Barrier Busters

We know that lots of things can stand in the way of your desire to get fit and turn regular workouts into a permanent fixture in your life. Fortunately, for each of these problems there are relatively simple solutions. Here are 21 ways to break down the most common mental barriers to a consistent, successful workout program and become the kind of guy who gets fit and stays there.


If you’re having trouble keeping your fitness plan going, this is most likely issue No. 1. “For most people, motivation is the main obstacle to beginning and continuing an exercise program,” says Jay Kimiecik, associate professor in health promotion at Miami University of Ohio and the author of a new book called The Intrinsic Exerciser. “In my experience doing research and interviewing ‘exercise maintainers,’ I’ve learned that the people who are successful develop a strong enough passion for movement that they overcome the motivational obstacles others fall prey to.

You need to make a connection with the experience you have with moving your body.”

Break on through:
1) Decide what you’re aiming for. Do you want to lose body fat, gain muscle, look better, feel better, be healthier, live longer, be a stronger competitor in sports–or any combination of those goals? Until someone invents a magic superpill, regular exercise is the only clear route to all of them.

2) Learn to enjoy the feeling of exercise. You can learn to take satisfaction from the work your muscles are doing–just as you do when playing any sport– by being aware of the effort you’re giving and the progress you’re making in the gym. The endorphins don’t hurt either.

3) Focus on the challenge factor. Working out allows you to learn new skills, progress toward new objectives, and gain mastery over your body. After every exercise session, congratulate yourself on having achieved something now, and taken another step toward your goal.

4) Pump up your energy. Instead of just dragging yourself to the gym, do something enjoyable to get yourself “up” before a workout, such as listening to fast music or taking a brisk run outdoors.

5) Hire a personal trainer to work with you, at least occasionally. He or she will help you work harder without injury, and having to pay for the privilege will help spur you to keep working out between sessions. You’ll also learn new ways to approach your training–always a good thing for helping prevent the staleness that accompanies doing the same old thing.

6) Have fun with the guys. You can make exercise a social event by working out with friends. A competitive spirit will likely permeate the group, which will help you put on muscle quickly. Or you can train separately and get together with the guys afterward for, say, a postworkout meal.

7) Make it a game. Take up a sport you enjoy and aim your workouts at becoming a more effective competitor. Eventually, you’ll probably find that gaining strength and stamina is enjoyable for its own sake.


There’s a reason health clubs are packed in January and half empty in March: Guys get excited by the concept of becoming fit, but often don’t follow through when it turns into a day-to-day task that requires actually getting off one’s duff and doing something about it. But while most men start to enjoy working out once they’ve made it part of their routine, many don’t even get that far. “I don’t think people really get hooked on exercise until they’ve done it for a while,” says Daniel M. Landers, Ph.D., regent’s professor in the department of kinesiology at Arizona State University. The point, then, is to get past those first few months.

Break on through:
8) Hold yourself to a time commitment. When you start a new program, promise yourself you absolutely aren’t going to quit for three months, the usual length of time it takes to turn your wish into commitment. By then, you’ll have started experiencing some physical and psychological benefits, and you’re more likely to keep going than you would be if you had stopped after a month.

9) Have a reward system.
Do something that feels good following an exercise session, such as getting a world-class massage. Eventually, the enjoyment that comes from exercising regularly will become a reward in itself. The massage may become part of the ritual too.

10) Don’t get down on yourself. The first time you have an impulse to quit–or miss a workout–don’t beat yourself up over it. Instead, try to reconnect with the feeling of accomplishment you had when you started working out, and the sense of self-mastery that comes from taking steps toward your goals.

11) Don’t let a missed workout spell the end. Every time you miss a session, immediately plan a new one–for the next day, if possible. Remember, it’s easier to get back on the mental track by making up one missed workout than it is after missing five of them.

12) Go back over the goals you set out to meet when you first started. Guys who bail on a workout program conveniently allow themselves to forget why they started one in the first place. Don’t let this happen to you.

13) Think of exercise as a lifelong habit, not an instant cure-all. If you want to be ambulatory at 85, not just have good abs in your 30s, exercise has to have a permanent berth in your weekly schedule.

14) Don’t get discouraged by what seems like slow progress. No one goes from schlub to hardbody in a couple of months … but you’ll never get there if you give up now. Plan your growth in increments, and congratulate yourself for the progress you’re making at every step.

15) Don’t let impatience lead to overexercising. If you’re tempted to work out too long or too often to speed things up, don’t. Overexercising can quickly lead to overtraining syndrome and injury, and it won’t make your muscles grow any faster. Keep in mind that rest, recovery, and proper nutrition between workouts are the keys to fitness and a great-looking body.


Going to the gym for an hour is a great start, but what about the rest of the day? Guys who are successful in a fitness program, and who stick with it over the long haul, are the ones who live fit lives. “The more you can get yourself to exercise, and the more others around you respond to that, the stronger your ‘exercise identity’ becomes,” says Dean Anderson, Ph.D., a sports sociologist and a professor in the department of health and human performance at Iowa State University. “And the more committed you become to thinking of yourself that way, the more likely you are to stick with it.”

Break on through: 16) Get other people on your side. Let your friends and family know you’re working out so they can encourage you to stick with it (and razz you if you don’t).

17) Go shopping. Buying all the gym equipment and clothes you need will keep you thinking of yourself as an exerciser–but remember, unless you’re really fit, no spandex. Of course, don’t go whole hog on the expense side; start with what you need immediately, then add to it as you progress.

18) Junk the junk food. Stocking your larder with lean protein, fresh produce and complex carbs–beer doesn’t qualify–will keep you energized and help you get the greatest benefit from your workouts. It’ll also help you think of your body as a temple, and not the Temple of Doom.

19) Stop smoking, drinking too much, and staying out until 4 a.m. Tobacco destroys your cardiovascular system, drinking dehydrates you, and lack of sleep keeps you from producing enough of those muscle-building hormones. But beyond that, when you party every night, you miss out on that great feeling of being fit and healthy that exercise will bring you if you let it.

20) Feel the confidence. When you work out regularly, you end up boosting your self-image. That’s not just because you start to look better, but also because you’re accomplishing something, with visible results, every week.

21) Get physical all the time. What’s the point of becoming fit if you’re still going to hang out on the couch all day? Start discovering the physical benefits of being in good condition, from sports to hiking and camping outdoors to better sex. Once you’ve learned how much more fun your life can be, you’ll never want to go back.

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