- One study found that up to 73 percent of people who set fitness resolutions end up quitting before hitting their targets.
- Experts say don’t push yourself too much at the beginning of the year, which could lead to injury.
- Instead experts suggest pacing yourself in order to gain results over the long term.
Each year, millions of people make a promise to themselves to get their fitness in check in the New Year.
In fact, exercising more, eating healthier, and losing weight are the most common New Year’s goals, accounting for roughly a third of all resolutions, according to a 2018 Marist Poll survey sponsored by NPR and PBS NewsHour.
But, the plan to go hard at the gym often ends up backfiring. One 2012 study found that up to 73 percent of people who set fitness resolutions end up quitting before hitting their targets.
While many people find it too challenging to stay on track and make time for the gym, others overcommit to working out and burn out fast or get injured.
Here’s how to avoid joining the 73 percent who never reach their New Year fitness goals.
The New Year is often marketed as a time for improvement or new beginnings. There’s a lot of buzz and pressure from our society to live by the slogan “New Year, New Me.”
“This can excite and motivate people in the beginning but often leads to unrealistic expectations and commitments instead of gradually integrating new habits so that they become part of your lifestyle,” says Taryn Toomey, the founder of the physical conditioning workout The Class.
As a result, some people end up putting a lot of pressure on themselves to do an extreme amount of exercise in a short amount of time.
“Too many people don’t know their limits and sometimes our minds can be a little deceiving where we think we could do more than we actually could,” Sharon Zarabi, a registered dietitian and personal fitness trainer in New York, told Healthline.
Rather than setting a New Year resolution that you have to uphold, Zarabi recommends adopting a new day resolution in which every day provides a new opportunity to get closer to your goals.
Deanna Crosby, the clinical director at New Method Wellness in San Juan Capistrano, California, says she sees a lot of people go at their fitness goals too hard in the new year who end up fizzling out.
“When you haven’t created enough space in your life for a goal it can become overwhelming, and you begin to push too much during one time,” Crosby said.
It’s better to look at fitness as a lifetime goal and part of your daily routine, not something to swiftly check off your list.
But overdoing it too quickly isn’t only going to cause you to burn out — it’s also unsafe and can easily cause an overuse injury, which is only going to further set back your fitness.
If your muscles aren’t used to all the exercise, they can get strained.
As Zarabi puts it, “it’s easier to exercise the wrong way than it is the right way — and that’s what leads most people to injury and prevents them from sticking to their fitness goals.”
The best way to hit your fitness targets is to work up to them gradually. It takes time to get fit and build strength, so don’t expect changes overnight.
“When you gradually yet consistently work towards new fitness goals, your body is able to adjust and strengthen at a cadence that doesn’t make you feel defeated or overwhelmed — as you may feel if you step into something that is too intense,” Toomey said.
Zarabi, along with many other experts in the therapy world, recommends setting “SMART” goals — “they’re specific, they’re measurable, they’re attainable, they’re relevant, and they’re timely,” she said.
In other words, set clear, specific goals — e.g. visit the gym for 30 minutes three times a week — that are actually realistic and not so far-fetched.
Additionally, find a physical activity that you actually enjoy doing.
“What we’ve made exercise to be is something on their to-do list,” says Zarabi.
Rather than making the gym all about losing weight, it’s better to approach fitness as a way to relax, make time for yourself, and feel that rush of endorphins.
If you struggle with taking a moderate approach, it may be worth investing in a personal trainer who can guide you through your workouts.
Toomey also recommends scheduling your workouts as if they were meetings. Coordinate with a friend who can motivate you along the way and help you hold yourself accountable.
After all, when it comes to fitness, community is the key to staying the course.
Each year, millions of people set New Year’s resolutions aimed at getting fit and exercising more. However, the vast majority of them never reach their goals.
Fitness experts say the key to reaching your fitness targets is to work up to them gradually, be realistic, and find a community to work out with.