Three reasons why your New Year’s resolution of going to the gym might fail

If Google Trends are anything to go by, in January people around the globe will be 25% more interested in joining a gym than in December*. Visit one in both months and the figure seems much higher. However, gym owners know that this trend only lasts a few months, as May is almost as slow as December.

Why is it then, that the “I’ll finally get healthy” resolutions don’t last? Drawing on my own personal experience and discussions with other gym-goers, here are the most common pitfalls I’ve seen:

1. Treating the challenge as a physical one, instead of a mental one

Losing weight seems like a simple mathematical equation: (Calorie intake < Calorie consumption) over an extended period of time. Therefore, it’s natural to look for ways to eat less and work out harder. However, the last part of the equation (extended period of time) is actually the hardest one to accomplish.

How to solve it?

Re-frame the problem you’re solving for, for example, from “how do I burn the most calories?” to “how do I stay motivated for a longer period of time?”. A so-so workout done consistently beats a great-but-unsustainable workout. Dig into why you quit the last time. Was the gym too boring? Then look for other sports you find interesting. Was it too time-consuming? Then look for activities closer to your home or office to save time on traffic.

2. Not looking for help

Practice makes perfect, expect if you’re practicing wrong.  Whether it’s out of insecurity, budget constraints, or ignorance, many people start the gym all by themselves, figuring out as they go how to use the machines and dumbbells. At best, having a poor form can result in no progress, which will only discourage you and make you quit. At worst, it can result in injury.

How to solve it?

The obvious solution is to get both a personal trainer and a nutritionist. But if you can’t do that, there are tons of diets and workouts online with videos on how to properly do each exercise. Find a reliable source, such as Muscle & Fitness or Men’s/Women’s Health (here’s an example of a 4-week beginners guide). Then, when you take it to practice, ask a personal trainer or a friend to watch your form and correct any mistakes.

3. Assuming that what worked for someone else will work for you

Finally, just because someone you know is in shape it does not mean you can copy his or her routine and get the same results. Everyone has a different body composition, different experience, and therefore different needs. Some people find it easy to lose fat but struggle to put on muscle. Others can easily bulk but need a few hours more of cardio a week to avoid putting unwanted weight (more on body types here).

How to solve it?

Trial and error are your best allies if you do not know what works best for you. Do not get fixated with certain workout or eating habits. In fact, try alternating with different types of weight exercises, cardio, and diets, for periods of 4 to 8 weeks and track your results both quantitatively (weight, BMI) and qualitatively (easiness to follow, practicality).


*Monthly worldwide Google searches of “Gym” from 2008 to 2017


Fitting your workout in a busy schedule: treat it like a business

We’ve all been there. You wanted to go to the gym but your meeting ran late. Or maybe you packed your sneakers for that business trip hoping you’ll put them to use but they only end up taking space in your limited carry-on luggage. A few times is ok. A few weeks or more is sign that you need to re-think your workout to fit it in your schedule.

My advice if you’re caught in this situation: run your workout just like you would run a business. A business needs a strategy, strives for operational efficiency, and prepares for risks. Applying these three core principles will help you increase the return on the time and effort you put in the gym.

20170228-strategy1. Define your strategy. What are you trying to achieve? How are you going to achieve it?

This step is vital not only for busy professionals but for anyone in the fitness world. To define your strategy you need to take a holistic view of not only your workout but of everything that has an effect on a (un)healthy lifestyle.

To do so, follow the The FITNES Framework, which I introduced here. In a nutshell, you need to (i) define your goal, (ii) identify how you’ll get your nutrients, exercise, and sleep, and (iii) have a plan on how you’ll make sure you make your fitness lifestyle last and improve. Bear in mind that deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do. Finally, just like a business has monthly, quarterly, or annual reviews, you need to constantly revisit and change your strategy to match your current environment.


2. Achieve operational efficiency. How can you make the most out of your time? Where are the inefficiencies and how do you eliminate them?

