I started seriously training with a sense of purpose when I was 14 or 15, and since then I’ve worked out almost every day. I’m not sure on the exact number of workouts, but I do know that I’ve only taken two “breaks” from fitness since then – the first was during the Summer of my junior year of high school (about 3-5 weeks off) and when I was 19 and I was preparing for and recovering from hernia surgery (about 3 months). Outside of those two periods, I’ve trained almost every day, and every day I’ve gone about my day prioritizing my health over most things.

This isn’t to give the illusion that I haven’t had days where I’ve skipped workouts, didn’t want to get out of bed, been lazy with my nutrition, or any of the many other obstacles that we all face with our health. This also isn’t to say that all I do is workout and eat protein shakes, because that isn’t true at all. BUT, I have been very consistent with my workout routine, my diet, and my lifestyle through the last 10-12 or so years.  I’ve gone through many evolutions, but along the way I’ve picked up some strategies and tools that have made me successful, and I have heavily relied on these lessons to build a business, compete at a national level, help others, and go about my days in a healthy, happy, and sustainable way.

  • Start small, then build

    • We’ve all had times where we get excited to start something, or think that if we’re going to pursue something (in this case, a fitness goal) that we have to go ALL IN. Negative. I have been there, and every time I either get A) burned out B) injured C) fall off on most of the things I started with D) quit altogether because I’ve gotten overwhelmed.
    • The key is to start small with something achievable, and then build on that. Working out zero days? Maybe don’t start with working out every day. Start small. Like, the next day. Then build on that 1 day into another day.
  • Schedule around IT, not the other way around

    • When figuring out your schedule for the day or the week… you know how you always have those 1-2 “aspirational” to-do tasks that you never quite get to? Don’t make your workout one of those. Make it non negotiable, like brushing your teeth. Every morning you get up and brush your teeth, right? Make your workout that essential, so that there’s no chance that something else will get prioritized over it. Will that still happen sometimes? Of course. But, set yourself up for success rather than self sabotage!
  • Set yourself up for success

    • And on that note… What gets in the way of you working out? For me, I workout first thing in the morning every day (more on that later). I know that me getting out of the house ASAP will help that, so I set out my clothes that I’m going to wear the night before in an easy to reach place so I don’t wake up the rest of the house trying to get dressed. I also sleep in my workout shirt/shorts most nights, so that I don’t have to get all situated in the morning. Wakeup and go!
    • Other ways to set yourself up for success: blocking the time in your calendar for your workout, getting a coach to hold you accountable that you pay money for (if you’re paying the $$$ you’re more likely to show up!) or set your workout bag by the door (if you always forget it) or better yet, in your trunk! Depending on what obstacles get in your way, there are many more positive ways to overcome those obstacles.
  • Focus on ACTIONS, not motivation

    • This is a big one – a lot of people who have not been successful with their health and fitness (or not consistent, more specifically) are people who rely on motivation to get things done. I have a strong belief that motivation is not real. To reuse the analogy, you don’t have to be generally motivated to brush your teeth in the morning, you just do it. Working out should be the same. Focus on the action. “I am going to the gym to workout at 4:30” works a lot better than “If I’m feeling happy and excited I’m going to eat vegetables and take care of myself…”
    • Prioritize actions, and switch your mindset from feelings to actions. Whether you’re trying to get to the gym at all, get out of bed, push through a hard workout, etc. It matters ZERO how you feel about you in that instance. I get that it’s hard. I get that you may be tired. We all get it. We all feel it. But it doesn’t help you get the thing done. So get that mess out of here. Focus on your actions, and start with the first step (start small!)
    • “I’m going to stand up out of bed”
    • “I’m going to drive to the gym”
    • “I’m going to finish this round of this workout, and then I will think again” (but no thinking until you’re done!!!)
    • “I’m going to heat up the oven”
    • etc…
  • Get with a group of like minded people

    • I usually workout alone at 5 or 6 AM. It’s hard. I like to workout with people. It’s way easier, and frankly more fun. When I can workout with people, I am around a group of people who care about themselves, their health, their goals, and those next to them. That positivity gets passed around and keeps us all moving, and towards where we want to be, rather than going backwards.
    • Don’t have a group of people who you can depend on to hold you accountable, keep you safe in your fitness journey, and push you forward to your goals? Check out Gifford Fitness!
  • Set rules

