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How to Get Into, and Stick With, Your Workout Routine

Whether you’re new to working out or looking to reach a new goal, get tips from an HSS surgeon and sports medicine expert on sticking to your program.

Compared to winging it at the gym, designing a specific workout routine is more effective for achieving your goals. Making a commitment to scheduled training sessions and physical recovery will result in cumulative gains that aren’t easy to come by without a set plan.

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A consistent workout routine is also crucial if you’re playing sports. “An important reason to begin an exercise program is to gain fitness in order to minimize the risk of sports injury,” says Scott A. Rodeo, MD, an orthopedic surgeon and clinician-scientist at the HSS Sports Rehabilitation and Performance Center. “Establishing muscle strength, endurance, and flexibility is the single most important factor in preventing common sports injuries such as runner’s knee, rotator cuff tendonitis in the shoulder, or tennis elbow.”

Your workout routine should include strength, mobility, and endurance training, as well as measurable goals and a variety of exercises. (Learn more about building a fitness program here.) Once you’ve decided what you’d like to focus on, try these ideas for getting into the routine.

How to Stick to Your Workouts

  • Begin with a manageable schedule. If you’re new to exercise or are trying out a new fitness activity, commit to four to six weeks of pre-planned training. This will allow you to find a rhythm with your schedule as you adjust your workouts week by week based on your available time and how you feel. If you’re confident that you can train consistently for a longer period, plan for a program that is six to eight weeks long.
  • Be realistic about frequency. How often you train depends on what you’ll be doing and for how long, as well as your available time. If possible, aim to work out three to five times a week, with several rest days to let your body recover. If you intend to exercise every day, make sure to mix it up: Work on strength one day and cardio the next, or go hard one day and easy the next. “Different exercises should be done on different days, which allows time for recovery for specific muscle groups and also helps minimize the risk of overuse injury,” Dr. Rodeo says. “Cross training, in which different exercises are done on different days, is an important way to avoid overuse injury.”
  • Keep workouts short to start. How long you work out each day will depend on your fitness level and the type of activities you enjoy. Do keep workouts short enough that you can fit them into your schedule — 25 minutes of exercise is plenty of time to reap benefits. “It is more important to stick to a regular exercise regimen than to do excessive exercise on an irregular schedule,” Dr. Rodeo says. “So a consistent schedule of even relatively short workouts is recommended.”
  • Plan to start slowly — and be patient with yourself. Be aware that whenever you start a new exercise routine, there is always some risk of injury. “Any new exercise or activity should be started gradually to allow the joints, muscles, and supporting structures to adapt to the new loads,” Dr. Rodeo says. “If there has been a prior joint injury, it may best to review your planned exercises with a physician prior to beginning your new program. And carefully monitor for joint pains as you begin your exercise program.”
  • Watch out for pain. Should you experience any pain from your workouts, try treating the affected area with a brief period of relative rest, ice and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications. If the pain persists despite this initial treatment, check in with your doctor.

4 Extra Tips for Sticking to Your Plan

  1. Write out your plan, either on paper or in your phone or online planner. Even a simple note that reads, “Three workouts a week for six weeks” can help you prioritize exercising as you schedule your work and personal activities. You could include goals for yourself, but keep them realistic: Focus on gaining in an area of fitness — like “improved endurance” — rather than losing anything. “Putting pen to paper and writing out your goals is very powerful for helping you to explicitly define your goals and to help improve your adherence to your fitness program,” Dr. Rodeo says.
  2. Put your intended workout sessions in your calendar, blocking out time to exercise and to stretch before and after. Set reminders.
  3. Enlist a friend, ideally to join you for workouts, but at the very least to hold you accountable. Some fitness trackers like the Apple Watch make it easy to share your activity and progress with friends; their positive feedback is a helpful motivator.
  4. Allow for shorter workouts, rescheduling and missed days. Life isn’t perfectly predictable, so give yourself a pass when there are days you just can’t get your workout in. But do double up on your efforts to get back to it when you’re able.

About the Expert