This step is vital to define your long-term success if you are to juggle your busy professional and personal life with your workout. You need to apply a lean approach to your day and, more specifically, to your workout and nutrition.

Broadly speaking, there are three types of activities involved in your day: wasted time (subtracting value), time needed to prepare (necessary to create value), and time actually working out (value-adding activities). To illustrate this, let me show you a real life example on how I managed to free 50 minutes of my day.

Initial scenario: Out of 100 minutes dedicated to my workout, only 35 minutes were doing cardio or lifting weights. The rest were dedicated to preparation or were plain waste. Also, the 35 minutes working out were not at the top of intensity.

Minutes dedicated to working out by type of activity – Initial scenario

Out of the 100 minutes dedicated daily to my workout, only 35 minutes were spent actually working out

Actions taken: I took steps to eliminate waste, reduce time of preparation, and increase intensity of my workout. 

Eliminating waste

1-waste-driving Driving. To avoid wasting time in traffic, I joined a gym near my house rather than driving to one closer to the office. I instead jogged, thus reducing the waste to zero.

2-waste-waiting Waiting for equipment. I could’ve either bought my own equipment or go to the gym when it’s pretty much empty (5:30 A.M.). I opted for the latter.

Reducing preparation time

3-prep-resting Rest between sets. There’s an easy way to optimize this: doing supersets that involve different muscles. This way, you can work out one muscle while the other recovers.

4-prep-other Getting changed and preparation. Changing my workout to the morning made this process smoother. On top of that, I started getting my clothes and breakfast ready at night, when my energy level is low, rather than wasting energy in the morning.

Increasing intensity

3-weightsWeights. I needed to find the exercises that gave me the best return on my time. I did it by assessing the intensity and time to complete for different exercises in each muscle group. For example, doing an alternate dumbbell press takes around 80% more time to complete than the regular dumbbell press and it only delivers about 20% more value, so it’s not so great if you’re time-strapped.

Final scenario: The result, 50 minutes freed up between eliminating waste and reducing preparation, and a more intense workout.

Minutes dedicated to working out by type of activity – Final scenario

After re-designing my workout, I managed to free 50 minutes of my time and have a more intense workout


3. Prepare for risks. What should you do when you don’t have enough time to workout or eat properly?

Not having enough time to workout, even when you have a winning strategy on paper and an efficient workout, is the main risk you have of not achieving your strategy. What I found useful: having “rules of thumb”.

Whenever I have work weeks so long that eat into my gym and meal-preparation time, I have several rules in place that helped mitigate the risk, both related to exercise and to nutrition. You could develop your own according to your needs.

Rules of thumb for ultra-busy weeks

Having rules of thumb is a good way to get through ultra-busy weeks

Rules of thumb should be easy to remember and implement. These are not meant to get you to your goal but rather to help you avoid losing too much progress. Therefore, when rules of thumb are kicking in too often, it’s time to revisit your strategy (point 1).

Final thoughts 

None of this matters if fitness and a healthy lifestyle are not a top priority for you. And they should be. Investing in a healthy lifestyle is akin to investing in R&D – difficult to see the return on investment in the short term but vital for your health in the long term. Therefore, you should treat your workout, nutrition, and recovery the same way you would treat other top priorities in your company. You would not cancel an important client meeting, then why should you cancel your workout?

The FITNES Framework: A structured approach to achieving your fitness goal

Are you looking to get in shape and don’t know where to start? Should you exercise more? Should you eat better? What else can help you lose those extra pounds? On this post I’m going to talk about the FITNES Framework – a structured approach I’ve developed to getting in shape. This is not an improvement plan itself, but rather the blueprint of how to get in shape. It breaks down all the relevant aspects of a physically active lifestyle into separate buckets and categories. By doing so, you can have a holistic view of your fitness path and, most importantly, you can identify your weak links and fix them.

