How to Improve Your gym adherence and through more mindfulness and more

written by john c ashworth, ma

What’s the Difference Between those who go to the gym and those who Don’t?

About $500 bucks per month, and a little more mindfulness :)

A recent story on NPR revealed a fact that most of us already know instinctively about gym adherence, and that your lack of gym adherence is an important aspect of your gym’s business model.  Put another way, the people who don’t end up going to the gym regularly, are the people who subsidize the existence of the gym for the people who do go.  In the story on NPR, the report indicated that the Planet Fitness she had visited had six to seven thousand members.  Yet, there is only room for about 300 people at any one given time.  If everyone showed up, there would not be enough room.

In the second part of the story, the reporter visited a very different kind of gym.  One that requires gym adherence in order to keep your membership.  There were only 150 members of this gym and if they stopped coming, the owner stopped billing them and kicked them out.  This was not the only difference, of course.  The other major difference between this smaller gym and the bigger one is the level of personal attention and coaching being provided to the members.  Which is why it requires a much higher monetary investment than a gym membership at Planet Fitness.  A small gym like this one, which includes personal training and lots of personalized attention in order to help ensure better gym adherence, requires an investment of around $800 per month.  Here in Madison, for a similar program, you would need to invest about five to six hundred dollars per month.

As I pointed out at the beginning of this article, people’s ability to maintain an adequate level of gym adherence in the face of their busy lives and schedules is no secret.  Still, the reality is that people still like to join gyms and make their monthly payments, because they feel like this helps provide at least some level of accountability.  After all, if they don’t belong at all, they will NEVER go.  In addition to this, people love the idea of achieving their best self through a membership to their local gym..  Unfortunately, the research is clear.  Most people just can’t find a way to stick with it.

So what can YOU do to improve YOUR level of gym adherence?

I have a list of five strategies below, but I also did foundd one recent study that suggests that more mindfulness practice around your exercise program can help you find more satisfaction from your exercise, and therefore, increase the likelihood that you will get to the gym and exercise more often.

Research shows that finding satisfaction with your exercise program is one of the most powerful indicators for your long-term adherence.  When exercise is satisfying, you will find more enjoyment from the time you spend performing it, and in the end you will stick with it for the long run.  Until now, the problem was that no one could define what exactly increased feelings of satisfaction in relation to an exercise program.  After all, you can’t just instruct people to find more enjoyment from their exercise program.  It won’t work.  You have to help them find a way.

As pointed out in the New York Times article I reviewed which reported on this new study, experimental psychology provides a more rigorous definition of mindfulness.  They define it as “controlled attentiveness” or a “deliberate awareness” of what is happening in the present moment.

While research has found a relationship between mindfulness and better overall physical health and weight control, far less work has been devoted to taking a closer look at what mindfulness practice during exercise might actually help you accomplish.  And though a small number of investigations have suggested that people who deliberately immerse themselves in the feelings and emotions present while exercising, lead to feelings of wanting to exercise again, these correlations are not as strong as those that associate feelings of satisfaction with feelings of wanting to exercise again.

In this particular study by Dutch researchers, investigators were able to show a relationship between mindfulness and increased feelings of satisfaction from their exercise, which ultimately led to increased levels of exercise adherence.  When you feel good physically and emotionally when exercising, and when you are fully aware of those feeling, you are more likely to want to come back for more.

In addition to mindfulness, here are 5 more quick strategies to help you improve your gym adherence specifically…

1. Make sure you join a gym that you really like and that fits your needs.  This one sounds simple, but it is too easy to get overly excited about a facility without actually taking the time to bore out the details.  Ask for a 2-4 week trial, or just buy one month if you have to.  Don’t let them talk you in to a commitment on your first visit.

2. Hire a personal trainer.  Hiring a fitness professional who can help hold you accountable and design programming that more accurately fits your needs will make a significant difference in your ability to stick with the exercise program, especially in the early stages when just about anything can throw you off track.

3. Joni a class and engage fully.  What I mean is, don’t join a group exercise class and be the quiet little mouse at the back of the room.  Most instructors and classmates are usually very happy to have a new member and will go out of their way to make you feel at home and keep you from doing too much too soon.  Also crucial is that fact that if you engage with the instructor and your class mates they are going to miss you if you are gone, and that will help hold you more accountable to coming on a regular basis.  When I ran my fitness boot camps here in Madison, my members talked all the time about how powerful this effect was on them and their adherence levels.

4.  Make sure that the location of your gym fits well with your daily schedule.  The big, beautiful state of the art facility that is across town and no where near your daily routes, will very likely be the place that hardly ever sees you if you join.  Find something close or at least more congruent with your daily schedule.  My gym, for example, is halfway between home and where my kids go to school on the other side of town.  I drop them off in the morning, and then I hit the gym on the way home.  You get the picture.  My own gym adherence has improved significantly since I put it on my daily route.

5. Be more mindful while you are there.  As stated above, mindfulness has been shown to improve your adherence to exercise overall.  Try not to think of your time at the gym as such a chore.  Find enjoyment in it.  Personally, my time in the gym and in the pool at this gym are an important part of my overall psychological health.  I NEED to get there and spend that time.  It makes me a better person.  Even when I’m terribly busy, once I get to the gym, I really try and focus completely on my presence there.  To block out and forget everything else I have to do and focus completely on my body and the feeling associated with the exercise.  It’s awesome!

Have fun!