Forming a Fitness Habit. How Long Does it Really Take?


“You already know what the right thing to do is…You just gotta do it.” – Jocko Willink

So you fell out of shape?  We’ve all been there.  Shit happens.  Good news is, you got yourself motivated enough to get back into the swing of fitness.  Awesome!

First thing is first, forming your new habit.  Be patient!  The old saying that it takes 21 days to form a habit was never actually true.

That magic “21 day rule” started from Dr. Maxwell Maltz’ book Psycho-Cybernetics.  In amputee patients, Dr. Maltz noticed that it took a “minimum of 21 days” to automatically make the cognitive connection that they were missing a limb.  From there, the phrase was over simplified as “It takes 21 days to form a new habit.”

More recent research has shown that it takes anywhere from 18 – 254 days to form a new habit, with an average of 66 days.  That is a pretty wide range!  So in reality, it depends on the person.  Everyone is different and what I am really getting at is, BE PATIENT and CONSISTENT!

There are so many variables when it comes to forming this new fitness habit.  Work, family obligations, sleep habits, hydration, and the list goes on.  Are you introverted/extroverted, are you a visual/auditory/tactile learner, are you a quick/slower processor?

All of these factors play a role in determining how quickly you form habits and make your new task an automatic part of your day (likely why there is such a great variance when it comes to the more recent study on forming a habit).  Just remember that everyone is different.

As for in the gym?  Here are some tips that have always helped me and my clients.

  1. Mechanics BEFORE Intensity – The most common halting factor in anyone’s road to six pack ab glory is getting injured.  Your body will need some time to get back in shape.  Before being able to really press the intensity, you have to develop a solid base.  Mechanics and strength first.  No matter what exercise you are doing, really focus on form and technique before making it more difficult.  If you don’t know proper technique, seek out a coach!  Crank up the intensity too soon and you will likely get injured.
  2. Consistency is King – Consistency is THE single most important thing you need for results. Strive for at least 4 days per week in the beginning.  Right around the 6 week mark is when I notice de-conditioned athletes making the transition from getting their butt kicked by the workout, to kicking the workout’s butt.  It’s awesome to watch!  Be patient and start slow.
  3. Crank Up the Intensity – Once you have that feeling where you are moving with more purpose under fatigue, you are ready to start cranking up the intensity.  Still keep in mind that you must listen to your body and check your ego at the door.  Your body is still adapting to what you’re doing to it.  But now is the time to start pressing the pace a little bit on your workouts, because you’re capable!
  4. Make Time for Mobility – As boring as it is, stretching is a MUST!  The minute you finish exercising, your body begins to swell because it is sending blood flow to your muscles.  Once you cool down, your muscles begin to stiffen up because they are damaged (which is the cause of muscle soreness).  The longer your body stays in this stiff state, the less mobile you will become over time.  The less mobile you are, the less range of motion you have and the less explosive your muscles are.  Even 5 minutes of stretching will do your body right.  Mobility is a must!
  5. Nourish with Nutrition – This is another article all together.  In short, eat natural foods.  Fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.  Anything that comes from Mother Nature is good to go.  Eat until your full and drink tons of water.

I’ll leave you with this.  Can you imagine never brushing your teeth again?  No!  Why?  Because you have formed that HABIT since before you can remember.  You can’t even fathom not brushing your teeth every day.

Your goal is to make exercise, nutrition, and stretching a part of your daily routing.  Ultimately, you want to feel like your day is not complete without doing some form of physical activity.  Your body craves physical activity and you are doing it to take care of yourself, so get after it!

If you need more advice on how to get back into shape, reach out to me in the about section or social media.  I want to hear from you and love to give you advice!  Enjoy!

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