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Ask CF: How do I Start an Exercise Routine and Stick to it?


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Welcome to the latest edition of Ask CF! Every two weeks, we select a reader fashion question and answer it here on the site. Do you have a specific fashion question for us? Scroll to the bottom of this post to learn how to send it our way!

This week, instead of answering a fashion question, I decided to address a lifestyle question. Although this is normally a fashion column, I thought this particular question was too important to ignore and wanted to share my response with all of you. Next time, I’ll be back to covering your style questions, but I hope this week’s special lifestyle post is inspiring and fun!

Ask CF Question

Dear CF,

I’ve noticed a lot of your articles say, “And don’t forget to exercise!” as if it’s something most people already do. I know I’ve always wanted to, but I’ve could never bring myself to get started. Could you give us some tips on how to ease into a healthy exercise habit and on how to make it permanent? Thanks. :)


Needs Motivation

Our Response

Dear Needs Motivation,

Your question brings up a good point — while everyone knows the importance of exercise, sometimes we need a little more support and guidance to get into a routine. I have compiled a few tips to help get you started on a new exercise routine and my tips on how you can make it a permanent one. Good luck and enjoy!



Step 1: Choose Your Workout Style


Crowd of people doing zumba
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One of the great things about exercise is that it is so adaptable to every lifestyle and preference. A lot of times people think of exercise as running on a treadmill or lifting weights at the gym. But you don’t have to limit yourself to the gym to get a good workout. (And, of course, if your preferred place to work out is at the gym then by all means go for it!)

Here is a list of different workout categories. To help get you started on your workout routine, choose which type of exercise appeals most to you.

  • Circuit Training — This type of workout includes things such as cardio, lifting weights, and strengthening your core. This type of workout is often done on one’s own, so it’s good for people who have the motivation and self-discipline to stick to a routine. If you’re a beginner, I would advise having a professional help you get started. They can show you different exercises that will work for your needs and will show you the correct way to do them so that they are effective and safe.
  • Structured Classes — This type of workout includes classes such as yoga, pilates, zumba, cardio-kickboxing, and spin. I love taking structured classes for a few reasons. First, since it is a class, you have the benefit of learning from someone who has been formally trained and therefore he or she can make sure you are doing things correctly. Second, taking a class also means that there is a set schedule. When you know you have to be at a class at a certain time it is easier to keep yourself accountable. Third, classes are social. If you like to interact with new people, a class can be a great way to facilitate that while you get healthy.
  • Activity  – An activity type workout includes activities such as sports, bike riding, swimming, dancing, and rock climbing. What’s great about these types of workouts is that it’s easy to forget that you are working out while doing them because you are often concentrating on a different goal (for example winning a game, race, or contest).

Of course, you don’t have to choose just one workout style. Switching up between these different categories is a great way to have a balanced workout routine and it also keeps exercise interesting. The main point is to know what you enjoy doing, and what will best motivate you to get out there and move.

Step 2: Get Motivated


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Once you’ve figured out what routine will work best for you, you need to find a way to stick to it. Here are a few ways to help you do that:

  • Find a Workout Buddy — Find a friend who has a similar exercise routine and use each other for motivation. Having a friend to exercise with you will motivate both of you to get out there and keep you accountable.
  • Join a Class or Get a Trainer – Again, this approach makes you accountable to another person. With a class, there is a schedule that helps motivate you mentally because you are expected to attend. With a trainer, you need to show up for both yourself and them.
  • Remind Yourself of Your Goals and the Benefits of Exercise – You have already taken the first step to improve your health through exercise. These same reasons that prompted you to begin a workout regime should help to propel you through those moments when you are unmotivated.
  • Pay Attention to How You Feel During and After Exercise – Pay attention to how your body feels during your workout and after you exercise. For me, I always feel so rejuvenated after a good workout even if my body is physically fatigued. If I was stressed before, I feel relaxed after. If I felt lethargic, I feel refreshed after. I try to remember these feelings when I’m unmotivated, and more often than not, these reminders help me get myself to the gym.

