How to restart a fitness routine (or get started for the first time)

Learn how to set goals and stay motivated to reach new fitness heights next year

How to restart a fitness routine: Pictured here, older Black woman dancing with headphones on
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Congratulations, you’ve decided that next year will be the year you finally get fit. And that probably means you also made a new year’s resolution to exercise more to achieve that goal. But how is your resolution working out for you? According to research from Strava, you might be ready to throw in the towel right about now…

In 2020, Strava named 19 January‘ Quitter’s Day’ – the day most people ditch their resolutions – based on activity habits and trends data from more than 800 million user-logged activities in 2019. Consider also that Quitter’s Day came two days earlier on 17 January the previous year, and its odds on you’ve already let your fitness commitments slide.

But don’t let your failure to stick to your fitness resolutions prevent you from getting fit this year! Whether you’re entirely new to exercise or have lost your fitness mojo, we’ve got the advice and tips to help you stay on track and have your fittest year ever. Want to lose some weight first? The best high-protein breakfasts can help you start the day the right way. Find out which exercise burns the most belly fat (these six celebrity trainer-approved workouts sure do).

Set your goals the S.M.A.R.T way

So, you want to get fit. But what does ‘getting fit’ actually mean to you? Perhaps you dream of being fit enough to climb a mountain or run a marathon? Or maybe you want to be able to run for a bus and play with your kids without gasping for breath? Everyone has a different idea of what it means to be fit, so it’s essential that you set yourself a clear fitness goal. Without one, you may lack the motivation, direction and focus you need to nail it.

Setting ‘SMART’ goals, i.e., breaking your goals down, so they are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-constrained, is a tried-and-tested method that will help you stay on track with your new workout programme whether you’re a total newbie to fitness or Olympic-level athlete.

Good examples of SMART goals are ‘I will lose 6 lbs/2.73 kg in four weeks’ or ‘I will run a 5k race in eight weeks’ time’ because each of these goals is realistic, measurable, achievable, specific and time-constrained, and clearly defines the goal you want to achieve.

Examples of non-SMART goals include, ‘I want to build muscle’ or ‘I want to lose weight’ because they are too generalised, while goals like ‘I want to lose 20lbs in one month’ or ‘I’m going to train for a half-marathon in four weeks’ are unrealistic and potentially hazardous to your health.

Instead, set yourself a realistic target you can smash, feel good about, and keep building on, rather than setting an unattainable goal that sets you up to fail before you’ve even started. 

two women running in a park, laughing and chatting

(Image credit: Getty)

Break big goals down into smaller goals

When choosing your goal, there’s nothing wrong with setting the bar high. But try to avoid focusing too much on the long-term ‘destination’ goal, as this can quickly become overwhelming and appear unattainable. Instead, focus on the ‘process’ goals that will help you reach your destination over a certain period.

To do this, make a goal pyramid by placing your long-term goal at the top and breaking it down into smaller goals over time. For example, if you want to lose 20lbs in three months, you should break that big goal down into monthly goals of 7lbs a month, which then breaks down to around 1.7lbs a week. Next, break down your weekly goal into daily goals, such as ‘I need to meal prep for the week’ or ‘I need to exercise five times for 45-minutes’. 

Once you’ve broken down your goal, spend at least 30-minutes a week scheduling your workouts into your diary and treat them the same way as unmissable doctor appointments and work meetings. Doing this means you’ll be more likely to get your gym kit ready the night before, arrange childcare, plan your meals, go to bed early, and eliminate any potential excuses for skipping a workout.

Remember, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

Happy athletic woman using mobile phone while drinking a protein shake at home

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Find your ‘why’

Consistency is key for achieving success with any fitness goal, and that requires commitment and dedication. Therefore, it is essential that you find your ‘why’, i.e., your purpose for exercising. Because when you have your ‘why’, you can tolerate the ‘how’, which is the work you need to put in to achieve your goal.

