This 'Habit Stacking' Tip Will Help You Actually Stick To A Workout Routine

·9 min read
Photo credit: Westend61 - Getty Images
Photo credit: Westend61 - Getty Images


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2022 is (somehow) quickly approaching, and perhaps you’re looking for a way to up your fitness game for the new year. You’ve definitely come to the right place.

We asked five trainers for their best fitness tips and pulled tried-and-true pointers from WH over the years. Together, they cover everything from warming up to pre-workout supps, so no matter where you’re at in your fitness journey or what you’re looking to improve on, this list will help you achieve your goals.

This one goes out to all the beginners from Kehinde Anjorin, certified functional strength coach, personal trainer, and founder of Power In Movement. The idea here is that you want to build a fitness habit that you can sustain and eventually build upon. Look at your lifestyle, Anjorin says, and try not to overwhelm yourself when you’re starting your fitness journey—even if that means working out just once a week at first, or committing to 10 minutes of movement twice a week.

On a similar note, “the fitness journey is all about creating consistency and finding a way to make movement fit into your lifestyle,” says NCSF-certified personal trainer Elise Young. Like Anjorin, she suggests starting slow and building on your foundation every day. And complete a self-inventory in the morning, she adds, during which you ask yourself what you can commit to that day—a walk? A run? A lift? “Make it a habit to find movement and meet yourself where you currently stand,” Young says.

“Warm up before every workout, no exceptions,” says Taylor Rae Almonte, NASM-certified personal trainer, actor, and activist. Doing so can help to prevent injury. As for what to include in your warm-up, some of Almonte’s favorite moves include plank walkouts, cat cows, and lateral lunges.

Almonte adds that you should not do static stretching before your workout. (It actually reduces muscle strength and impairs explosive muscle performance, physical therapist Christina Ciccione, CSCS, previously told WH.) Almonte’s faves listed above—along with t-spine rotations, world’s greatest stretch, and forward fold to squat—are all dynamic stretches, she notes.

After your workout, static stretching is just fine. In fact, it can help prevent muscle stiffness, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Just make sure you hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds, and don’t go beyond one minute, Almonte advises.

Mobility work shouldn’t be a separate entity from your strength and conditioning work,” says Kristina Centenari, a personal trainer and coach. “It can give a lot to your workouts if you warm up your joints, moving through their full ranges of motion and controlling that range.” Afterward, she suggests incorporating that dynamic movement and some light plyometrics (a.k.a. jump training).

Strength training is key, Young says. After all, the benefits of this type of exercise are plentiful. “Strength training keeps us feeling strong and empowered,” she says. It also keeps your bones strong, reduces your risk of injury, and improves your cardiovascular health, she adds.

The ’80s favorite is great for exercises that require an elevated surface, like Bulgarian split squats, WH reported. You can also use it to make moves like planks, pushups, and lunges harder. Plus, it can serve as a great bench for exercises like chest presses and rows, according to NASM-certified trainer Stephanie Reyes. Bottom line: There are plenty of reasons to add a stepper to your equipment collection.

There are many ways to get your heart pumping that don’t involve a treadmill (or an elliptical, for that matter). For instance, you can do a HIIT workout or circuit including exercises like high knees and butt kicks, Anjorin recently wrote for Women’s Health. Other great cardio exercises include jump rope and kettlebell swings.

The best way to do so depends on your goals. Basically, your priorities should help you decide on the order in which you do cardio and strength training. For instance, if you want to get stronger, you should do strength training first, but if you want to build endurance, it’s better to start with cardio, according to the American Council on Exercise.

The body adapts, Anjorin says. So, when it comes to your strength training routine, she suggests continually progressing to force your body to change. For instance, if this week you’re doing three sets of 8 to 10 repetitions of a certain exercise, next week you might level up to four sets of 12. In essence, keep pushing yourself—whether you choose to increase the weight you’re using or add additional sets and reps.

More isn’t always better, says Angela Gargano, a NASM-certified personal trainer. Better is better. In other words, make sure you master your form while doing basic movements before you add weight or complicate the exercises.

