1 Start small
It's easy to promise yourself you're going to hit the gym six days a week – but harder to do it, especially when the days are short. Aim for three hard days a week – you can use any leftover energy to go shopping or batch-cook some health food.
2 Set definite goals
The more specific, the better. 'Lose fat' or 'Add muscle' isn't very specific - 'Lose 2%' bodyfat or 'Add 2kg of muscle by March' is much more specific, and it'll keep you focused. Even better - set yourself gym targets like a bodyweight bench press or 25-minute 5k. They'll keep you focused, and the body changes will be a nice side effect.
3 Have a plan
If you go to the gym with no idea what you're going to do, you'll waste time once you're there. Pick a plan you're prepared to commit to for at least a month, and stick to it.
4 …but be adaptable
The downside of training in January is that everyone's doing it, and if your workout grinds to a halt when the gym's only cable-cross machine is occupied, you're in for a bad time. Be ready to swap in, say, some dumbbell bench, and you're ready to go.
5 Keep a journal
Sets, reps and weights will do, though you can add more detail if you want to. Aim to move more weight, hit more reps, or take less rest between sets every week, and you'll see improvements fast.
6 Use 'finishers'
There's no excuse for neglecting cardio, but it doesn't have to take long. Finish your workouts with a nasty gut-check - an all-out 500m row or 30 burpees as fast as possible will do the trick.
7 Stay accountable
Tell someone you trust your goals - and ask them to help you stick to them. Once you're committed, it'll be harder to quit.
8 Add gradient to the treadmill
A flat treadmill isn’t the same as running in the park. A gradient, even as low as two per cent, will introduce a forward propulsive component, forcing you to work harder and coming closer to simulating ‘real’ running.
9 Breathe properly
‘Most people don’t think about breathing and consequently end up inhaling and exhaling rapidly,’ says former Olympic cyclist John Howard. ‘This stimulates the flight-fight mechanism and is very inefficient. If you can elongate and control each exhalation, you can improve your cardiovascular conditioning.’
10 Stick with it
For most men, what starts off as a new and exciting hobby can seem more like hard work after only a couple of weeks, especially if you don’t see instant results. Rest assured, this is normal. You’ve come this far, so persevere. It usually takes around three months for training to become a habit, and by that time you will start to look and feel better. In the meantime, remind yourself why you’re doing it and reward yourself for sticking with it. A top-quality massage is an example, but even a treat like a takeaway is better than quitting.
11 Think positive
Exercise releases feel-good chemicals called endorphins, so you’ll feel happier and less stressed after a workout. If you really can't face the gym, just tell yourself you'll go for a sauna and a couple of sets of press-up – once you're there, chances are you'll do more.
12 Change one thing at once
Planning to quit fags, booze and sugar at the same time as starting a new fitness regime? You don't have the willpower to make that stick. Change one small thing a week - giving up soft drinks, for instance - and add a new habit when the first one's set.
13 Work as a team
Exercise can be social, and it’s easier to stay motivated if you have a partner or friend to join you. Even saying hello to the regulars at your gym can make it a friendlier place.
14 Do 100 pressups a day
Too busy to exercise? Ridiculous. Do 5 press-ups every 15 seconds for five minutes, and you've done 100 total. Can't manage that? Cut it to 4, 3, 2 or 1…and work up.
15 Visualise success
‘Use all five senses,’ says sports psychologist Michael Sachs. ‘Don’t only see things, but hear what’s going on, smell, taste the sweat in your mouth and feel the steel bar and what’s it’s like to go through the movements. This benefits ordinary people lifting weights as much as it helps elite sportsmen.’
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From 2008 to 2018, Joel worked for Men's Fitness, which predated, and then shared a website with, Coach. Though he spent years running the hills of Bath, he’s since ditched his trainers for a succession of Converse high-tops, since they’re better suited to his love of pulling vans, lifting cars, and hefting logs in a succession of strongman competitions.