New to Exercise? Make Workouts Daily

I’m an avid gym goer. I go to the gym almost every day for at least an hour. But I didn’t used to be. I was never a star athlete and any exercise I got used to be pretty irregular. It took me several attempts over months to form the habit of regular exercise. In my failed attempts, one of the most important lessons I learned is that if you want a habit to stick, it needs to be daily.

The first few times I tried to install exercise habits, they fell apart. Attempting to exercise three or four times a week, simply didn’t stick. What eventually did the trick was making it a daily habit. It may seem counterintuitive that exercising more frequently is an easier habit to install, but when you look into the mechanisms that create habits, it makes sense.

Daily Habits Are More Thoroughly Reinforced

Willpower isn’t the biggest issue in trying to change a habit. Most people have enough willpower to make it through the first week or two when it is really necessary. The problem most people have is that their habits aren’t conditioned deeply enough to switch the behavior on autopilot.

To understand why, let’s compare the exercise habits of Jill and John.

John sets out a plan to exercise Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. He plans for longer workouts of about an hour. On Mondays, John wakes up to the sound of his alarm clock and heads to the gym. Without realizing it the pattern in his head that links waking up (his daily routine) to the gym is reinforced.

But on Tuesday John wakes up and doesn’t exercise at all. The pattern linking John’s daily routine to exercise isn’t as strong now. This continues for several weeks and John finds that he still needs to remind himself to go to the gym.

Jill on the other hand plans to exercise every day. She only goes to the gym for a half hour, but she is there every single day. When Jill’s alarm clock sounds she automatically reaches for her gym bag and heads out the door. Her pattern is conditioned repeatedly until it is completely automatic.

Consistency is Key

If exercising is a chore, you probably aren’t making the habit consistent enough. Nobody is a drone who executes each day identically, but you can tackle the big parts that reduce consistency. Going from a weekly to a daily habit is one of those.

Even if you don’t exercise at the same time every day, daily exercise will be linked into your brain so that your day doesn’t feel complete without it.

Making Gradual Change With a Daily Schedule

I’m a big proponent of gradual over revolutionary change. Trying to do everything at once is a sure way to fail entirely. If you aren’t exercising at all or very infrequently, shifting to a daily schedule can be tough. Here are a few ways you can gradually shift while maintaining a daily schedule:

  • Cut the amount of time per session – I like 60-90 minutes for a workout, but if you are already time starved starting with a daily schedule of 20-30 minutes can help.
  • Build it into your life – If possible you might want to walk or bike your normal commute to work.
  • Start easier - Don’t try a marathon each workout. Making yourself sick on the first day of exercise is an easy way to give up. Start easy and progress.

Find the Right Challenge Level

When starting a new exercise plan you need to balance between making it too easy and forgetting about conditioning it or making it too hard and giving up out of frustration. Habits of exercise for ten minutes are likely to be forgotten, while two hours of exercise a day might be too hard to take all at once.

If you’ve failed to stick with an exercise habit before, try switching it to a daily routine. I’ve done this a few times with different forms of exercise and each time I found it to be amazingly effective in getting the habit to stick.


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  • http://zenhabits.net Leo

    Great post, Scott. I’ve found that making exercise a habit works well for me too. I love the practical tips you provide.

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  • http://www.steinisweb.de Christian

    Good article. It’s catch my mind so i’m thinking about. In your article i miss one big thing that it is my motivation for doing training (triathlon) near every day, since about two years. It’s something like fun. For everybody who want to do exercise i can say “Do it!”. If you want do go running, do it. Stop thinking about “There is no sunshine. I don’t know if i really want to run..”. Do it.
    Another big thing is the target. I’ve during the year several “contests”. I don’t want the first or second. I’m succeed if i’m going through the finish line. That is my motivation, not doing exercise because i’ve done it yesterday.

  • http://www.scotthyoung.com Scott Young

    Thanks for the comments Leo and Christian.

  • http://physix.recoding.net pHysiX

    Great stuff you got here. I like to do many things but they don’t last too long….
    eg: badminton only for a year, workouts only for half a year…

    I’ll take your advice and actually stay committed this time round….

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  • Mariah

    Great post =^^=
    It’s practical and managable though I kinda need your help… I’m a highschool student who can’t get that much exercise – I’ve started doing 2000 steps on a stepper thing daily aswell as my usual walk to school.
    Any ideas on how I can be a bit more active and keep it up? I’m a only a few pounds bigger than I should but I want to be able to change that and manage it so I don’t fail on my ass. Any ideas?

  • http://www.scotthyoung.com Scott Young

    Mariah,

    Try forming a routine and sticking with it for thirty days. That way you can turn exercise into a habit. To make exercise more fun, here are a few suggestions:

    * Get a partner
    * Try classes (dance, martial arts, yoga, etc.)
    * Get a trainer
    * Get an mp3 player and some music you enjoy
    * Find a challenge level that is difficult but not overwhelming
    * Experiment!

  • Mariah

    thanks for the reply – I’ll try my best

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  • http://www.takefit.com Elliot Wilson

    Hi Scott,

    Nice article! I came through to it from the Zen Habits website. I’ve just started a 2 month fitness blitz so it’s great to read motivating articles like these!

