A new year is the ideal time to consider new fitness goals, which may mean starting a new exercise routine or recalibrating an existing one. If you’re like most people, you lead a busy life and struggle to fit exercise into your daily routine. To ensure your exercise routine fits your lifestyle, think seriously about where you’ll be exercising, because your workout location can be crucial to establishing long-term behavior change.
After New Year’s, commercial fitness facilities crank up the advertising and offer special deals to take advantage of people’s desire to lose weight gained during the holidays or achieve a New Year’s resolution. But for most people, professional equipment and expert services aren’t effective in the long run.
Eighty percent of people who sign up for a new fitness facility membership in January report feeling defeated and ready to quit within six weeks. By March, most of them have quit altogether or stopped exercising consistently. This suggests that relying on commercial facilities to build sustainable exercise habits is ineffective.
Where Should You Exercise?
For busy people looking to establish a sustainable exercise routine, the best place to work out is usually at home.
Most people struggle to exercise consistently because they are too busy. Though 75 percent of people want to live a healthier lifestyle, only 3 percent succeed. Unsurprisingly, lack of time and energy are the top reasons people give for not exercising enough to achieve their goals.
The best way for busy people to make exercising sustainable is to eliminate friction: the inefficient use of time and energy.
Unfortunately, going to a gym adds a lot of friction to your exercise routine: finding your gear, packing your bag, commuting, checking in, waiting for your turn on the equipment, and so on. All these activities require more time and energy, making it more difficult to fit exercise into a busy schedule.
Exercising at home eliminates nearly all the friction created by a trip to the gym. At-home exercise also allows for more time-efficient workouts. For example, circuit and interval-style training are ideal for busy people but are virtually impossible in a traditional gym setting, where you have to share the equipment.
While there are rare individuals with the discipline to get to the gym consistently for years and decades, you probably aren’t one of them. For most people, gym memberships lead to short-lived exercise commitments that fail to become lasting lifestyle changes.
What about the Benefits of the Gym Atmosphere?
A common argument against at-home workouts is that commercial facilities offer a better atmosphere for exercising than home gyms. The idea is that you’re better off in a traditional gym setting because they are more fun, community oriented, and motivating, which will keep you coming back.
The problem is that the benefits of commercial facilities don’t outweigh the primary factor driving most people to give up on exercise: friction.
For most people, the major hurdle is a lack of time or energy, not a lack of fun and camaraderie. When life gets hectic and priorities weigh on people, high-friction activities such as workouts at the gym are abandoned.
The main reason most people exercise is for the health and fitness benefits, not for the joy of exercise itself. As with brushing our teeth or taking a shower, we mainly exercise for utility, and it’s important to keep this in mind when selecting the best exercise location.
If you’re exercising for utility, aim to get the health and fitness benefits with minimal friction so you can move on to other things that you care about. If you have surplus time and energy for recreational exercise, great, but it’s best to have a low-friction at-home exercise routine to meet your basic exercise requirements.
Adapting to At-Home Exercise
Some people have trouble motivating themselves outside of a traditional gym setting; something about breaking a sweat in their living room, basement, or garage just doesn’t get them into the right motivational headspace. This is a different type of friction: psychological friction.
Psychological friction can make at-home exercise more difficult because it requires more mental energy to push oneself to engage in the desired behavior.
One cause of psychological friction is environmental: an at-home workout setting isn’t as motivating as a traditional gym setting. People who feel this way have previously developed a strong mental association between being in a gym and exercising.
Another cause of psychological friction is the fact that at-home workouts often require doing new exercises and using unfamiliar equipment. As a result, at-home workouts initially require more conscious focus to execute, compared to other workouts that you have developed muscle memory for and that can be done without much thought.
The solution to psychological friction is habit building. You need to get mentally comfortable working out in a new setting and doing new exercises that you’re unfamiliar with, which comes with repetition.
The key to turning an at-home workout into a sustainable routine is frequency and consistency. In the beginning, just initiating the activity of exercising at home, even if only for a few minutes, is more important than the duration or intensity of the workout.
Research shows that it takes around sixty days of repetition to form a new habit. Once the habit has started forming, you’ll feel much more accustomed to your new workout space and exercises. As the activity starts feeling more automatic, it will be much easier to get motivated for at-home workouts and you’ll be able to put more focus on exercise duration and intensity.
If you’re a busy person looking for a surefire way to establish a sustainable exercise routine, your best bet is to prepare a simple workout area in your home and get comfortable using the new space. (Yes, you can even get an effective workout in a small living space such as a microapartment.) While you may be missed by friends and colleagues at those trendy spin classes and fitness boot camps, you’ll still be exercising consistently ten years from now—everyone else will be back on the couch.