Step 3: Make Exercise a Priority


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Between school, work, volunteering, and internships, college students’ to-do lists can get very long, very quickly. With everything we have going on, it is easy to put exercise further down on the priority list.

But listen closely: Don’t exercise if you have time, make time for it! Plan it into your schedule. Make it routine. If you have 30 minutes to watch
TV, you have 30 minutes to exercise. Your health and well-being are important. Give your body the respect it deserves by making exercise a priority.


People jumping for joy
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Now that you have a guide to get you started, find a way to make it work for you. Let’s take a pledge together to improve our exercise habits. Explore the different exercise types and find one that works best for you. Share this article with a friend to help you in your search for a new exercise partner. Share your progress, setbacks, questions, and experiences in the comment section. Let’s use this as a forum to help motivate and encourage each other through this process. Together, we can help each other develop healthier lifestyles for the long term!

What do you think?

What’s your workout style? Do you have a hard time motivating yourself to exercise? Do you work out regularly? How do you stay motivated? What are you favorite exercise routines? Do you have any other tips that might be helpful? Please leave a comment below to let us know what you think!

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If you have a question you want to see answered in this column, just send it on over via email to askcf @ and one day you might see your question answered right here on the site!

Please note: We get A LOT of email and unfortunately cannot respond to every single question. However, we will read through every question and then decide which ones will be most helpful to the most readers. Thank you for your understanding.

Posted on on November 6, 2011 / Filed Under: College Life / Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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28 Responses to “Ask CF: How do I Start an Exercise Routine and Stick to it?”

  1. 1
    November 6th, 2011 at 4:20 pm

    After gaining 15 pounds in the winter and then losing it during the summer both my freshman and sophomore year (coming from Southern California, I never had to deal with winter weight before!) I decided I wanted to stop that cycle. Even though I went to the gym a lot the past two years, I realized that I was slacking off and wasting time halfheartedly chugging away at the elliptical. This year, I enrolled myself in three Zumba classes (combination of Latin dancing, aerobics, and some hip hop)..basically I only exercise for 1 hr/3 times a week, but because I love Zumba, I actually work hard at it. Those three hours are more effective than the 5-6 hours I would spend at the gym weekly in the past, and so far (though I guess it’s only fall now..) it’s been working: I’m more toned and I’ve actually lost some weight instead of putting it on!
    P.S. I also got a couple friends to enroll with me..having people I know in the class inspires me to push myself and engage more in the moves.

  2. 2
    November 6th, 2011 at 5:05 pm

    I am trying this now! I’ve been doing awesome, but the hard part is the weekend! My boyfriend was here from Thursday until today so I won’t be hitting the gym until Tuesday (because I have class all Monday). But once you start it feel so good to workout! And getting a workout buddy is one of the reasons why I have been working out because we motivate each other to do so!

  3. 3
    November 6th, 2011 at 5:26 pm

    Very helpful tips. I and my girlfriends thought of joining a yoga class one summer holiday because of our desire to exercise in a fun and relaxing way. Turned out, we got hooked. The benefits are endless. However, the body building training which I initially avoided was in fact necessary for me to earn power in order to do a downward dog. In a month of completing my training plans designed by my personal trainer, I can now do push ups, which used to be impossible. I would commend training buddies and great elements in staying motivated, be them girl friends or your boyfriend and doing exercise routines that you love and enjoy.

  4. 4
    November 6th, 2011 at 5:40 pm

    I’m trying this too! I used to be a runner, and I’m trying to get in the swing of things again. I’ll definitely use some of these tips! Thanks!

  5. 5
    November 6th, 2011 at 5:46 pm

    This is awesome! Thanks so much for answering this question.

    I’ve found that your motivation needs to start somewhere strong. For me, I was sick of eating boxed mac n’ cheese and subsequently feeling worse about my health. This pushed me to where I am now.

    I eased into a healthier lifestyle by first buying a lot of vegetables, fruits, healthy snacks (like almonds), and perfectly portioned protein. By restricting what I bought at the store, I restricted what I could eat at home.

    The hardest part has been finding time to exercise. But, getting up 20 minutes earlier in the morning to go for a quick workout has made it simple to feel better throughout the day. I’m still in the process of finding something that I can stick to, but once I’ve seen what I am capable of, I am never going back.

