You want to work out today. You really do. But what with groceries to pick up, personal calls to make that you didn't get to at work, a dog that needs to go to the vet, and a billion other responsibilities, your motivation is fizzling. We get it — in fact, we've been there many times. Here, an entire month's worth of smart advice on how to work out no matter what, from top fitness experts and real women who find time for fitness on an (almost) daily basis.
1. Do it in the morning!
Nothing major has likely cropped up yet — hey, it's only 7 a.m. Now is the time to get in that run or yoga DVD. In fact, research suggests that women who work out in the morning stick with their programs more successfully than those who don't. Not a morning person? Become one. (We know: It's painful at first, but it's worth it.) "The longer you wait in the day to work out, the more excuses you can find to put it off," says Carol Espel, national director of group fitness at Equinox Fitness Clubs. "Get it out of the way early so you don't have to think about it later on." Another reason to follow the sun? You'll start your day with a smile. A study done at the University of Glasgow in Scotland found that early-bird exercisers felt significantly happier than those who worked out later in the day. Here's a trick to help you avoid the temptation to stay under the covers: When you're lying in bed staring at the ceiling, visualize yourself at the end of your workout, reveling in your post-exercise, glad-that's-over feeling, says Nicki Anderson, president of Reality Fitness in Naperville, Illinois.
2. Rent a gym locker.
Seems simple, but think about how much energy you expend schlepping your stuff around. "Every holiday season I get a locker at the gym and leave my workout clothes there, with some makeup and other necessities," says Constance Mensink, 40, a fund-raiser from New York City. "This way I don't have to take anything with me, and I have no excuses not to hit the gym right after work."
3. Do the big four.
"If you don't have a lot of time, you'll get more strength gains by focusing primarily on larger muscles," explains Jonathan Ross of Aion Fitness in Maryland. These body-weight moves target every trouble zone fast: squats, push-ups, lunges, and plank pose. Do them back-to-back as a circuit three or four times, without taking a break.
4. Keep an eye on your workouts — literally.
At least one week in advance, write down all of your workouts and stick the list someplace you'll see it often — like on your fridge. "If your routine isn't right in your face, it's easy to 'forget' about it," says Mike Monroe, program director of PUSH.tv in New York City. In fact, research done at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, has found that writing out workouts in advance makes you more likely to stick with them. Another motivation trick: Write your workouts for the week on three-by-five note cards, and as soon as you do them, toss 'em. "Your goal is to finish the week with no cards," explains Monroe.
5. Get a fitness "non"-buddy.
According to numerous studies, working out with a partner will help you get your butt to the gym. So seek out a friend of a friend or a colleague as your exercise partner — someone you can't blow off with a quick e-mail and a sorry excuse — says Monroe. "If it's a person with whom you are friendly but aren't all that close with socially, you're probably going to feel more of an obligation to get to your workout appointments on a regular basis."
6. Try the 20-minute rule...
...and make every minute count. If you can't get to the gym for as long as you'd like, interval training — bursts of intensity followed by a brief recovery period — gets results that are often just as good (if not better) than longer, slower-paced workouts. A study from Laval University in Quebec found that subjects who practiced interval training lost significantly more body fat than those who went slow and steady. "Intervals burn more calories after a workout because your body takes longer to return to its previous resting state," says Joe Dowdell, owner of Peak Performance in New York City. Try it: Warm up for a few minutes, sprint or walk on a steep incline for 30 seconds, then return to a slower pace for two or three minutes; repeat five or six times.
7. Meet to burn calories — not consume them.
It's easy to schedule a coffee date or a dinner and never get around to being active. Make an effort to change that habit — you'll be surprised how much fun it is. Have an exercise date instead of cocktails once a week, and you could stave off a 14-pound weight gain over a year. Try an afternoon of ice skating, cross-country skiing, or sledding (all about 590* calories). Not in the snowbelt? Try a brisk group stroll to catch up on gossip while burning calories (more than 400 an hour).
8. Rack up three and a half hours of extra exercise a week.
A study from the University of Pittsburgh found that all types of activity, of moderate intensity or greater, can translate into weight loss as long as you hit that magic number and eat a sensible diet. Over the course of seven days, that's not hard. "Little bursts of activity — taking the stairs instead of the escalator, walking a couple of extra blocks at lunch — can add up to significant calories burned each day," says Lisa Talamini, RD, chief nutritionist at Jenny Craig. Jot your micro-workouts into your daily planner when possible. It'll just take a sec, and it'll help you feel motivated to do more!
9. Use delays to your advantage.
Stuck at the airport waiting for your flight? Get moving. "Whenever I have some time before my flight, I power walk around the airport wearing my backpack," says Espel. "You can easily rack up a mile or two walking from one end to the other and back again." If you're at a place where you're not too embarrassed to start doing a few dips and curls, try a mini circuit-training workout, suggests Monroe. Go for a brisk-paced walk, and every few minutes stop and intersperse a set of strength moves, such as squats, lunges, calf raises, triceps dips, or wall push-ups.
10. Accept bribes.
"I'm not one of those women who can roll out of bed and say, 'Woo-hoo, it's time to exercise!'" admits Judith Wright, president of the Wright Institute in Chicago and author of The Soft Addiction Solution. "I need incentives, so I tell myself that if I walk 30 minutes to my local Starbucks, I'll reward myself with a tall Caffe Mocha with skim milk. If there's a new movie I'm dying to rent on DVD, I pop it in while I'm running on my treadmill. It gets me every time."
11. Take your secret love of dancing public.
"I use the winter months to take flamenco and hip-hop dance classes, which I never get to do in the summer because I usually exercise outside," says FITNESS senior fashion editor Celeste Brown-Wright. "Both are great workouts, and I'm always learning something new, so I don't get bored." In fact, an hour of shaking your groove thing burns about 400 calories, roughly the same as a brisk walk.
*All calorie counts based on a 140-pound woman.