Secrets to success at the gym…


What separates those who succeed at their New Year’s resolutions from those who don’t? Some sources indicate that 40 percent of Americans make resolutions each year, but only 8 percent succeed, while others suggest that nearly 50 percent of those who make resolutions hold that resolve 6 months into the deal.

Frankly, the numbers don’t matter. You do. You hold the key as to whether you succeed or not. On New Year’s, did you resolve to hit the gym? Did you make it through your first week successfully? Are you pushing through for success this second week?

I thought I’d offer some tips to success at the gym and conferred with other gym regulars as to what makes them faithful. My “what” question invariably led to “why” these fitness faithfuls succeed, not the mere tips I expected.

“I do it because I want to go off my diabetes medications,” Coach told me. “I do it because it helps me beat the pain.”

My first awareness of my friend Marion, whom we all call “Coach,” was probably 12 years ago, when I noticed a man on forearm crutches attempting the moves in the challenging step aerobics class I attended. He’d apparently suffered injury from a car accident, and I thought he would be on crutches for the rest of his life.

But I began to notice Coach nearly every day at the gym. In addition to the step class, he was lifting weights and doing exercises in the pool. He was always friendly, and we exchanged greetings like old friends. Twelve years later, we are old friends. And he has lost the crutches.

“I do it for my health,” my friend Tami said immediately when I asked her what made her a gym success. “I’ve been a member a long time — since 1984 — and I’ve had a number of workout partners and have changed routines often throughout the years, but I come.

“I tell my doctor that exercise is like oil to my joints. I just feel better when I come.”

Jerry’s response was a bit cliche, perhaps. He immediately said, “If you don’t use it, you lose it,” but then added, “I need to lose the weight, too.”

The why behind your resolution to hit the gym more than the numerical prediction for success determines what you do. When I was a teacher, I told my students they “gottawanna.” The why makes you want.

Last week, I went to hear a Wellness seminar with Author Ted Spiker — a journalism professor at the University of Florida who recently wrote the book Down Size. He is the co-author of numerous books and articles on health and fitness, but he personally has struggled to downsize his weight and his weaknesses (which include a tendency to overeat). In his humorous and inspirational presentation, he talked about motivation, especially intrinsic motivation.

Specifically, Dr. Spiker talked about three components of intrinsic motivation: autonomy,  competence, and relatedness. Competence and relatedness are the two that move me most. Doing something I like — and something I can do well or can do better time after time — motivates me. That is competence. I’ve tried classes and exercises at which I felt completely lost or incompetent — and I quit. Relatedness is the relationships you build at the gym.

Just this morning I was talking with high school student Sierra, who works out at the gym in preparation for Tae Kwan Do tournaments. Her goal is the Olympics.

“I got up at 4 this morning!” she told me brightly. “I can’t get any of my friends to come with me in the morning, though.”

High school friends? Up at 4 and leaving the gym before 7 a.m.? I am not surprised.

“Most of my friends will not come with me to the gym either,” I replied, meaning it. “So instead of bringing friends to the gym, I just make friends at the gym.”

Like Coach. And Jerry. And Tami, Sierra, Doreene, Connie, Paula, Jana, Jenna, Emily, Katherine, Margaret, Penny, Candy, Bob, Larry, Marissa, Les, Paul, Susan, Phoebe, Rosie, Stephanie, and so many more.

The first time I met Doreen, she had approached me and two friends who were lifting weights, and within the first minutes of talking she made it clear that while she had friends who noticed her weight loss and fitness improvement, she had no friends who were willing to sacrifice sleep for an early morning workout.


“Being a regular at the gym can only come from within that individual,” Doreene recently wrote me in an email. “Of course, paying helps drive you for a short period — but you have to want change. It doesn’t come easy, but if it was easy everyone would be in good shape.”

My friend Connie, who I met in step class so many years ago and who often works out with me, has been a gym regular for years. She suggests these tips for success:

  • Schedule your workouts as personal appointments that cannot be changed.  Many people work out before work so other activities are unlikely to interfere.  
  • Don’t treat the gym as an optional activity.  Just do it regularly and it will become a habit you look forward to. 
  • Find a faithful gym buddy so you’ll be accountable.
  • Sign up for classes, make new friends, and make the gym part of your social life.

I concur. Of course, we happen to be morning people — or at least people who prefer to work out in the morning. But it doesn’t matter when you hit the gym; it matters why. And what you do to facilitate that why.

Personally, my why occurred to me when I was a college student: “It’s easier to stay fit than to get fit.” I determined then that I wanted to live a healthy lifestyle that included working out. (Now I can add “avoiding back pain” to my why.) What I do to facilitate that varies. I’ve made getting up early to hit the gym on my way to work a habit. My family understands that. The way I pack my bags, the way I vary my routines,  the classes I choose, how I coordinate gym life with real life all help make me a gym success. Like Tami, I find exercise is oil to my joints. Like Doreene and Connie, I find friends help pave the way to my success. If I am not working out with friends (whom I have made at the gym), I am still seeing them, at least in the locker room, and they help hold me accountable. The more I go the more people I know. It motivates me.

I haven’t always been the picture of gym success.  When I became a member of the health club in 1989, I paid $25 a month for two years, which seemed pretty steep for a recent college graduate. I was a bit shy and felt insecure. After my elbow joints swelled from my attempts at pull ups, I stopped going to the gym and gritted my teeth each month as I paid a bill for something I didn’t use. Once that two-year financial commitment ended, I did not pay my yearly fee and let my membership lapse. After all, I wasn’t using it.

A few years later, my roommate got a membership and invited me to go as her “guest.” I tried to pretend I had never been a member when I was forced into listening to the business spiel from a gym representative, but somehow she found me out and let me know I could simply pay my $99 per year renewal fee for the missed years and then return to paying $99 a year.

“Once bitten, twice shy” was not my motto, apparently. I paid. This time, however, I stuck it out, and now I consider it my best investment.


Resolve to make it your best investment too. Get your why and get going.

P.S. That photo collage at the top is just a sampling of posts I’ve written regarding my gym life. Each picture has a link to the related post. You might find some inspiration in those to become a fitness faithful or gym regular.

2 thoughts on “Secrets to success at the gym…

  1. For those lacking consistent motivation, a training plan spanning several weeks detailing every workout helps. The training plan tells you what to do every day and there’s less things to think about. It also comes with an accurate goal (e.g. being able to benchpress XX pounds at the end of the year).


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