Jan. 13, 2014 at 6:53 PM ET
It's the main role of a trainer to make sure you are executing exercises correctly. Proper form makes the difference whether or not you see results or end up getting injured.
DIY: “For one, try [instructions from] websites from a certifying agency,” says Deborah McConnell, global master trainer for Life Fitness, based in Shiller Park, Ill. Trusted sites include: the American Council on Exercise, American College of Sports Medicine and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Or look up YouTube videos taught by certified personal trainers.
It’s tough to cancel an appointment when you’ve paid your personal trainer in advance. Sticking to a schedule on your own may be another story, especially when sleeping another hour seems like bliss.
DIY: “No one finds time to exercise, you must make time,” says Tom Holland, C.S.C.S., Connecticut-based exercise physiologist and author of Beat the Gym: Personal Trainer Secrets without the Personal Trainer Price Tag. “Put your workout routine into your schedule and treat it as you would a doctor’s appointment or any other important meeting.” Create a pact with a friend to send you a text to keep you on target. If you don’t respond with a photo of you in your workout clothes, you buy her coffee.
Sticking with the same old workout may feel comfortable, but muscles adapt and results slow after a few weeks of the same routine. It’s hard to know what to do next if you don’t have a trainer who can get you outside the zone.
DIY: “The body needs additional and changing stimulus for you to continue to see progress,” says McConnell. To keep seeing results, try a new activity such as indoor group cycling, Zumba, Pilates, boot camp, yoga or water aerobics.
Keeping track of what you're doing helps you stay accountable and organized to reach your health and fitness goals, says McConnell. Seeing progress keeps you moving forward.
DIY: There are plenty of new fitness apps that can help. Good ones to try: LoseIt, SoFitMobile and Runtastic. You can also rely on your social networks. “Posting your results to social media sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, can heighten your ability to continue to strive towards your goals,” McConnell says.
What you eat is as important—sometimes even more so—than your workouts. A trainer typically asks you to keep a food journal, but you can do a quick evaluation on your own.
DIY: “Its tedious, but since weight loss comes down to calories, you must know your true daily caloric intake,” says Franklin Antoian, ACE-certified trainer and founder of iBodyFit.com, Delray Beach, Fla. “Add up all of the calories you consume each day (try the CalorieCount app) and look for ways to take small things out of your diet. Cut out 100 calories a day to lose 10 pounds a year.”
Since more than half of new exercisers quit within three to six months, according to the American College of Sports Medicine, staying the course without a trainer to hound you can be difficult.
DIY: “Pin up motivational quotes on post-it notes around the house where you’ll see them every day—the bathroom mirror, closet, desk, by your car keys,” says Antoian. Other easy motivators: Put a picture of your favorite celeb’s body on your desk, write notes to yourself encouraging and praising yourself, and be sure your family is on board.
Upping the ante on your workout isn’t just a matter of lifting heavier or increasing your reps, but knowing what and how much you can adjust.
DIY: When lifting weights, the National Strength and Conditioning Association recommends the two-for-two rule: Increase the weight when you can perform two or more reps above your goal. If you’re striving for 12 reps and can easily do 14, bump up the weight by 2-1/2 to 5 pounds for upper body exercises and 5 to 10 pounds for lower body. “Or, increase intensity by decreasing the rest time in between your sets,” says Antoian.
If you enjoy and look forward to your workouts you’re more likely to stick with it.
DIY: Invest in colorful workout equipment and new gadgets that add an element of play. Fitness balls, medicine balls, kettle bells and tubing increase the variety of exercises and add color to your routine. Keep in mind it won’t always be fun, however, says Holland. “We tend to do what we like. But a sense of accomplishment can also be fun.”
How do you know you’re making progress? The scale isn’t always the best way to track results, especially if weight loss isn’t your main motivation.
DIY: “We are motivated by objective results, especially when it comes to fitness,” says Holland. “Find a pair of jeans or similar type of clothing that you used to fit into and make it a goal to get back into them.”
Consider it your time. All you should be doing during your workouts is focusing on yourself and your health. If you had a trainer, he would gladly call you out if he started to see your mind wander. Since you don’t have one, try to eliminate anything that could be distracting.
DIY: Unless you’re an ER doc, you can afford to leave your phone off while you get your fitness on. “Work hard and play hard,” says Holland. “When you are exercising, get the most out of it by focusing on the task at hand and nothing else. Eliminate all distractions such as phones, computers, and people, if possible, and maximize your workout time.” Have a signal for the rest of the family that lets them know you’re not to be disturbed—or they have to join you in a set of crunches.
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A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.