  6. 6
    November 6th, 2011 at 6:26 pm

    I so agree with you about the kind of motivation that exercise itself results in – I’m much more in tune with my body before, during and after. I never *really* exercised before college, but in a school where everyone is so active and my roomates on a team, I schedule my workouts during her meets. We have a beautiful, albeit small woods a second away from my dorm so I return from classes and run there every day, and I’ve been getting better and better! In fact, I just joined my floor’s intramural hockey team and I’m a valued player – I know it’s spawned from my recent exercise. It just makes you feel so exhilaration during, and sedate and accomplished after. I wish I had known how great it felt during my years of complacency!

  7. 7
    November 6th, 2011 at 6:39 pm

    I’ve found that when I have a really busy schedule, short workouts (5-10 minutes work the best for me). Jillian Michaels has a really cool DVD with five minute circuits that focus on certain areas of the body- hard core and short!

    I also like some of the short Pilates workouts on YouTube. After all, everybody has five or ten minutes to devote to their health everyday!

  8. 8
    November 6th, 2011 at 7:07 pm

    it also really helps if you have a fitness buddy to work out with you. my friend and i have made a pack to go to all the free zumba classes together that our school has to offer and now we are obsessed!

  9. 9
    November 6th, 2011 at 10:17 pm

    See if your school has classes for free at the gym! You can meet a lot of people that way, and find a workout buddy for each class! I have 3 nights of zumba, pilates, abs, circuit, yoga and more offered as part of my tuition, I just have to get my butt to the gym! So worth it! Plus a lot of places will give discounts to students as well!

  10. 10
    November 6th, 2011 at 10:29 pm

    Having a friend is the absolute best advice ever. Last year my friend and I (and she actually goes to college across the country from me!) decided to run every monday, wednesday, and friday. I kept up with it because I knew when I went to visit her–and when I went home–we needed to be on the same schedule so we could keep up with each other. At seven am when I wanted to die instead of go running, usually in the rain/snow, I remembered that in a couple hours she would message me asking how my run went, and I couldn’t tell her I flaked.

    Running also worked really well for me because I hate how red/out of breath/unattractive I get when I exercise, which is super shallow, but 7am runs ensured I never had to see anyone else.

  11. 11
    November 6th, 2011 at 11:21 pm

    Everyone I know seems to adore the gym or hiking. But that’s no me at all. It took me forever to find out that I love dancing and that was the best workout for me.

    It’s not about dedication to one activity, it’s about finding the activity that’s right for you and then you will find how dedicated you want to be. :)

    It’s never too late to do something either! I’m in my last year of college, and I just started ballet. There are tons of adult-beginners in my area, so I’m not in a class of 4 year olds which is perfect!

  12. 12
    November 7th, 2011 at 2:12 am

    Great post! Any way you could also post a workout playlist?

  13. 13
    November 7th, 2011 at 8:41 am

    I just want to add another tip that I know has really helped me! For those of you with smart phones (I’m 23 and just got my first one) the Nike Training Club app is AMAZING! Over the past summer I did a women’s bootcamp in my town which I loved but was so expensive, so since then I’ve been searching for a way to get a similar routine and sometimes someone to walk me through it. The NTC app is like having a trainer with you the whole time without having to pay for it! It’s free and there’s tons of different workout options for if you’re looking to get lean or tone or get your strength up etc. You can even sync it with your playlists. I promise Nike isn’t paying me to advertise for them haha I just love it so much and I though other CF readers might too!

  14. 14
    November 7th, 2011 at 8:59 am

    I recently bought a Groupon for 20 group exercise classes. For me at least, I find that when I spend my hard-earned cash, I don’t want to let that go to waste. So even though I got a really good deal on these classes, I still have to go to all 20 to get my money’s worth. I just started going to these classes last week, and they are great! I think that by the time my 20 classes are up, I’ll be in a routine and able to keep up the exercising in my apartment’s gym.

