Healthy Living YMCA Health and Fitness

Ask A Trainer: How do I make a workout plan — and actually stick to it?

A woman smiles at the camera from her stationary bike during spin class

Delving into the world of fitness and nutrition can feel overwhelming. So we asked Paul, personal trainer and the Senior Director of Programs at the Oshawa Mary Street YMCA, to answer some of your most frequently asked fitness questions. Here are his step-by-step instructions to help you find and commit to a workout routine:

99% of people who say they want to get in shape start out strong. They haul themselves off the couch, get a gym membership, and consistently show up to put in the work — for about two weeks. Sometimes they don’t see the results they thought they would. Other times, they think it’s too hard, and the couch just starts to seem too appealing again.

This is why people often ask me, “How do I stay motivated to stick to my workout routine?” The answer: you have to find a workout that works for you.

But in a world where there are literally thousands of blogs, fitness studios, and trainers telling you they have some special secret sauce that will solve all your workout woes, this process can be harder than it sounds. So often, I see people trying out every piece of advice they can find. They sort of flail around aimlessly, dabbling in a bunch of random stuff with no game plan, until they inevitably feel frustrated with their lack of progress and give up.

It’s true: just showing up and trying something is better than being a couch potato. But if you want to get into a long-term habit of being active and healthy, it’s worth channeling your enthusiasm into doing a bit of research before charging into the weight room, full steam ahead. Here are my top three things to consider as you’re making your workout plan:

1. Look for credentials

Make sure your program of choice was created by a quality source. There are tons of excellent, research-based routines out there — but there are also lots of scammy quick fix-style ploys. If it sounds too good and too easy to be true, it probably is. Instead of “cleanses,” 3-day challenges, and routines that promise “instant” results, look for programs designed by qualified personal trainers, or strength and conditioning coaches.

2. Commit for the long haul

Look for programs that are 3–6 months long — or longer! Contrary to the promises of instantaneity many trainers and fitness studios will make, it takes a long time for your body and overall health to noticeably change. Committing to a lengthier program helps you chill out a bit: you’ll know you’ve got months to see the results you’re looking for, so you won’t beat yourself up for “failing” to drop 10 pounds in 10 days.

3. Don’t dismiss simplicity

Chances are, you’re not training to be a bodybuilder, and you don’t have hours upon hours to spend in the gym. Make the limited amount of time you do have count by honing in on one or two specific goals. If you want to get strong, find a strength training routine. If you want to build endurance and stamina, find a cardio-enhancing routine. It sounds obvious, but I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen people try to do a million things at once — or the number of times I’ve seen those people wonder why they’re not seeing results.

My final words of advice: find a way to follow through. No one said it was going to be easy. Most solid programs are hard, but that’s part of the fun. When you see your chosen program through to the end — challenging yourself to show up and put in the work — I guarantee the pride you’ll feel in yourself will be so worth the struggle. If you don’t want to do that program again, that’s okay; but at least you’ll have learned what you liked about it, and what you need to look for in your next program.

Paul has a degree in Human Kinetics and Education, with a specialty in Phys. Ed, and is a YMCA Canada-certified Fitness and Personal Trainer. For over six years, he’s been working as a personal and small group trainer at the Oshawa Mary Street YMCA, where he also teaches Bootcamp, MuscleFit, CycleFit, and Kettlebell classes. Paul runs a variety of fitness workshops and conferences, including the YMCA Personal Training Certification course.