How to make exercise a habit and get results for the least amount of effort.
Updated: Feb 27
If you're reading this, you're wondering how you might be able to make working out a habit and make working out work for you. You've come to the right place. I've helped 1000s of people make exercise a part of their life, not a huge part of their life. Why do I say that? I'm not expecting people to become someone such as myself that absolutely just loves exercise so much that I want to do it every day. But get enough exercise in that they are absolutely reaching their goals, getting their body composition goals, being able to participate better day to day in their lives and also they're able to live longer and better quality life as well. So let me give you some of my top tips to be able to make exercise a habit so that it's something that kind of just happens (with a little bit of scheduling, a little bit of know-how, which I'm about to detail in this article) even when you have a crazy busy schedule, or not if I will exercise, but it is going to happen. That's the kind of approach that we need to take to exercise.
For most people, exercising six days a week like I do is a little bit too excessive. On top of that, it's not actually necessary, if your primary goal is to build and maintain muscle and function, increase bone density and get the mental health benefits and just feel better day to day.
In fact the maximum number of benefits that you can get for the minimum amount of time tends to peter off at the 45 min mark, so when you exercise beyond the 45 min mark, you're probably going to need some intra workout nutrition and you really have to set up your day around getting the most from that extra time beyond the 45 minutes.
Now what I mean by 45 minutes, I don't mean from the second that you decide to drive from work and get to the gym or leave the house and get to the gym. I mean, the second that you start doing whatever aspect of your workout is, like your plank or some skipping or anything from that point onwards from doing exercise where you're exerting yourself and not where you've literally showed up to the gym and your best friend is filling you in on what happened in the spin class on Tuesday afternoon. Because there's two ways to approach working out and going into the gym. One of them is to go and get stuff done, and there's another one which is just saying that you've been to the gym. So think about to yourself, Am I just going to say that I did it or am I going to actually achieve something from that? So when i say least amount of effort I do mean time, because the intensity is what makes the session effective. And intensity is determined by progressively doing a little more than you did before.
So at the 45 minute mark, provided you've actually done a workout and you haven't just scanned your card and now you're upstairs in the gym talking to someone about the latest gossip and drama that's occurred. After 45 minutes and stuff that you're doing, the benefits you get from it, it's sort of diminishing a little bit, because you're running out of glycogen, that's your body's primary energy source. Your mental capacity is probably reduced a little bit because it does need a little bit of focus and concentration and mental stamina in order to be able to continue going. And at this point, your central nervous system on your muscles are really quite pooped. So probably your break time is taking longer and that sort of thing. So usually I find that when I was training clients for an hour, the stuff that they achieved in the first 45 minutes was just far superior to the quality of work that they would get done in the last 15 minutes. So I saw that firsthand, as well as design says it as well.
Then, on top of that, let's talk about the frequency during the week, you actually only need to do three to four really good quality exercise sessions, that 45 minutes per session per week, to get maximum bang for your buck. So if you do more than that, you are still probably recovering from your last exercise session and bringing a bit of fatigue into your next session and that is fine if that's what you're after. These are all ideas and instructions for someone who's not looking to say become an Olympic bobsledder or be in a competition or whatever because there are specific things that you need to do, such as bringing fatigue into the next session and that sort of thing that will get you further in competition. But if we're talking about someone who just wants to feel better every day, be stronger etc… all of those benefits then what I'm telling you is exactly what you need to do for maximum bang for your buck. So we're talking three to four times a week and 45 minutes in session.
Now what if you’ve found you cannot quite achieve that level in your life? And that's just out of the question for you? Well, anything more than what you're doing right now towards what I've just said, is going to get you results. So think of it as it's like a high five for the amount of extra work that you can do that you're not doing right now.
Is there a way you can streamline your day? There's a lot of people and clients that I worked with initially when we talk, they don't have any time. But the thing is, it's not about the amount of time you have, it's about better time management a lot of the time. There have been a handful of people that are CEOs that also have three kids. They're also a solo parent, and there's just so many things that they're doing that Yeah, I agree with them. In order to be able to fit 3 x 45 minute sessions in a week, that's going to be really quite challenging. So we look at other methods of getting that fit in such as splitting up the 45 minutes during one day. So between meetings, they get one exercise out of the way. And so by the end of the day, they just have 15 minutes left to do their exercise and, you know, that's one good strategy of getting through it. But the majority of people can actually find more time in their day with better time management.
