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The Right Way to Fail at Exercise

You don't have to be perfect

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Updated October 19, 2005

Did you know that most people fail at exercise? That isn't to say that we're doomed from the start, but that it's normal for many of us to abandon our fitness routines from time to time...sometimes for days and weeks, other times for months or years. The good news is that you're not alone and, even better, there's something you can do to make those fitness failures stepping stones to success. Your first step is figuring out what went wrong.

Why You Fail at Fitness

Planning your exercise schedule is great, isn't it? There's nothing like sitting down with your calendar and writing down all the workouts you'll do this week. Just thinking about it makes you feel good, doesn't it? But life has a way of getting in the way of those fitness goals. Maybe you have to work late or you catch a cold. Maybe your child has soccer practice or you have unexpected guests. Whatever 'it' is, it will happen and, for many of us, that 'it' sends our exercise plans right out the window. You may recognize some of these other reasons you skip exercise:

  • Catching a cold, flu or other nasty bug
  • Pulled muscles, soreness or other injuries
  • Long work hours, busy schedules and social obligations
  • Life transitions like getting married, getting a new job, graduating or retiring
  • Having a baby
  • Feeling tired, low energy and not getting enough sleep
  • Burnout or overtraining
  • Boredom
  • Lack of results and confusion over how to reach goals
  • Travel

What's important to realize is this: you won't always be perfect at exercise and, even more important, you don't have to be. What you do want is to make your best effort and give yourself credit for what you achieve, even if it falls short of your original goal. To get yourself past those fitness failures, you have to stop the blame game and start taking some action.

Join the Club

Your first step in turning a failure around is to stop kicking yourself and realize you're not alone in this. We all skip workouts, eat more than we should and get off track from time to time. In fact, many of my successful personal training clients come to me in the middle of their own fitness failures, feeling guilty and frustrated.

*Mary was one of those clients, a 67-year-old woman who'd been active with cardio and strength training for years. Then she got a new demanding job and realized she'd gained almost 35 pounds after abandoning her routine. She called me after two years of struggling with her weight, wondering how she'd gotten so far off track.

*Gretta was another client who came to me after having a baby. Despite her best efforts, she was having a hard time losing her baby weight and an even harder time trying to figure out how to take care of both herself and this new baby. By the time she came to me, it had been months since she'd exercised.

So, what happened? These clients had completely different situations, but ended up at the same place for the same reason: they didn't plan on how they'd continue exercising with these huge changes in their lives. Mary didn't take into account the hours she'd be working and figured she'd just stick to her usual routine. When that routine didn't fit, she abandoned it rather than change it. Gretta also failed to plan on how she'd exercise with a new baby in the house. Once we figured out why their failures happened, we were able to use that failure to create better routines to fit their new circumstances.

You can do the same thing for yourself and your first step? Risking failure.

Turn Your Failure Around

The truth is, you don't know whether something will work for you until you try it and that means risking failure. The good news is that, even if you do fail, you have just given yourself an opporunity to learn something about yourself as you find out where you went wrong and how you need to change what you're doing the next time around. These failures give you a chance to hone your technique, learn more about what you're trying to achieve and tweak your exercise routine until you get it right. You can't do that if you never try.

The problem is that we want to do everything right from the start, even if we've never done it before. But, you won't always get this exercise thing right the first time you try, so your only choice is to keep going despite your mistakes. If you find you've gotten out the habit of exercise, use these simple tips for getting back on track.

*Names have been changed

Next Page: How to Get Back on Track

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