There’s a fundamental problem with New Year’s resolutions: People often don’t keep them for more than a few months at most. This might not be a big deal if your solution was to plan a mini-adventure or to really work on your tennis backhand. But if your resolution was fitness-related (as many resolutions are), well – you should try to keep it. Fitness and health and intertwined, and without health, what do you really have?
There are various reasons why people fail to keep their exercise resolutions, but key reasons are boredom, lack of motivation, and the lack of a plan or structure. If you’re trying to go from little or no exercise to doing it for an entire year, it̵7;s overwhelming without a plan.
That’s why below we have a general approach to setting exercise goals, along with a month-by-month training plan for you, made in collaboration with two trainers from our favorite fitness app, Aaptiv. (Reminder: Eligible Haven Term policyholders receive a free subscription through our Haven Life Plus bonus rider.)
“You can increase motivation by mixing up your exercise routine,” says Aaptiv trainer and running expert Raj Hathiramani. To keep you engaged, he suggests “varying your workouts within each month and possibly each week. This could be anything from a solo run outside and strength training at home to taking a virtual bike ride and attending a yoga or pilates class.”
To keep you on track, apps like Aaptiv can provide audio coaching and specific workouts for added accountability and motivation, he says. It’s like virtual personal training to help you reach your goals.
He also mentions another approach: “Instead of doing a different exercise routine every month, consider setting monthly themes around behaviors you want to change. This can span multiple aspects of your well-being such as fitness, mental health, diet, recovery and sleep . Ask yourself, ‘What would make me happier?’ because the more your life reflects your values, the happier you will be. Also, make your monthly goals SMART – specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-based.”
Be serious about it, but don’t be too hard on yourself, at least when you start setting goals: “Your age and current fitness level, weekly routine, experience, injuries or conditions, and life schedule are all factors to consider when determining what your monthly goal should be,” he says.
“Progress is never a straight line, so include setbacks or recovery weeks and recognize that there will be factors outside of your control that affect your routine.”
Month by month
To follow Hathiramani’s ideas, you need to plan and think a little. Or if you’d rather skip it and just jump into something that will work, just try this month-by-month plan:
“January can be a month for a lot of indoor bodyweight stuff, maybe building up to your plank, which increases the amount of push-ups you can do,” says Aaptiv trainer and former volleyball player Casey Sines.
There are two good reasons to do bodyweight exercises in January. One: It’s cold, and these are activities you can do indoors at home. Two: This type of exercise, while worthwhile, can get repetitive, so start it during the month when you’re still full of can-do, want-to, must-keep-my-resolutions spirit.
“February should be something fun,” to avoid burnout, says Sines, who recommends cardio dance. “Aaptiv has fun cardio routines that you can just listen to and follow along with,” she says, who also mentions Zumba classes as an indoor but not at-home option. (Note: cardio at home can also be a fun family activity/great way to help kids burn off energy indoors without breaking the bank).
You’re still indoors, and Sines recommends weight training: “Pilates is a great indoor workout, whether you’re going to a studio or taking an Aaptiv class—we’ve got tons of different food pilates options that you can just do at home, she says.
“Okay, spring month, try to pick up a sport you might not have looked at before, like pickleball or even dodgeball,” says Sines. “I’ve seen this with my clients: They start playing one sport more and suddenly they start moving more generally because they want to get better.”
Sines also notes that depending on where you live, April can still be chilly, in which case there are plenty of indoor sports to choose from.
May and June
If you enjoy the sport you started in April, it should keep you going through May. (And if you don’t love it, May is a good time to try another one, as it will be warm enough for whatever sport you like.)
As for June, “try to challenge your endurance,” says Sines. “Whether you choose to walk or run or get out on your bike, let June be all about building your endurance.”
July and August
“Yoga to me feels very ‘Happy Summertime,'” says Sines. And of course, you can do it outside while working on your tan.
After spending a lot of cardio and endurance in April, May and June, it’s good to do something gentler for a month. If you have children, July and August are difficult months to stick to an exercise routine, but it’s easy to invest in regular yoga via Aaptiv, which is always available when you are.
“I think boxing is a good bridge between sports and athletic work,” says Sines. “I’ve also found a lot of people who really enjoy boxing and, when they do it, don’t feel like they’re in the gym working out. And you can do things at home too, like shadow boxing so you don’t have to be in a gym for a class with a trainer.”
Depending on the weather, boxing and shadowboxing are also good indoor/outdoor activities.
You’re going back indoors, but that doesn’t mean you have to go back to what you did last winter. Try the treadmill. “It doesn’t have to be power walking for 45 minutes—that sounds awful even to me,” says Sines.
Changing the angle of the treadmill (either at home or during a gym session) will make the experience more dynamic. “You can do three intense minutes at an incline, then the incline goes up, and then for four minutes it pushes your power walk, and then it’s two fast minutes at a different angle,” says Sines.
After a month of cardio on the treadmill, “try a month that’s specifically about strength training,” says Sines. “So in November, you do really heavy weights for you with less reps, and it’s all about focusing on your strength, not so much on your cardio.” These can be upper body exercises (to help upper body strength, naturally), or routines focused on muscle groups in the legs, back or elsewhere.
If there’s a month to burn calories, it’s December: after Thanksgiving and right at the end of the year with partying and drinking. “It’s a month when you can combine cycling, rowing, elliptical, stair climber,” or whatever other devices you have access to either at home or at the gym, says Sines, which will keep things entertaining.
Do it around the holidays and you’ll experience one of the many benefits of exercise: Next January’s exercise goals will seem a lot easier.