20 Ways to Stick to Your Workout

You have the right to remain fat. Or skinny. Or weak. But you should know that every workout you miss can and will be used against you to make your belly bigger, your muscles smaller and weaker, and your life shorter. Unfortunately, most Americans are exercising their right not to exercise.

A recent study by the National Center for Health Statistics found that only 19 percent of the population regularly engages in "high levels of physical activity." (That's defined as three intense 20-minute workouts per week.)

Another 63 percent — about the same percentage as that of Americans who are overweight — believe that exercising would make them healthier, leaner, and less stressed, but they don't do it. At the root of this problem is motivation, or the lack thereof.

It's the difference between wanting to exercise and actually doing it. That's why the advice you're about to read is priceless. We've filled these pages with the favorite motivational strategies of the top personal trainers in the country. Their livelihoods, in fact, depend on the effectiveness of their tips to inspire their clients to exercise — and to stick with it. After all, statistics don't pay by the hour.

1. Sign up for a distant race
That is, one that's at least 500 miles away. The extra incentive of paying for airfare and a hotel room will add to your motivation to follow your training plan, says Carolyn Ross-Toren, chairwoman of the Mayor's Fitness Council in San Antonio.

2. Make a 'friendly' bet
Challenge your nemesis — that idea-stealing coworker or a non-mowing neighbor — to a contest. The first guy to drop 15 pounds, run a 6-minute mile, or bench- press 250 pounds wins. The key: "Make sure it's someone you don't particularly like," says Michael Mejia, C.S.C.S., Men's Health exercise advisor. (It's okay if your rival thinks you're best friends.)

3. Tie exercise to your health
Check your cholesterol. Then set a goal of lowering your LDL cholesterol by 20 points and increasing your HDL cholesterol by 5 points. "You'll decrease your risk of heart disease while providing yourself with a very important, concrete goal," says John Thyfault, Ph.D., C.S.C.S., an exercise researcher at East Carolina University. Ask your doctor to write a prescription for new blood work in a month. You'll just have to go to the lab, and the doctor will call you with the results.

4. Switch your training partners
Working out with a partner who will hold you accountable for showing up at the gym works well—for a while. But the more familiar you are with the partner, the easier it becomes to back out of workout plans. "Close friends and family members don't always make the best training partners because they may allow you to slack off or cancel workouts," says Jacqueline Wagner, C.S.C.S., a trainer in New York City. To keep this from happening, find a new, less forgiving workout partner every few months.

5. Compete
Find a sport or event that you enjoy, and train to compete in it. "It adds a greater meaning to each workout," says Alex Koch, Ph.D., C.S.C.S., an exercise researcher (and competitive weight lifter) at Truman State University. Consider training for the World Master's games in 2005 (www.2005worldmasters.com), an Olympics-like competition for regular guys. Events include basketball, rowing, golf, triathlon, and weight lifting.

6. Think about fat
Your body is storing and burning fat simultaneously, but it's always doing one faster than the other. "Understanding that you're getting either fatter or leaner at any one time will keep you body-conscious so you won't overeat or underexercise," says Alwyn Cosgrove, C.S.C.S., owner of Results Fitness Training in Santa Clarita, California.

7. Do a daily gut check
Place your fingers on your belly and inhale deeply so that it expands. As you exhale, contract your abdominal muscles and push your fingertips against your hard abdominal wall. Now pinch. "You're holding pure fat between your fingers," says Tom Seabourne, Ph.D., author of Athletic Abs. Do this every day, 30 minutes before your workout, and you'll find that you'll rarely decide to skip it.

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