Steven and Chris

The 5 Stages of Exercise: Where Are You At?

Fitness Expert Oonagh Duncan tells us about the psychological stages of getting yourself from a couch potato to a seasoned athlete!

Ok so some of us out there are running marathons regularly, some of us not so much! Regardless, you say that there is some psychology to why each of us get stuck at our current stage of activity. This idea has been around for decades but it's the opposite of fitness fad thinking -- this still applies today and I think it can be beneficial regardless of which stage you're at. Pretty much all of us can get stuck at a stage and if we understand the stage and what we need to move on!

1. Pre-contemplation:

This person is not even thinking of exercising. This person says 'yeah right' when you ask if they work out.

Strategy: What this person needs is more information. They would be unlikely to seek out that information themselves because they are not even interested in exercise. But if you know someone in this stage and you want to help them, you might want to find out what misunderstandings they have about exercise.

This person probably feels this way because they have some fears or misunderstandings about exercise. I know people who believe that exercise has to be really intense to be effective and they aren't willing to spend an hour in a breathless state. I know people who think they are too old to start exercising and people who think they shouldn't exercise because they have a bad back or arthritis or they are pregnant. In all of these cases, I would encourage these people to ask their doctor about it and most of the time their doctor will say that some exercise is almost always better than no exercise.

Stage 2: Contemplation

This person is thinking about it but hasn't done anything about it. This person at least feels guilty that they DON'T exercise.

Strategy: In this stage it's usually about increasing self-confidence. This is where having a buddy or social support can be so helpful. Having someone agree to walk into that first fitness class with you or agree to walk half of the 5K race with you can mean all the world. For example, there's a yoga studio where I live that has a class that is only for men who are absolute beginners. Because no one wants to feel like they are going to be the only one in the room who doesn't know what to do!

Stage 3: Preparation

If you're here, you're still not working out!

You might have bought fitness wear by this point, even bought a gym membership but you aren't using it. By the way, what percentage of gym memberships do you think go unused? It's between 60-80 per cent! So a lot of us are stuck here. And what do you think is the number one reason why people say they don't use their gym membership? "I don't have the time."

Strategy: At this stage you need to be honest about what that final barrier is and tackle it specifically. For example, recognize if you're prioritizing other things in your life over exercising, that's the only way any of us free time to exercise, we're all busy. Find your excuse and get past it!

Stage 4: Action

This person is exercising but haven't been doing it for very long. This is the New Year's Resolution January exerciser!

Strategy: The first thing you want to do is give yourself serious props for exercising. Studies prove that rewards work so treat yourself a little. Get an unnecessary pedicure or have a long chat with an old friend that you miss, whatever makes you feel rewarded. The danger here is relapse. People in this stage are fragile in their self-conception as active people so they might have a lazy weekend and then think 'forget it, I failed.' A lazy weekend (or week) doesn't necessarily mean a lazy life. It's up to you to get back on that horse!

Stage 5: Maintenance

This person has been exercising for six months or more. This is the person who kept their resolution and has made it a lifestyle change!

Strategy: The risk here is that you might be getting bored, you might be 'plateau'-ing (where people are noticing diminishing results from their same old workout) and that can cause some people lose their enthusiasm. This is a good time to set new goals and again, it's all about that social support or workout buddy. Studies show that people who participate in group exercise classes are six times more likely to renew their gym membership year after year. Joining a team or signing up for an event with a friend can really give you the motivation to take your training to the next level.

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