The 4 Things Any Good Exercise Plan Needs

2014 – a new year has begun and you are committed to making changes! Or at least you thought so on January first. But now, it is mid-January and you already stopped doing what you said you were going to do every day this New Year! What happened?

Many people feel this way when January rolls around. We know that there are many things that we need to change in our lives, but somehow we cannot seem to stick to them. In addition, there is this societal pressure to come up with really clever and big New Year’s resolutions. Unfortunately, the majority of them are not kept for very long, if at all. This process can indeed be very frustrating, as we are confronted with personal failure.

Popular New Year’s resolutions include: stop smoking, stop drinking, exercise more and lose weight. If we stop just a moment and ponder on these examples, we begin to realize that these are extremely difficult behaviors to change! Simply saying: “I will start exercising in this New Year”, will not do the trick. It is an empty statement with no substance to it.

If you are tired of wanting to change certain behaviors and failing you need a better plan. The good news is that there are some simple, yet specific strategies to assist us with planning for successful behavior change to become physically fit and healthy.

The Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change

Before anyone can embark on the journey to actually changing behavior, it is essential to recognize whether or not one is truly ready to take action. The Transtheoretical Model (TTM) of Behavior Change, developed by James O. Prochaska, nicely showcases the stages one goes through related to behavior change:

So how can we understand the TTM? Let us look at the model in regards to exercising.

Precontemplation: Perhaps you do not intend to actually take action and start exercising within the next six months or maybe you are unaware that being sedentary has negative effects on your body.

Contemplation: You recognize that changing your behavior would be a positive and are considering beginning an exercise regimen within the next six months.

Determination: Once you fully understand that exercising will change your health and have arrived at a point where you are ready to take action within a 30-day period.

Action: You have begun exercising and intend to continue doing so.

Maintenance: If you have stuck with your exercise routine for more than six months.

Relapse: Unfortunately, relapses occur and people leave and enter the cycle repeatedly at different stages as outlined in the image above.

How to Get Started

Now, that a basic foundational framework has been presented, let’s look a simple, yet strategic way, we can all become FITT in 2014! (Do not worry! The double ‘T’ will make sense shortly!)

1. Reflect for a moment on where you are in the process. Which stage do you think you are in according to the TTM above?

2. If you find yourself in the Precontemplation phase, start gathering more information about the benefits of physical fitness. There are severe consequences of being sedentary, learn about reversing them by embarking on a personal fitness journey. Reading more articles about nutrition and fitness is a good place to start. This process should assist you in progressing to the Contemplation stage.

3. If you are in the Contemplation stage, continue doing what is suggested in the previous point. In addition, start exploring what resources you already have for physical fitness activities and what other types of exercise you would potentially enjoy. Connect to people or groups that are enthusiastic about physical fitness. You could even seek out a free consultation with a personal trainer.

4. If you are in the Determination stage, we are now ready to proceed with some specific steps (A, B, and C) for successful behavior change:

A.  Set short-term and long-term SMART goals pertaining to your physical fitness

S = Specific
M = Measureable
A = Attainable
R = Realistic
T = Timely

It is essential to utilize the acronym here to apply to each goal we set. Here is an example:

“By the end of March 2014, I want to have established a regular exercise routine by cycling twice a week for 30 minutes, by doing cardio kickboxing three times a week for 45 minutes, by doing muscular strength and endurance training with free weights, resistance bands and resistance balls three times a week addressing all major muscle groups and stretching all major joints five times a week.”

B.  Once you have set several short-term and long-term SMART goals pertaining to your physical fitness, you will have to design a specific plan of action. For this purpose, it is best to utilize the FITT formula:

F = Frequency
I = Intensity
T = Type
T = Time

Here is a template to showcase, how you can easily utilize the FITT acronym to design a plan of action:

A good workout plan should include Endurance, Strength, and Flexibility training. If you are unfamiliar with the different types of exercise, be sure to click the links above. It is important to craft a well-rounded fitness plan including all of these aspects.

C.  Once you have completed a plan of action, you will need to take it one step further and design a detailed and specific schedule, just like you would for work or for school. Be sure to note down the exact time you plan to conduct your workout session and also indicate, what type of exercise you intent to do at that specific time. The below template provides an idea of how you could do it:

If you took the time to completed steps A through C thoroughly, you are ready to begin exercising! In order to stay the path, there are a number of behavior change tools that research has verified are successful in assisting with sticking to a behavior. Here are a few ideas of what you could implement:

  • Track what you actually do each day (journal or app).
  • Track your progress weekly (e.g. how you feel each week, how much weight you lose, etc.).
  • Find someone who is willing to commit to being your workout partner, someone to keep you accountable.
  • Visualize your accomplishments by writing them down.
  • Each day, outline the benefits of being physically fit to remind yourself of the importance.
  • Try out new things and vary your routines every 2 – 3 months, so it stays interesting.

The reason why so many people cannot stick to New Year’s resolutions is because the process of changing behaviors is not properly understood. Therefore, we experience failure way to frequently, which can quickly become very discouraging. This article provides you with a simple, yet very clear and strategic way as to how you can truly become FITT in 2014 and finally stick to your goals! It is now up to you to initiate the change and get started.

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Dominique Wakefield MA, CPT

is the Director for University Health & Wellness and Adjunct Faculty in the Department for Public Health, Nutrition & Wellness at Andrews University in Michigan. She is also a Certified Personal Trainer through the American Council on Exercise (ACE) and a Certified Wellness Practitioner through the National Wellness Institute (NWI). In addition to university teaching, Dominique has worked extensively, as a manager and personal trainer, in the health and wellness sector. Dominique is a PhD candidate in Health and her research centers on physical activity, motivation for exercise, and behavior change strategies. Dominique is a passionate, energetic, and innovative health, wellness, and fitness expert and regularly contributes articles to Life and Health Network and to the American Council on Exercise (ACE). In October 2011, Dominique Wakefield was awarded "Top 11 Personal Trainers to Watch in the U.S." by Life Fitness and the American Council on Exercise.


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