    Elliot

  • http://goworkoutdaily.com Sean Sussex

    Hi Scott,

    You don’t have to post my comment but I have been an experieced personal trainer as well as a college swimmer and having structure in a workout has always been key for me to stay in shape. There are always days that I don’t want to go to the pool or to the gym but if I know someone else is going or I know I have a workout to do it makes it a lot easier. I just wanted to let people know if they need any advice on what they should do I did make a website providing tips and workouts. Scott if you think the website is good or helpful to your readers I will let you put it up so as to not spam your blog with ads. But I stronly suggest sticking to a structured workout whether you are at a gym or not. Good luck!

  • http://www.scotthyoung.com Scott Young

    Sean,

    No problem. I do allow comments with links to websites, as long as they are relevant and the author is writing them to help, not hawk a product.

    -Scott

  • http://goworkoutdaily.com Sean Sussex

    Thanks Scott, Our website is http://www.GoWorkoutDialy.com and it provides 3 daily workouts for the beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels. We also have a blog updated by professional athletes and Olympic medalists. Hope this helps jumpstart a few new people to get in shape!

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  • http://goworkoutdaily.com Sean Sussex

    Sorry I appoligize the site is http://www.GoWorkoutDaily.com it was spelled wrong above.

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  • http://www.weslotreadmill.info Workout machine

    I have just purchased a cheap treadmill, and I am wondering if long termuse will damage my knees and if so is there anything that I can do to avoid that?

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  • http://www.workout-without-weights.net Workout without Weights

    Hey Scott,

    I’ve read Learn More, Study Less a while ago and loved it. I fogot about your blog shortly after my fianls finished but now I’ve discovered this article again purely by accidental internet search.

    I like how you’ve tied many aspects of your life into some core, key concepts. Another advantage I see is that these principles can be applied to any exercise routine.

    I’ve currently using a weight free workout system, and teaching other people to apply these methods would most definitely help people stick to the program.

    Keep up the good work!

    – Jack Bronson | Workout without Weights

  • http://www.pmaaustin.com Martial Arts Austin

    “In my failed attempts, one of the most important lessons I learned is that if you want a habit to stick, it needs to be daily.”
    That says it all – and how true, at least for me. I teach martial arts, and have been sharing this lesson with my students. Finding a way to take at least some small action daily towards reaching your goal, will get you there.
    Thanks for making me look/sound good!

  • Garion

    I have to dissagree. I don’t exercise daily, but over the course of a year I’d exercise 4 days a week average easy. They key’s starting out slow, progressing to a stage where you’re pushing yourself.

  • http://hubpages.com/hub/Step360 Benita Basehore

    I find even 10 mins to be highly effective if done at least obce a day. Sometimes once I’ve started intending to only do 10 mins I’ll continue and complete a half hour workout just because I actually started. When we think of 30 mins exercise the mind can balk at it however if we trick it by telling ourselves we’re only going to do 10 mins often we’ll end up doing more.

  • Justin Spencer

    Hey Scott,

    First time on your blog and I like what I see. Getting more out of life is a topic that can relate to everybody and narrowing it down in this article to formulating time to excercise is very relavent to any strong health pursuing human.

    Look forward to reading more of your articles, keep up the good work.

    Cheers,

    Justin

  • http://awakeningone.wordpress.com Lou

    Totally agree with this because I recently started doing push-ups almost every day and jogging/running every day, and it surely didn’t stick with either of them until I made that commitment. It’s very different. Granted, I’d kind of been working on these for around a year each (although with a huge break in the year from any exercise)… but I was doing push-ups every 3-4 days and always waited impatiently for the next day I could do them and sometimes would find I hadn’t gotten stronger after all that waiting, which was really irritating and demotivating. Finally one day I was like, I need to just do less, but daily, and I’ve kept that up for over six weeks with steady improvement and less impatience… the running, last year I was trying to run every day, but I felt so tired by the end of the week… so after that I tried every 3-4 days and was not able to maintain it steadily… well, trial and error, I eventually realized that my problem was I was running till I was totally exhausted and needed a long break. So I just started running every day, but not to the point of exhaustion… I have gotten stronger, not more exhausted, over the last week.

  • http://www.wuchifightingarts.com/ Sherlyn – Martial Arts

    Nice post scott, Thanks for your tips. It really help me to find a good habit to loss weight and to be physically fit. I have joined martial arts training, it helps me to be more disciplined and responsible. I loss weight as well as learning to defend my self against wicked people out there.

  • Sh. Abazi

    This idea of practicing a habit daily sounds great but the problem is doing weight-lifting every day is hard maybe counter productive (especially a strength training routine) but maybe I could do cardio in some days and weight lifting on the other days, what do you suggest?

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  • http://effectiveefforts.com Tom

    Scott,

    This is right on. And almost directly matches my philosophy on consistent exercise.

    For the 99.9% of us who are not elite athletes, consistent, short daily exercise is the way to go.

  • http://www.whatisrightforme.com/treadmill/ What treadmill

    Hey Scott,

    Building it into your life is one of the best ways to form a habit into exercising. I started following your advice a few weeks ago and now I’m looking into a treadmill. Is there one you’d recommend? Base off of http://www.whatisrightforme.com/treadmill/?share=5f39lr the horizon fitness would fit me best.

    Thank you for this post. It has definitely changed my health and overall life.

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  • http://theoldcodgers.com Tony McGurk

    I used to do much longer workouts 3 times a week. It was harder to keep in a routine & when workout days would roll around it was too easy to not feel like it & put it off to another day. I started shorter daily workouts a week & a half ago & now I’m into the daily routine it just seems much easier to stick to it.

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