The Exercise Rule That Will Keep You Fit Forever

by | Sep 6, 2016
Photo by lintmachine

Photo by lintmachine

Have you ever started a new habit with a lot of enthusiasm and built up some great momentum? Maybe you were able to workout three times a week for an entire month. It feels great, and every day you stick with it you’re strengthened to continue tomorrow.

But then something happens. You have to go away to a wedding on a long weekend, or your kids both get sick at the same time and force you to drop everything to care for them.

Your momentum is broken, and when things settle down you find yourself ordering takeout and skipping your workout to watch the latest episode of The Voice (it’s cool, I won’t tell anyone).

Momentum can be both a blessing and a curse. When it’s on your side you feel amazing and it becomes a catalyst for even more positive behaviors. When it’s against you it somehow saps the motivation out of almost everything you do. I call this lazy couch momentum.

To avoid succumbing to the lazy couch momentum I follow one simple rule:

Don’t Skip Two workouts in a row.

We all have days when you’re too tired/grumpy/stressed/upset to stick to your normal schedule, and that’s totally fine. Take a load off. You deserve it (even if you think you don’t).

What you DON’T want is for it to become the new normal, and you can avoid this by not giving in twice and letting lazy couch momentum build.

This is one of the few times in your life when it is smart to muster up some willpower and just make it happen. No excuses, just put on your sneakers and walk out the door.

You don’t have to workout at full intensity if you don’t want to. If you normally go for a run, just go for a walk if that will get you out the door. I don’t care if you just go to the gym and stretch for 20 minutes. Just do something physical. Anything. You won’t regret it.

What’s important is that you don’t let lazy couch momentum build. You take away its power by not feeding it consecutive victories, and before you know it you’ll be back in your normal routine.

Once lazy couch momentum does build though, it is a lot trickier to free yourself. So it’s best not to let that happen.

But what if whatever interrupted your routine lasts awhile, like an injury or long vacation? Obviously you shouldn’t force yourself to exercise if it will hurt you in some way.

However the first week things are back to normal you should reinstate the Don’t Skip Two rule. If before your interruption you had a routine of working out Monday, Wednesday and Friday, it’s fine to take Monday off to recuperate without any guilt.

But get back in the saddle on Wednesday.

Again, this isn’t about torturing yourself, it’s about momentum. For that reason it doesn’t matter what activity you do. Just Don’t Skip Two workouts in a row.

You can use a similar strategy for other habits as well, like cooking or meditation. Simply managing your momentum by doing some version of your habit––like making some pasta from a box or taking a few deep breaths in a quiet place––instead of skipping it completely twice in a row can help keep your habit intact.

Have you ever had lazy couch momentum? How did you escape?

Originally published May 19, 2015.

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23 Responses to “The Exercise Rule That Will Keep You Fit Forever”

  1. amy says:

    when I’m thinking about skipping I think ahead to my schedule coming up. are there valid reasons I might have to skip my next workout? If so, I better suck it up and get out there.

    It also helps to choose a fun exercise that you look forward to so you don’t feel like skipping very often. I’m still working on that.

  2. Kitty says:

    This is a great idea. I really enjoyed the book, Better Habits, by Gretchen Rubin because it gives a lot of good examples of ways to built better habits and to not get derailed on the habits we’ve built. I found that the habit I am most in danger of getting derailed on is exercise. I can do it for months, then miss a few times and not get back to it for more months.

    One thing that I use now on exercise is recognizing that simply being tired is not a valid reason to skip exercising unless it is a planned day off. Note — being sick is different and that is a valid reason. But, just tiredness isn’t enough to skip. I may not do as much if I’m really tired or I may do something lower intensity, but I don’t skip just due to tiredness (I do plan to take at least 1 day off each week though).

  3. Annamarie says:

    Love this idea – what a great tip! Im a person who has a hard time making almost anything a true habit – Im going to try this, thanks!

  4. Lisa M says:

    My rule is the do something rule. I generally find if I work out for 5 minutes, I’ll keep going.

  5. DannyNYC says:

    I’ve been working out daily for over 24 years, about 8900 days. It was the best decision I ever made. Even during tough days, birth of my kids, international travel, deaths of loved ones, minor illnesses, I kept on going. Now at age 61 I’m in the best shape of my life, sharing my love for fitness and health with my 2 young kids of 12 and 4.

  6. I don’t have lazy couch momentum build, for me it’s more like “lazy season momentum build”. I work out (at the gym) all year long but used to lack consistency. I would hit it hard in the spring, 4-5 days per/wk getting my beach body right (roll your eyes if you like :)), 3-4 days during the summer, 2-3 days in the fall and then 1-2 days during the winter. Why? I guess my motives for why I was in in the gym changed throughout the year. Frustrated the heck out of me. Mid fall of 2014 was the first time I decided to simply not let that trend ever happen again. All it took was some will power (like Darya said) to stick to 4-5 days per/wk.

  7. Madonna Smith says:

    One of my mentors on my journey to better health offered me the same advice, don’t miss 2 days in a row. I’ve had ample opportunities in the 3 years I’ve been journeying to test this, and you’re correct about this lack of exercise becoming the new normal WAY too easily and quickly. Do something, even if for 10 min. or take a walk, just do something to avoid not exercising.
    Good advice.

