movement-based activities such as yoga, Pilates or tai chi, that are also shown to have a positive impact on emotional wellbeing)

Sunday: Rest

This article was originally published on Vogue US.

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