January is always the busiest time of the year for gyms—you might even call it the fitness version of Black Friday. After a holiday season of eating, drinking, and being merry (often in excess), many gyms see their membership double each January. Regardless of all that enthusiasm, gym attendance is usually back to its normal, pre-New Year level by mid-February.
Perhaps that's because, for many of us, New Year's resolutions are a bit of a joke: People break them before the year is out (a third won't even make it to the end of January).
But you don't need superpowers or an iron will to commit to being healthier this year. Whether your goal is to do 10 push-ups, run a marathon, or simply take the stairs more often—you can get there! Check out these tips to have your fittest year yet.
1. Write It and Measure It
Resolutions should be both specific and measurable. In fact, a recent study found that setting broad, vague, goals can make people depressed. Writing down your goals is not only a great way to accomplish them, but your list can also help you figure out the exact steps needed to get there.
"I want to lose weight" is a pretty common New Year's resolution, but how exactly do you go from point A to point B? Instead, try setting a more specific goal. For instance: "I want to lose 10 pounds over the next six weeks by eliminating fast food meals and going to the gym three to four times per week. I'll then maintain my goal weight for six months before setting any other new goals."
Breaking down the goal's components (with numeric benchmarks), and keeping a regular checklist will help solidify the task and keep you on track. Make your resolutions follow the SMART model: specific, measurable, achievable, results-focused, and time-bound.
2. Make Resolutions Manageable
A resolution shouldn't be a fantasy. If you've never lifted weights before, attempting to hit the weight bench seven days per week is probably setting yourself up for disappointment. For most people, upending a lifetime of habits can't happen overnight—even if that night is December 31. The reason is partly physiological; the brain just likes comfortable old habits over new, different ones.
The key to sustainable resolutions is to make small changes gradually. So if your goal is to go from never running to finishing a half-marathon, start training gradually. Begin by walking a few miles twice a week, and steadily increase the workload to jogging, and then running over several months.
3. Break Up the Goal
Resolving to do 10,000 push-ups in a year is pretty intimidating. But 192 push-ups every week... OK, that's still pretty scary. But breaking it down to 28 per day looks a lot more manageable, right? A goal that's either far in the future or far out of your comfort zone can be tough to start, so break the resolution down into achievable steps.
Better yet, give yourself several small resolutions throughout the year. For instance, instead of aiming to add 80 pounds to your bench press in a year, aim to add just over six pounds per month. Easier, right?
More From Greatist: How to Do the Perfect Push-Up
4. Treat Yo'Self!
When you hit those hard-earned benchmarks—one perfect pull-up, holding a headstand, the first week you managed to run 30 minutes a day—treat yo'self!
Choose a reward that won't undo your hard work: a weekend getaway, a beach day, a mani-pedi, a massage (they're good for you), some new fitness swag, or a movie date. Regular treats divided by goal (or really, divided by anything) can help you reach those milestones faster than you previously thought possible.
5. Question Your Motives
A steady gym habit can result in six-pack abs, but superficial goals may lose their appeal after endless weeks of diet and exercise. Instead, try framing fitness as a direct path to health and happiness. Regular exercise has unexpected benefits including lowering cholesterol, boosting overall energy, and even increasing happiness. Bringing some deeper intentions to your workout can make all the difference in sticking to your goals.
Before hitting the gym, ask yourself some introspective questions: Why did you make this resolution? What do you want to achieve? Developing answers that elicit a powerful emotional response can help motivate your goals.
6. Ask for Help
Not knowing how to do a certain exercise is no excuse to write it off completely. If you're curious about new techniques, or find some exercises that are too intimidating (looking at you, deadlifts!) book a session with a personal trainer to clear up confusion, help prevent injury, and learn to love new moves. Trainers and instructors are there to help, so don't be self-conscious about asking for advice.
Another idea: If you already have a class you love, don't be afraid to stick around for a few minutes and ask the instructor about some of the moves you did.
7. Keep a Schedule
Time management is important for accomplishing any goal, and fitness is no exception. Early morning exercise is a great way to fit a workout into a busy day, and it may encourage healthier eating and more movement throughout the day.
But if waking up early is your idea of cruel and unusual torture, then sweating at 6 a.m. is probably not a sustainable system. Make your fitness routine work for you: Pick a time of day when you have energy, schedule a workout, rinse, and repeat.
More From Greatist: 24 Morning Workout Tips That Are Actually Helpful