“Commit to your recovery as hard as you would commit to training,” Centenari advises. Your muscles need it to heal up and create strength, Gargano adds.

This is something that’s super underrated when it comes to fitness, Anjorin says. Sleep is crucial time when muscle recovery happens, and it also (of course) helps you have the energy to actually perform and push during workouts. The evening routine she uses to unwind includes dry brushing, a hot shower, and setting her thermostat to about 65 degrees (which, BTW, is right in the ideal temp range for sleeping, according to the National Sleep Foundation). “And I don’t do screen time prior to bed,” she says.

Considering sleep is so key for recovery, Young agrees that it’s important to establish quality sleep habits and suggests trying to go to bed around the same time every day. (And, FYI, the CDC also advises waking up at the same time every day—even on weekends—to improve your sleep health.)

“On days you may not feel like doing anything super intense, I have good news—you don’t have to!” Centenari says. While our bodies are meant to move every day, they don’t have to be driven into the ground every day, she says. But skipping that super-tough HIIT class doesn’t mean you should binge Netflix instead. When your body tells you to chill out, “just listen to it and find that happy medium–go for a walk, do the laundry you’ve been putting off, bake banana bread,” Centenari says. “Keep it light; stay in motion.”

Anjorin likes to do yoga for recovery because it keeps her moving and allows her to stretch out. In fact, its combination of flexibility and low-intensity strength training makes yoga one of the best options for active recovery workouts.

A notebook is a great way to stay on top of your physical and mental health, WH has reported. In fact, writing down and sharing your goals makes it more likely you’ll achieve them, according to a study out of the Dominican University of California. And there are tons of super-cute fitness journals out there to choose from that suit different objectives and regimens.

“I keep a 12-ounce glass of water next to bed, and when I first wake up, I drink the whole thing,” Young says. “Starting the day with that glass of water sets me up to hit my daily water intake for the day.” Water keeps you hydrated during workouts, energizes you, and helps lubricate the joints. Young acknowledges that there are many different guidelines out there for how much water you should drink, and advises that you find an amount that works for you—then stick with it. Remember, things like your exercise regimen and where you live can affect how much water you should be drinking.

If you read that last tip and started flashing back to all your past attempts at drinking more water, stay with us—this tip from Almonte might make it easier. Habit stacking, she says, is basically just joining new habits with ones you’ve already got. For instance, you might keep yourself stretching every day by combining it with your morning coffee routine, or help yourself drink more water by linking it to checking emails.

“None of us are perfect,” Centenari says. “There will be days when pure willpower just isn’t enough to achieve your goals.” The good news: You can still set yourself up for success. For instance, if you want to rise early in the morning for your workout, lay out your clothes the night before, Centenari suggests. “Instead of thinking about doing something,” she says, “make it a tangible task.”

You don’t need a pre-workout, Anjorin says. Same goes for coffee before your workout. “Just make sure your nutrition and your sleep hygiene are on point,” she says.

“The standard rule for protein consumption is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight per day,” Almonte says. “But if you’re very active, aim for 1.4 to 2 grams per kilogram of body weight per day.” A few high-protein foods that might help you meet that goal: tempeh, Greek yogurt, and turkey.

Good news: You don’t need to sprint for the protein powder as soon as you finish your last rep. “It’s a wider window,” Anjorin says. “So if you don’t get your protein intake an hour and a half after your workout, you’re fine. Your muscles are not going to atrophy.”

“Think of eating like you would think of training—your training is dependent on your lifestyle and progress, not anyone else’s,” Centenari says. In other words, don’t fall into the trap of a one-size-fits-all diet. Of course, the trainer adds, there are general guidelines to follow (like avoiding added sugars and highly processed foods). But rather than thinking of foods as “good” or “bad,” consider what will fuel your individual lifestyle, she advises. Anjorin, too, notes that there’s no one ideal diet, and says that the best diet is one you can sustain.

Some days, you’ll feel on top of the world, whereas others you’ll find yourself full of self-doubt, Young says. Tell yourself that you’re strong and beautiful, she suggests, and trust what you have inside you. “At the end of the day, it is you versus you,” she says. “Own your power.”

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