    • To piggyback off of the “actions and not feelings” piece – Setting hard and fast rules with yourself rather than leaving things up to chance is a sure way to make those things habit. For instance, it is a rule of mine that when the alarm goes off, I get up out of bed ASAP, brush my teeth, grab my bag and head out the door. Every morning, Monday thru Saturday, and then I workout when I get to the gym.
    • Other examples of this could be that if you reserve the spot in class, you have to go. No matter what. Cancel whatever else comes up, you have to go. Or, you’re blocking a certain time on your calendar and no matter what, the only thing you do there is workout. Kind of like lunch. Do you skip lunch? If you do, you should stop that 🙂 
  • Workout in the morning

    • My favorite – I used to workout in the evening, somewhere between 2:30 PM and 5:30 PM. Once I started working out in the mornings (anywhere from 4-6 AM depending on my schedule) I don’t have to worry about what I’ve eaten all day, I don’t have to rush to leave something important to get to the gym, I don’t have to worry about what my workout is going to be all day, and I don’t have to plan around it all day. It’s going to happen first thing in the morning, and then I take on the day. This is easily the biggest thing that has helped me be more consistent with working out. I have more energy to go after my day, and I’m hungry and motivated to get after my to do list.
  • Stop making excuses

    • Your health and fitness are for you! Remember that you’re working out to improve YOUR quality of life, and prolong your quality of life as well. Excuses don’t help you do that. They only get in the way. They don’t even feel good once you realize it’s an excuse. So, stop that.
    • I’ve had many excuses that I’ve let get in the way of me taking care of myself. Not enough time, too stressed, too sore, complete freak out sessions, etc. The usual, everyday excuses. But I’ve also had huge, ridiculous, borderline pathetic and self-limiting excuses. These might be long standing internal beliefs about yourself that stop you from taking action (too weak, too fat, too slow, etc) and they could also be excuses that pop up in the moment that get in your way. Notice them, and then do the 1st thought/2nd thought drill. 1st thought is the excuse. The 2nd thought is recognizing that it’s just an excuse, and take action anyways.
    • Conclusion: Excuses…nobody cares. Do the work. You need it, and those “excuses” won’t be there once you’ve done the work. That’s how you know that it’s an excuse!
  • Remove expectations

    • I used to expect myself to be able to lift a certain weight, to always hit a new PR, to win workouts, and to always perform the best or my best (two different things for sure!) When those things wouldn’t happen, I would have a mini-fit in my head and get frustrated. It would throw off the rest of my day, and when I was competing, I couldn’t be around anyone for almost a full day or two before a competition, because I was wrapped up in my own head. It wasn’t until I removed any and all expectations for what was going to happen that I actually started to uncover what “my best” really was. Regardless of the outcome, I tried my best. Because, I removed expectations, and raised my standards for how I operated. Every rep was done with a high level of focus, I ignored excuses, I ignored strategy and gaming, I ignored my PRs, I ignored the weight on the bar or the temperature outside, how I was feeling, how others were doing, and I just gave my all. Everything I had, and that was it. I focused on those things, and then fully accepted whatever came of it. Some days it was a complete dumpster fire. Most days it was positive and fun, and I improved on something from before. All days, I felt good about myself at the end training or competition.
  • Acceptance / The long game

    • To wrap all of this up, and at some point, you have to accept that your body is YOUR body, and you only get one. It’s going to be with you every morning when you wake up, and every night when you go to sleep, until you die. It is all of your muscles, bones, organs and brain (because some people think that training your body and brain are different) and it is what allows you to live out your days and pursue what you want.
    • In order to take care of this one body that you get, you have to commit to taking care of it every day for the rest of your life. No days off. That means that you can’t ignore the health consequences of daily nutrition and fitness choices. You can’t ignore what baking every day is going to do to your body. I mean, you can, but the consequences are going to occur whether you like it or not. You can skip workouts and ignore the consequences, but the consequences will show up regardless. So, let’s flip our brain around. You have to workout and train and eat for future-you. Present-you may want donuts and muffins every morning for breakfast, but future-you is going to be a little upset when they have to undo all of those days and years of lack of self care.

Play the long game. Health and fitness is not about “quick fixes”, it’s about performance across years. Accept that you are going to take care of your body every day for the rest of your life, and take action.

Nick Gifford (CF-L3)
Nick Gifford (CF-L3)Author
Nick Gifford, Head Coach and Owner of Gifford Fitness, CrossFit Red Lion and Gifford Barbell has coached over 3000 athletes since 2012. He has worked with athletes from all walks and stages of life, focusing on health and wellness, balance, and pursuing excellence.