  15. 15
    November 7th, 2011 at 10:26 am

    so glad your site is addressing exercise. it is certainly something A LOT of women struggle with. for the past year i have been exercising reguarly and have seen a huge difference in my confidence and mood. i have not lost a significant amount of weight but i FEEL better! however, after losing my workout buddy, my motivation has declined. i think my biggest piece of advice is to really LEARN about your nutrition and body, and how to exercise effectively. then, get a workout buddy! those two things are key!

  16. 16
    November 7th, 2011 at 10:35 am

    I find that if I motivate myself with the idea of losing weight and getting fit I feel like exercising is more of a chore but if I motivate myself with thinking of how I feel when I am exercising (i.e. Runners high!) and after (i.e. destressed) it is a much more enjoyable activity!

  17. 17
    November 7th, 2011 at 11:15 am

    thanks so much for this article – this past year i’ve been hitting the pool & i’m just starting to notice the difference.

    my stomach has gotten a little flatter & my waist has definitely shrunk. it was so difficult at first but i made myself go & it got to the point that even if i was planning on skipping a workout, i’d find myself walking to the gym anyway.

    i’ve since fallen off the horse a bit, so this is the perfect motivation to get going again – that & finally take up running!

  18. 18
    November 7th, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    This is awesome, thanks! I’ve been wanting to exercise but have activities booked all hours every day. I’m taking advantage of Fall Back and going to wake up early to workout =) Thanks for the tips! I’ll find an accountability buddy to keep motivated!

  19. 19
    November 7th, 2011 at 1:26 pm

    my university’s gym offers circuit training and aerobics classes, but they contradict with my classes, but i’m still trying to figure out a way to match all of them…

  20. 20
    November 7th, 2011 at 5:28 pm

    Though I’m still in high school, I did find it hard to stick to a simple exercise routine. For one, I’m a very lazy person. And whenever I did exercise, I would be in complete pain in the morning.
    But it’s all about motivation. I love playing on Wii and Kinect, which helps making exercise fun. Another thing is I had a guy friend help me get into a simple routine of squats to help me tone my legs and butt. I guess we all just need that guy friend to help you realize that you can look more healthier (and a little more tone!)

  21. 21
    November 7th, 2011 at 6:49 pm

    I sometimes go to the gym and do hot yoga everyday…I’m to shy to go to the weights. The guys there seem really scary. :\

  22. 22
    November 7th, 2011 at 8:11 pm

    Zumba is a great way to get into exercising when you’re not used to it. Zumba is what got me addicted to exercise two years ago. I still do classes once or twice a week.

    Now I’ve moved onto circuit training, my new love the elliptical, weights, and even running.

  23. 23
    November 7th, 2011 at 11:35 pm

    This is a great guide. It’s hard to find the motivation, especially after coming from intense sport seasons in high school to none whatsoever, but shopping for cold weather fashion up a size definitely pushed me to get back on track. For me it started with making a detailed schedule on Google Calendars (iCal for Mac is awesome, too) and after about 20 minutes of eliminating unnecessary habits (5 hour Psych marathons on Netfix definitely took a bow to my health) found time to work out at least an hour a day, if not more.

  24. 24
    November 8th, 2011 at 8:49 am

    Once I got to college, I really got on this exercise kick. I picked up running again and I’m training for several 5ks. Two other girlfriends and I are also working to get solid arms and rock hard abs. It’s always fun to do a really hard workout with them and admire our stomachs later.

    My college just started this great thing called Fitball. You basically get points for the time you spend at the gym and you face off against other teams each week. It’s so much fun and it motivates you to roll out of the bed in the morning to do your daily run because you don’t want to let your team down.

  25. 25
    November 8th, 2011 at 10:59 am

    There are a lot of websites that will help you both with a program and if you want an eating plan, all for free. I like and I’ve lost ten pounds with it so far, it has a lot of fun social networking elements and it has a free app so it’s easy to keep track of things on the go. Self (the magazine) also has some free programs that help you track. And as another commenter mentioned, once you start working out it makes you feel so much better you don’t want to miss a day.

  26. 26
    November 8th, 2011 at 8:21 pm

    can you guys do a couple fitness fashion posts? how we can look cute at the gym without looking overdone?

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