The FITNES Framework


1-goalSetting a goal

First thing’s first. What is it that you’re trying to achieve? Do you just want to have a healthier lifestyle, do you want to improve in your favorite sport, or do you want to become a bodybuilder? Your goal will touch on pretty much every aspect of your fitness plan.

2-foundationsFoundations: Focus & peace of mind, Inspiration, and Training & learning

The foundations of getting in shape are the necessary dimensions you need in place in order to sustain a healthy and active lifestyle. These are the start of your fitness journey, they are deeply linked to your goals and determine how quickly you achieve them. These are:

  • Focus & peace of mind. Without a clear mind, everything else stumbles. If you’re stressed, depressed, or anxious, you will start eating crappy food, you won’t give 100% on your workout, and the quality of your sleep will suffer.
  • Inspiration. This is what got you started in the first place. What is it that you’re trying to achieve? Your goal and how inspired you are to achieve it will determine the type, frequency, and intensity of your fitness plan.
  • Training & learning. What’s the best exercise for your? What diet suits your lifestyle? How do you recover faster? Do your homework. You should always be on the lookout for fitness and health knowledge. In fact, there is tons of free knowledge online that range from Instagram accounts that offer free tips (like this, this and this) to free courses by top universities (like this and this).

You need to constantly develop these pillars by: (i) finding ways to improve your peace of mind (e.g. meditating or hitting the gym when you’re less stressed), (ii) finding what inspires you and cultivating it (e.g. following your favorite athletes or subscribing to a fitness magazine), and (iii) never stop learning (e.g. trying different exercises or diets).

3-pillarsPillars: Nutrition, Exercise, and Sleep & Recovery

The pillars are the more tangible part of your fitness journey. In, fact, it’s what most fitness professionals would tell you if they have to sum up how to get in shape. These are:

  • Nutrition. Common gym wisdom says that at least 80% of your fitness journey has to do with food. If you want to see those abs, it has got to start in the kitchen. Develop your own diet or get an expert to do it for you. Rules of thumb are also useful if you don’t want a strict diet. In fact, in my experience, only with trial and error you will find out what works best for you.
  • Exercise. This part has three dimensions: (i) what type of exercise you do, (ii) how often you do it, and (iii) how intense your workout sessions are. Check the foundations of the framework (most important, what inspires you) and tailor it to your condition and routine.
  • Sleep & recovery. Without enough good quality sleep, it will be hard to see any results. Sleep affects both your mind and body. In your body, the effect is twofold: (i) it fills you with energy to have a great, (ii) muscles only recover when you’re resting. How much sleep you need? The consensus seems to be somewhere between 7-8 hours a day, although some people (myself included) think that 6 hours is enough.

Remember, you have to constantly measure and improve these three pillars. What’s more, you have to measure and improve your general progress, as I describe below.

ruler3Measurement and improvement

You can only improve what you can measure. That’s why you have to keep track of your progress. There are two types of metrics you want to keep track of: output metrics and process metrics.

  • Output metrics. These often determine your ultimate goal. The most common ones are weight, % of fat, and body measure (either measured with tape or with size of clothes used).
  • Process metrics. This is where you measure nutrition, exercise, and sleep. Nutrition and be measured counting calories and nutrients, and can be done manually or using calorie-tracking apps. Exercise and sleep are less common to measure, although it’s now more popular with the adoption of activity bands (more of this on a later post). If you lack an activity band, you can measure hours working out and sleeping. If you do want to invest in an activity band, you can even measure calories burned exercising and sleep quality.

Final thoughts

In summary, if you have a fitness goal in mind, you’re better off following a structured approach to achieve it. Develop your focus and peace of mind, what inspires you, and always look for training and learning on new workouts, diets, and techniques. Once these three (“the foundations”) are in place, you will be better off on the more tangible part of your journey (“the pillars”) – nutrition, exercise, and sleep & recovery .

Finally, keep in mind that this is a dynamic process. You have to constantly revisit each of the foundations and pillars, as it changes with your age, surroundings, routine, and the stage of your fitness journey.