Why not look at your screen time chart on your phone, how much time you're spending on social media? For many people if they get rid of their social media app, or if you just didn't watch TV or stream some Netflix you would actually have more than enough time in order to be able to do your workout. You might say, “Oh, I'm too tired to do that.”, the thing is, your body is fantastic and what it will do is it will overcompensate with the amount of energy that it creates. So it needs to know that it needs to make more energy in order to make more energy. So when you do your workout, your body's like oh gosh, I'm so tired. But you do i and guess what? You slept better that night. The next, “I'm gonna do a workout.” you but your body is like, “Oh, we've been here before.” And it's already creating more energy and it's learning to create that energy faster. It's becoming more efficient at these processes. That is what getting fitter is about. So even starting slow, you don't have to do it for 45 minutes to get the maximum benefit. If you're currently not doing any exercise a little bit more than what you did yesterday, it’s still going to get you a very long way.
Another thing you can do if it’s just not fitting into your day is, besides time management is chunking. So put the thing that you want to do into a healthy habit, chunk it onto something you already have to do every day. For some of my clients that are doing rehab exercises for balance or for the calves, when they're brushing their teeth, which they hopefully do, two to three times a day, I get them to do calf raises for the duration of them, brushing their teeth, or if they need to do balance stand on one leg for the two minutes and then stand on the other leg for the other two minutes that they do their teeth brushing for the day. Because it's a habit that's already chunked and ingrained with you, then it's more likely to occur. Because at the end of the day, it's about what you do, not about what your intention is that you do.
There is a neat principle when it comes to time management. It's called Parkinson's Law. So however much time you allocate to do something, is how long it's going to take to do. So choosing to work after dinner, then going to the gym, very easily means that work is going to take up your whole evening and no gym will occur. So set time frame “budgets” and stick to them.
Another issue is that if you give yourself after dinner to work out, and then decide to watch Netflix until you're no longer tired... Well, guess what, you're fighting a losing battle. Towards the end of the day, we have this thing that's called decision fatigue. The choices we make during the day such as, what to wear, what color to wear, whether to stop at the petrol station, every time you make a decision, your brain is getting more and more tired of making decisions. So this has to do with your prefrontal cortex in your brain. Your prefrontal cortex is kind of your executive function. It's kind of getting you to make the good decisions for you. It's the sort of ones that make you more disciplined. It's the sort of one that helps you make healthier decisions. As the day drags on, after you've made a healthier decision about swapping your crisps at lunchtime for having a salad and swapping walking up the stairs. Then the kids have asked you questions about the homework and they've gone to bed. Well, your decision making has been so fatigued for the day, the likelihood that you're about to do some exercise in the evening is very, very low. So we need to think of ways that we can chunk that with something else. Like I said, the toothbrush in the example, or potentially for some of my clients, if they need to be doing some cycling, for instance, they get a spin bike, and they will actually have the spin bike. They're only allowed to press play on Netflix when they've got the spin bike on, for instance. So chunking that with a habit that they already do mean, that means that it definitely happens and something we get very fit that way.
Reduce friction for the good habits of exercise and increase friction for the bad habits. Here are some ideas: don’t buy unhealthy food, store it at the store. The increased friction of getting to the store to buy it when you crave it will either put you off, or make you at least move to go get it! Put out your clothes the night before and pack your work clothes in a bag. Or for me, I left my keys at the gym at the start of the day to make sure I had to retrieve them and then I was already at the gym to workout!
Another thing is, if your decision making capacity towards the end of the day is just absolutely shot, which it can be, try exercising at the start of the day, because honestly, having your best energy in the morning before things really ramp up and all of the crazy things have happened for the day. Next thing you know, you've achieved doing a workout regime, you've got clarity of thought, when you're getting your kids ready for school, or when you're in your morning meetings and that sort of thing. You just know that by the end of the evening, your levels of tiredness will be such that, yes, you can watch that Netflix show or have that quick glass of wine before you go to sleep and you don't have to feel guilty for the entire day. But a workout is looming over the top of you.
Now, what's the best time of the day to be working out? Spoiler alert, the best time of the day to be working out is the time of day that you will actually get your workout done. There have been numerous studies that showed particular times of the day for females versus particular times of day for males based on the type of activity they're trying to do and the goals that they're trying to achieve. But realistically, the best workout you can do is the one that you're actually going to do. So it does not matter if it's the best time of the day to be working out. If you get your workout done, then you are flying. It does not matter that you heard somewhere that during 45 minutes nonstop activity all at once is far superior than spending over the day because guess what, not doing your exercises is infinitely worse than doing your exercise across the day and getting it done. There's other benefits to doing it in a particular way that you might have to do to get through it. But guess what, you will get far better results, you're going to feel more energetic, you're going to be able to make better, clear decisions during the day, you're also going to live longer, get less sick, you'll have better posture, less likely to get injured, all of these good things when you actually make sure that you plan to get your workout done. So there's a few different ways there. Let me know which one resonates with you.
As always, reach out if you want to chat. We've got plenty of fantastic ideas where these ones came from, because we have helped literally hundreds and 1000s of people reach their peak state for energy levels and peak state for their ideal body composition. And if we can help all those people, we would love to have the challenge of being able to help you.