Finding your ‘why’ is especially important if you’re someone that always fails to stick to a new fitness routine year after year – and your ‘why’ must be huge. It could be that getting fit for a holiday or special event doesn’t provide you with a big enough ‘why’ to make consistent lifestyle changes.

But deciding you want to get fit because you hate the way you look in the mirror and you don’t want to feel that way anymore - or because you want to live a long, healthy life and see your grandchildren grow up - should provide you with a ‘why’ that’s powerful enough to encourage real change.

Take the time to really think about the reasons why you want to get fit, then write them down and look at them regularly. Then, when you feel like skipping a workout or eating something unhealthy, you can go back to these words and remind yourself why you are doing it.

Do what you love

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: consistency is key if you want to get fit. This means you need to find activities you love doing so you return to them again and again. Because exercise should be enjoyable - if it feels like torture, we reckon you haven’t found your workout method of choice yet.

If you have a competitive streak, or you love socialising with others, think about trying a team sport, hitting a CrossFit gym or doing a group fitness class like HIIT. You might also benefit from joining a running or cycling club that will support you in training and provide regular get togethers.

If you’re working out for the mental health benefits, try activities that will help you relax, such as yoga and Pilates, or stress-relieving workouts like as dancing and boxing. And don’t forget, walking in the great outdoors absolutely counts as exercise when you do it regularly, plus it has brilliant health, fitness and mind-boosting benefits.

In short, there’s an activity for everyone, and you’re bound to find something that suits your personality, fits your lifestyle, and keeps you coming back for more if you keep looking. Don’t quit the search!

person doing push ups in a living room

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Measure your progress

When you start a new fitness routine, it’s always a good idea to test your fitness and jot down your vital statistics so you have the vital benchmarks needed to monitor your progress (talking to your GP is also advised before you start any new workout regime).

Establish your fitness level by taking the best fitness tests and writing down your results. Don’t be disappointed if you’re more unfit than you thought – things can only get better with time and effort! Re-take the tests every four weeks and you’ll soon see an improvement in your scores, and feel the difference in your flexibility, strength and cardiovascular fitness. 

This can be particularly useful if your goal involves weight loss because the improvements in your fitness can help boost your motivation and encourage you to keep going when the scales stay the same in spite of your hard work.

For this reason, it’s also worth grabbing a tape measure and jotting down your chest, waist, and hip measurements. Because while a pound of fat weighs the same as a pound of muscle, muscle is denser and more compact than fat, which means you might have lost centimetres or inches from your body even when the scales show no change. 

The recap

So, there you have it: our top tips to restart your fitness routine if your new year’s resolutions have gone pear-shaped. As you will have noticed, successfully sticking to a new workout programme takes more than just waking up one day and hoping that your old habits and attitudes to exercise will have changed overnight. 

It takes planning, research, commitment, and a fair bit of thought from you to guarantee the results you’re after. But if you put this advice into action and stick to it, you should be well on your way to establishing the positive changes needed to make regular exercise a natural part of your life – not just the first three weeks of January!


This feature is part of T3's Get Fit 2022 campaign. We’ll be bringing you a wealth of guides, features, deals and news to help you get healthy, fit and ready for anything the new year can throw at you. Whether you’re a newcomer to fitness or someone with a passion for it, we’ll bring you all the best workouts, diet advice and gear to set you on the right track.

Joanna Ebsworth

Jo has been obsessed with writing and fitness since her teenage years and spent all her pocket money on magazines and workout VHS tapes. When ITV cancelled Gladiators – causing her dreams of becoming the next ‘Jet’ to crash and burn - she decided to combine her passions and become a fitness writer instead. A qualified PT and author of several fitness guides, she has spent the last 15 years writing for many of the UK’s most respected newspapers, magazines, and online publications. When she’s not interviewing celebrities and athletes or testing fit kit, she can be found watching YouTube breakdowns of the latest MCU releases.