  8. Cynthia M. says:

    Actually that is my rule too… the only exception being on vacation or a day when I am really active even if it is not formal “exercise”….

    It is a really good rule. Even if I turn on Music and have a dance party in the kitchen… it counts 🙂

  9. Dee says:

    Yea, that’s me right there.. I’ll ponder a bit on that concept of ‘lazy couch momentum’…. It’s scary and one should prevent it

  10. Carina says:

    It makes a lot of sense. It is the momentum that makes you do or not do things.

    I have been taking a fitness class 5 times a week. My teacher got sick for 3 days in a row and it was a bit hard to go back the following day to take the class.

    I must say that what made it easier to go back is that the class is a lot of fun and I always feel good after I am done.

    Now it was different when I was working out from home 3 times a week for 15min. Life happened and I stopped working out for probably 2 weeks or so. It was very very hard to get back into my training.

    When I did go back I worked out for just 5 min or so for the first week, just to feel my body moving and get the momentum again.

  11. Mitch says:

    Yes, a great post on how to get on track being motivated to stick to positive habits of exercising regularly and a good diet. Being demotivated at times is part of being human, who ever you are.

  12. Claudette says:

    I always followed something like this with exercise and before kids I was at my ideal weight for 13 years. Kid #1 gained 45 lbs, lost it all just before getting pregnant again and it was 4 years later. I have never been able to lose and keep it off after my second and he’s 7 years old now. I continued always with my exercise routines and my running (which I love) but I also tried every diet out there and I would lose and gain it back, despite eating zero carbs, etc. Now I’m at an ultimate high weight, 15 lbs away from “ideal.” I don’t know what to do. Very low carb diet doesn’t work for me, not eating doesn’t work. I am going to read all your articles. I want to just be normal and happy in my own skin and all of the dieting has made me heavier. Which leads me to the question I was going to ask you: I fractured my foot (fell down walking down the stairs in my house). I am still recovering 4 months later, but I’m much better. I really couldn’t exercise at all (for the first time ever I had to be kind of a couch potato as I couldn’t walk at all. I read like 10 novels.) So, a couple of months into it I started doing pilates because I could do that on the floor. Yesterday, I did a weight workout for the first time. How do I build back up again? I am so afraid to even try walking/running at this point. I don’t want to re-injure. Sorry this is so long. I appreciate any advice.

    • Darya Rose says:

      Start small and build. Maybe something that puts less pressure on feet, like biking or swimming. Maybe see a physical therapist?

      For the dieting, Foodist would probably do wonders for you. You wouldn’t even need a recalibration after doing low carb diets for so long.

  13. Claudette says:

    Oops, wasn’t finished. I will check out Foodist. I love nutrition books. I’ve read so many. Yeah, I don’t need a recalibration, most likely. I’m already a whole foods girl, organic, do most of my own cooking, etc. I recently followed a hormone reset and removed dairy and caffeine (no morning shot of espresso), and that diet promised weight loss. I lost nothing. But I’ve already been grain free, soy free for years, and practically sugar free (with occasional dark chocolate). I am nightshade-free mostly so no white potatoes or peppers for me, but I can get away with some tomato if it’s cooked only. I see you recommend some grains. Wondering if that’s ok for me to re-introduce without actually gaining? Gluten doesn’t seem to bother me when it creeps in occasionally (as in an occasional breaded chicken cutlet or calamari). I have no adverse effects, but in general with all the books I’ve read, it just seems better for health to avoid it. Thank you!!!!

  14. Angela says:

    Totally and great advice! I feel this is great advice for working out, prayer/reading, chores, and even flossing! Love it. Thanks for your blog.

  15. Judith says:

    This came at a great time. New location and therefore new gym and longer time to the old gym. For the summer, I was exercising three times per week at the pool (Aqua Zumba), one day in kettlebells and one on Zumba gold. Both kettlebells and Zumba gold classes had a two week break and the pool closed. Ugh. Now I am struggling to get my new routine set up because two days a week is not enough for me to feel healthy. Unfortunately I hate walking as exercise and need those classes to keep me pumped up. Thanks for the good tip on keeping momentum up once I get back in the saddle.

  16. John Bauer says:

    Darya, this is a great suggestion. I also thought some of the other comments had some good strategies as well.

    When I miss a workout it is usually due to an unavoidable work commitment, and it bums me out that I had to miss. Sometimes I will go later in the day, other times I will try to do an alternate exercise sometime during the day.

    At the end of the day it is all about motivation, and many people are doing their workouts not so much because they enjoy it, but because they “have to”. This is what can make that bad momentum build, and why the advice is often to do exercise you really enjoy rather than some program someone else created for the generic masses.

  17. JohnnyR says:

    I can’t begin to explain how I ended up on this site. I can tell you though through my entire adult life I have found it difficult to stay in a physical routine of exercise.
    Life changes such as mine (MI) force you to re-evaluate everything.
    The first thing I do EVERYDAY is 30 minutes on the treadmill, because I now believe (because of Neuro-Associative Conditioning) that my life depends on it.


  18. Lauren says:

    Very great tips! the best thing I did for myself was begin to incorporate exercise into my daily routine, I work with electric bikes, but never thought about getting one for myself. Now i cycle to work daily!

  19. Love this! It can be hard, especially when traveling, but it’s important to get up and get moving! I love your advice of not skipping two work outs. It often leads to too long of a break and you end up paying for it later.

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