How to Stick to Your Exercise Routine

Exercise Adherence – The Key to Achieving Your Long-Term Fitness Goals

Starting a new exercise routine can be one of the most exciting periods of time where motivation and genuine excitement are fresh and abundant, but sticking with an exercise routine for a long period of time is the only way to reap the tremendous health and fitness benefits from it. Exercise adherence is the common factor amongst people who attain and maintain their fitness goals for life. While this topic has many nuances, there are only a few key pillars to implement into your routine that will make sticking to it far easier to manage. 

#1 Set SMART Goals

Nearly no one starts a new fitness routine without some sort of goal in mind. Interestingly enough, your exercise goals need to be strategically determined ahead of time to make achieving them a less effortful pursuit. Setting SMART goals is the first step towards adhering to your new exercise routine long term. A SMART goal is a goal that is specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound. A goal that does not align with each of these categories can be seen as merely a wish that you hope to come true one day. 

  • SPECIFIC

A specific goal is a goal that is clearly defined. For someone with the general goal of wanting to drop a pants size or lose body fat, it would be best to define exactly how many pants sizes they wish to drop or how many pounds of fat they wish to lose. Having this clearly defined goal will help determine other factors that affect exercise adherence like the amount of time needed to complete the goal and what specific type of training needs to be done in order to achieve such goal. 

  • MEASURABLE

A measurable goal is one that can be quantified, gauged, and/or recorded. Referencing back to the example listed above, the person’s pant size and body fat can both be measured and recorded to appreciate any progress made towards their goals over time. A common mistake many new exercisers make is setting unmeasurable goals. The goal of simply “looking better” cannot be measured unless “looking better” is clearly defined, drawing back on the specificity of goal-making. Having a goal that is specific and measurable can make exercise adherence a lot easier to achieve. 

  • ATTAINABLE / REALISTIC

An attainable goal is a goal that can be achieved. In order for a goal to be achieved, it must be realistic. This is why having both an attainable and realistic goal is imperative for sticking to your exercise routine. Referring back to the above example of dropping a pant size, one might set the unattainable and unrealistic goal of dropping 5 pant sizes in one month. For most people, especially under normal circumstances, this is not possible. The element that makes this goal not attainable or realistic is the time given to achieve the goal. Factor in the amount of time needed to achieve your goal, your life circumstances (i.e. work, school, home life obligations), and how dedicated you wish to be to that goal to determine how attainable and realistic your goal is. 

  • TIME-BOUND

Lastly, all goals should be time-bound meaning the goal should be completed within a certain time frame to aid in exercise adherence. Adding a time frame to your goal allows you to see what habits are necessary to employ to achieve your goal. It also allows you to determine how aggressive your approach should be to achieve your goal. It is recommended to set a time frame that allows your goals to be achieved in a less aggressive manner so that it is easier to continue the habits that lead you to your goal once it is achieved. 

#2 Narrow Your Focus 

At the start of a new fitness journey, it’s easy to set out to achieve multiple goals at once due to increased motivation and excitement. One way to make sure you stick to your fitness goals is to narrow down the amount of goals you wish to achieve to one to a few major outcome goals. Doing so will ensure you don’t become too overwhelmed as the process continues on in your journey. Narrowing your focus to one to a few outcome goals will make it easier to set more process goals along the way to stay disciplined and in tune with your outcome goals. Don’t feel obligated to try and augment your sleeping habits, nutrition habits, fitness habits, and financial habits all at once. Doing so will only make it harder to stick to one and ultimately leave you in the same position you started in at the beginning of your journey. 

#3 Pick Movement You Enjoy

One of the most integral parts of adhering to your fitness goals is picking a form of movement that you enjoy. This is often overlooked due to the proliferation of new fitness fads, gimmicks, and questionable fitness influencers who try to push their philosophy of fitness. There is no right or wrong way to move your body as all forms of movement are beneficial to your health and wellness. Depending on your fitness goals, one form of movement may be more conducive to your goals, but that doesn’t mean that it is the only acceptable way to move your body. 

Achieving your fitness goals and adhering to your exercise program follows a similar formula as managing your finances. Attaining your fitness goals can only be done through building small habits that compound overtime and lead to monumental results. James Clear, author of New York Times best-seller “Atomic Habits” wrote,

 “If you don’t enjoy something, you won’t stick with it. If you don’t stick with it, it won’t compound. Being interested precedes the results.” 

This quote highlights the importance of building up small goals that ultimately compound over time to reveal colossal results. Another direct quote taken from “Atomic Habits” states,

“Success is the product of daily habits, not once in a lifetime transformations. That said, it doesn’t matter how successful or unsuccessful you are right now. What matters is whether your habits are putting you on the path towards success. You should be far more concerned with your current trajectory than with your current results.” 

All of this said to remind you that it is hard to build compounding habits and actions following a fitness plan that is not enjoyable. As quoted above, “being interested precedes the results,” so find a form of movement that is nearly effortless to implement into your training routine. 

#4 Make it Easy 

An exercise routine is far easier to adhere to when you make the small habits necessary to achieve your goals thoughtless and convenient. An example of this could be setting out your gym clothes the night before going to the gym or pre-prepping protein sources at the beginning of the week or weekend so that eating nutritiously becomes less of a hassle during the busy work week. This part of the process can require an additional time commitment, however, incorporating these small habits makes sticking to your routine a lot easier. The less decisions you need to make in the moment regarding your fitness routine, the easier it will be to act on the decisions necessary to achieve your goals. Action > Contemplation 

#5 Gain Accountability and Support

Another facet of your fitness journey that can be imperative to your adherence and success is gaining accountability and support through the relationships you build within the fitness community. It is not necessarily required to become a part of a fitness community or group, however, it will make exercise adherence far more achievable. Gaining accountability and support can come from various sources including: hiring a personal trainer, getting a workout partner, joining a fitness class, or joining a gym that features a high level of support from coaches and staff. Placing yourself in these environments will help getting in shape become a part of your identity which makes the motivation to stick to your goals increase. 


Understand that sticking to your exercise routine and goals is not an easy feat whatsoever. Do not become discouraged if it takes multiple tries to get into a fitness routine that aligns with your goals and lifestyle. Don’t fall trap to the pressures of selecting exercise routines that don’t align with your goals or lifestyle. Remember that ultimately, enjoyment precedes success and success cannot occur without adhering to small habits that compound in interest over time. Nothing in life is ever serious enough to purposefully subject yourself to torment and torture, especially when it comes to fitness. Enjoy what you take part in and it will feel a lot easier to adhere to over time 🙂 


Sources and Additional Reads: 

NASM Fitness, Setting SMART Goals Article | https://blog.nasm.org/setting-smart-fitness-goals

“Atomic Habits” by James Clear | https://jamesclear.com/books

“Tiny Habits” by BJ Fogg | https://tinyhabits.com/book/

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