For those of us who aren’t die-hard, up-at-5am, marathon-running fitness experts, it can be a struggle to find the motivation to head to the gym before or after a long day of work. Luckily, it can be easier than you might think to commit yourself to a routine: all you have to do is motivate yourself in subtle ways. You don’t have to write an entire new program for your life to find time for a regular workout schedule -- just hack your way there with some simple tricks.
Catch up on podcasts and audiobooks.
If your iTunes is backlogged with podcasts or audiobooks that you never get around to listening to, here's your chance to make a dent. Load up your iDevice and kill two birds with one stone by listening to them during a cardio workout. Everyone listens to music at the gym, and although hitting the last stanza of Don’t Stop Believin’ can push you through the home stretch of a run, podcasts and audiobooks will help to pass the time even more quickly with the added benefit of knowledge and laughter. We’re partial to This American Life, Radiolab, and Comedy Bang Bang.
Buy new workout clothes & shoes.
It might seem superficial, but it's motivating to spend some cash on stylish and functional workout gear that you'll want to wear. Pick out shoes and clothes that make you feel strong and confident and you'll be looking for opportunities to wear them rather than dreading it.
Go to watch TV.
Schedule your gym visit around your favorite show or a game you want to watch and snag a cardio machine equipped with a TV. You'll be especially motivated to get to the gym on time and stick it out for a bit longer, and you'll hardly notice the effort you're putting in when you're absorbed by what’s on. Unless your show of choice is The Bachelor, in which case, save it for watching by yourself at home while wearing your most comfortable sweatpants.
Work multiple muscle groups at once.
Want to get stronger but don't want to obsess over twenty different isolation exercises every time you hit the weight room? There's a simple solution: stick to compound lifts like squats, deadlifts, and pull-ups that hit several muscle groups all at once. You'll cut down on the number of exercises and won't have to worry about where you want to pack on muscle.
Walk more throughout the day.
Making an effort to resist the sedentary lifestyle throughout the day can pay big dividends. Take the stairs rather than the elevator, go get your lunch rather than ordering delivery, and walk or ride a bike to work, if possible. Research shows that just two and a half hours per week of moderate activity has all kinds of benefits, including diabetes, stroke, heart disease, weight gain, and cancer prevention according to the Harvard School of Public Health.
Lift weights before you do cardio.
It's tempting to leave the heavy lifting until the end of your routine, but your workout will benefit from getting them out of the way first. If you stress your muscles with strength training, your body will be more receptive to a fat-burning cardio routine afterwards, helping you to get the most out of your time on the treadmill. Plus, if you save weights for later, you'll be partially exhausted and unable to lift to the best of your ability.
Set a goal.
Want to lose weight? Sign up for a half marathon and get to training. Want to build muscle? Set lift goals and work your way up towards them. It doesn't matter exactly what you choose, so long as you pick a goal that's encouraging and attainable. Don't set something that's unreasonably ambitious -- sorry, but going from the couch to a full marathon in a month just isn't going to happen -- but make sure it's tough enough to need some serious effort. And there are plenty of tools to help you quantify your progress: apps and devices like Fitbit, Runkeeper, and the Nike Fuelband can measure, record, and share your workout stats to give you a data-driven look at your efforts for a visual point of reference. Plus, you can use your numbers to compete with your friends for added motivation.
Now quit making excuses and get to work -- a steady, hard-hitting, and productive workout routine is just a few easy hacks away.