Start small and set goals: 14 tips on staying motivated to exercise at home

Trainers in the UAE offer advice to keep you active and healthy

2BEY1FW Home workout during coronavirus quarantine. Booty glutes building. Glutes bridge. Woman training using mat sport belt.
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Even during normal times, it can be difficult to muster up the motivation to get in a good workout. While we're being asked to stay at home as the coronavirus continues to infect people around the world, it can be even tougher.

So The National asked a handful of personal trainers in the UAE to offer their tips on how to stay active and healthy while gyms, fitness classes and swimming pools are closed.

1. Plan in advance

“Plan a regular cardio routine of three to four times per week,” says Technogym wellness expert Lindley Zama.

He advises doing this for 30 minutes each session with moderate-intensity activity in the morning or at about sunset, which he says will improve your sleep. "Writing down a weekly plan a few days in advance will allow you to understand your actual status and how you could make a positive change to enjoy a more active lifestyle."

Jedross Latabe, a trainer with Active Stream, agrees. “During this period of social isolation, it is quite easy to lose track of time. So make sure to give your days some definition by planning when you will exercise.”

2. Always remember to breathe

Zama says a daily, focused breathing routine of about 10 to 15 minutes sends a message to your brain to relax. If you’re putting your workout routine off because you’re agitated, this can help, he adds. “Stress and anxiety could be something that is affecting you right now and this simple tip can support on that.”

Technogym wellness expert, Lindley Zama.

3. Do something you enjoy

Rafat Shawe is a professional MMA fighter, personal trainer and nutritionist in Dubai. He says it’s important to find something you enjoy doing. “What works for one, doesn’t work for another, so whether you love dancing, Pilates, HIIT or whatever way to move you enjoy, do that and don’t force yourself to do something just because you think it would be good for you. Any movement is better than none.”

4. Don’t count the minutes

“Don’t get hung up on time,” adds Shawe. “You don’t need to find an hour in your day to work out.” Even if you can do five minutes every hour and alternate between push-ups, sit-ups, skipping or whatever you can do at home, it’s better than doing nothing, he says. “A lot of my clients stay in their gym gear through the day and do this. Regular bursts will also help you to move and stretch and avoid issues from sitting at a desk or dining table while working from home.”

5. Start small and slow

Don’t over-commit, says Shawe. “Build up gradually. Don’t over-complicate things or commit to anything too big, as, often, then it doesn’t happen.” If you start small and build up your endurance as you go along, you’re far more likely to stick to it and your motivation will grow alongside your fitness levels.

MMA fighter, personal trainer and nutritionist, Rafat Shawe.

Latabe adds: “If you haven’t done regular exercise in a while, then opt for moderate-intensity workouts to begin with.” Working out too hard or too fast at first can be off-putting and therefore decrease your motivation, plus it increases the likelihood of injury, he says.

6. Set up a space

Latabe says setting up a space dedicated to your workouts is very important. “Move all your stuff to the side. Make sure you have the equipment needed for the workout and always have a towel and water with you.”

7. Make it social (at a distance)

With so many free and pre-recorded sessions available online, or live-streamed workouts by trainers across the UAE, it’s easy to keep up the social aspect of working out, even when we’re physically distancing. “Getting support from family and friends can help and encourage you during exercise,” says Latabe.

Paul Holder, a personal trainer at GymNation, echoes this. “Reach out to others for support. This could be a family member or spouse or even just a friend. Consider working out together at home. Mark it on your calendar, motivate each other and have fun with it.”

8. Set a realistic goal

Holder says having goals can drastically help boost your motivation. “Whether it’s to become more flexible, raise your heart rate for 30 minutes or to become stronger, by setting a realistic goal this will get you moving.”

The important thing is that you’re realistic, adds Latabe. “We all have different motivations for exercising. Always remember to set practical and achievable goals.” For this, you need to be honest with yourself about your abilities – and remember everyone is on their own journey.

 Active Stream trainer, Jedross Latabe.

9. Reward yourself

As you keep up the workouts, you’ll gradually begin to improve your fitness levels, form and endurance – among other things. “It is important that your continuous efforts get appropriate rewards,” says Latabe, adding that this will in turn will motivate you even more to continue exercising. This could be anything from a “cheat meal” to some new fitness equipment or even fancy workout clothes. Every little helps.

10. Blast some music

Leon Douglas, another trainer at Active Stream, is a big proponent of playing music while working out. “Using the right playlist of music at home while doing your daily chores or exercise will help boost your endorphins and keep you active throughout the day,” he says.

11. Stay hydrated

Feeling tired and drained of energy, and therefore less inclined to workout? It could be that you’re getting dehydrated. Douglas has a trick for this. “Before you start the day, wake up and have a shot of turmeric with lukewarm water and lemon plus ginger – I call this the kick start. As the day goes by, try drinking at least two to three litres of water.”

 Active Stream trainer, Leon Douglas.

12. Nail your nutrition

If weight loss is the goal, and you aren’t seeing the results you want from solely working out, then it’s no wonder you’re feeling demotivated. So it might be time to look at your diet, says Cornel Ene, a trainer with Active Stream. “It is nutrition that drives fat loss, not cardio or other types of training. Training is often a linchpin habit that drives better nutrition. Treat training as a vehicle to get stronger, not as a vehicle to burn calories. You can then supplement cardio once you have nailed nutrition for extra fat loss.”

 Active Stream trainer, Cornel Ene.

13. Remember you’re doing it for your health

Ivan Pavlovic, fitness manager at Fitness First The Palm Dubai, wants to remind us that by exercising or increasing physical activity we can often avoid any ill-effects that come from being obese. “Obesity is a medical condition in which excess body fat has accumulated to the extent that it may have an adverse effect on health.” By incorporating 30 minutes of activity to your day, you’ll be in a much better position to be healthy and happy, he says.

Fitness First The Palm Dubai fitness manager, Ivan Pavlovic.

14. The more you work out, the more you’ll want to

It might be hard to imagine now, when you’re feeling out of practice, but the more you exercise, the more you’ll want to. Why? Endorphins. “Generate your happy hormones,” says Pavlovic.

“When you exercise, your body releases a chemical called endorphins. These endorphins interact with the receptors in your brain to improve your mood, energy level and sense of well-being. For people with low to moderate depression, 30 minutes of exercise may affect your mood positively.”