This time of year you’re bombarded with ads for the local gym, infomercials that promise to get you in the best shape of your life, and commercials touting effortless weight loss. With countless exercise programs out there, how do you know if yours is the right one?  This is a challenging question, one that could be answered several different ways.  I like to remind clients that if you're exercising at all, you're on the right path.  Still, there’s a better way to tell whether your exercise routine is appropriate.

I like to begin with the question, "Is my exercise program R.I.G.H.T. for me?"  Ask yourself whether your routine is Realistic. If you’re a beginner, do your exercises match your fitness level? Additionally, consider whether the time commitment is realistic. You might have every intention to exercise for an hour, 6 days a week, but this could be setting you up for failure. Instead, try to incorporate your workouts into your existing routine. Take the time to put your exercise on the calendar. Once on paper, it will be easier to see whether your plan is obtainable.

After you’ve determined that your exercise program is realistic, take a look at whether you’re Intrinsically motivated to be successful with this plan in the long-term. There’s a wealth of evidence to support that internal motivators keep individuals on track with exercise. External motivators, like social pressure, guilt or even monetary reward have been shown to encourage short-term success but long-term failure. The key is to exercise for reasons that are personally fulfilling. When creating your program choose activities that you enjoy and that you can complete with a sense of mastery. If you’re exercising for anyone other than yourself, it is difficult to stay motivated indefinitely.  

Goals are also important. Without goals you’re more likely to lose focus and direction. It is easy for your routine to feel mundane or stale if you’re not working towards an end result. As mentioned, these goals should be realistic and personally meaningful. It is also helpful for goals to be specific and measurable so that you can track your progress as you approach your target. Finally, these are most useful when they’re progressive, starting with short-term and working up to long-term goals.

The forth element of a solid program involves a focus on Health. This focus encompasses all aspects of a program from setting goals to progressing the routine, and ultimately assessing the plan's effectiveness. Exercise can be one of the best ways to manage illness, injury and disease. If health isn’t at the core of your programming, you may not only be missing out on the benefits of exercise but you may actually be predisposing yourself to harm. There are several ways to maintain a healthy exercise routine. I encourage programs that incorporate cardiovascular, resistance, flexibility and balance exercises, while gradually progressing frequency, duration and intensity.

Finally, ask yourself whether your exercise program is Time-bound. If you’re training for a specific event or activity, is your program designed so that your fitness peaks at the right time? Regardless of what you’re training for, it’s important that your goals are assessed at regular intervals. Also, make sure that your training progresses at regular intervals, whether weekly, bi-monthly or every other month? Even maintenance programs should progress over time. The same exercise doesn’t provide the same results over the long haul. Our bodies are very good at adapting to exercise. As you become a more efficient exerciser, it’s important to periodically increase your workouts to maintain results. A progressive, evolving routine is going to produce the best results, especially when that routine is realistic from the start, centers around intrinsic motivation, involves appropriate goals, and improves health.