Five Ways to Get in the Gym and Stay There

I vividly remember the day I decided I needed to get into the gym.

I was a 23-year-old law student, and I had just come back from lunch at Taco Bell, where I had woofed down three soft tacos, a Nachos Supreme, and a bean burrito. I felt bloated, gross and out of shape — and well, I was. I hardly ever exercised, and I regularly ate food-garbage for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But that day, sitting down at my desk with my bloated gut pressing against my belt, it hit me: You are young, and that’s the only reason you’re not morbidly obese. You’d better get in shape, or it’s all downhill from here.

That was over 11 years ago, and I have been working out early every morning, five days a week since then. I have stayed consistent despite studying for law school exams, being an attorney for ten years, moving several times, traveling all over the United States for work, getting married, and having two kids. And here’s how I did it:

1. I prayed. 

Somehow, I knew He was going to do it, and, wonder of wonders, shortly after I prayed that prayer, the idea suddenly became appealing. In light of my lackluster history with exercise and early-waking, I have no doubt that this was an answer to prayer.You need to understand just how impossible it was for me to pull this off. I was always the kid who shied away from anything athletic, and I woke up late every morning, so the idea of getting up at 5:20 a.m. and dragging myself to a gym every day seemed preposterous. I knew I would never succeed at getting fit without divine intervention, so a couple of weeks after my Taco Bell revelation, I offered this simple request to God: “Please give me the will to go to the gym five days a week at 6:00 a.m.”

2. I asked for advice.

Before going to the gym, I went to one of the young attorneys at the law firm where I was an intern, and I asked if she had any advice for working out (she was a former college volleyball player). God bless her; the woman went to her office and typed up a five-day workout agenda for me, and I clung to that thing for dear life as I fearfully crept into the gym for the first time. It would be the first of many, many times I asked for exercise advice from someone who looked like they knew what they were talking about.

3. I showed up.

I stayed motivated to go to the gym — well, for the first month or so. Then I woke up one morning, looked at the red 5:20 glaring at me from the alarm clock, and thought, I was up late last night. I need to sleep this morning. But before I could hit the snooze button, another thought crossed my mind: If you hit snooze, it’s the beginning of the end of your consistency. And with that, I dragged myself out of bed and promised myself I would go to sleep earlier that night. That was the first of many times I ignored the temptation to hit snooze, and over time, simply getting out of bed to go to the gym in the morning became as natural to me as brushing my teeth.

4. I set goals.

When I went to the gym, I had two goals that I repeated to myself: I wanted to look attractive to my wife, and I wanted to be able to protect her if she was physically threatened. Keep in mind, I was nowhere near meeting her (she came along five years later), but it kept me motivated.

I also refused to plateau. I always pushed myself harder: I wanted to see if I could lift a little more weight, jump rope for a few more minutes, do a few more push-ups. Meeting my fitness goals (with or without a wife) built my self-confidence and helped me realize that I wasn’t a non-athletic wuss who was afraid of the gym. I had what it took to be physically fit, and I had the character to follow through with my goals.

5. I didn’t lie to myself.

In addition to getting out of bed, when I showed up at the gym, I did what I said I was going to do. If I said I was going to jump rope for five minutes, I kept going, even if my body wanted to quit after three minutes. If I said I was going to do five sets of leg workouts, I wouldn’t let myself quit after four of them. For most people, however, quitting is always an option when it comes to exercise; it’s fundamental to their whole mindset.

They make New Year’s resolutions, overpromise, and quit under the weight of fitness commitments they cannot keep. For example, they tell themselves they’re going to exercise five days a week, and by the second week, they’re coming in three days. They say they’re going to run five miles on the treadmill, and they spend 10 minutes on the elliptical. They can’t believe their own word, so it’s easy for them to break it — that is, it’s easy to avoid following through on a commitment that they always knew, deep down inside, they weren’t serious about.

If there’s one Scripture that comes to mind when I think about what it takes to consistently exercise, it’s this: “But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’” (Matthew 5:37, NKJV). If you want to get back into the gym, ask yourself what you’re willing to do. Can you commit to just two weeks? Then say “yes” to that, and decide after two weeks if you want to do two more. Do you know for a fact that you’re not going to be able to go to the gym after work every day? Then say “no” to that, and pick a realistic time to which you can say “yes.”

Showing up to exercise is hard, because it’s work, and people like you and me are going to have to push ourselves if we’re going to keep it up. And here’s what pushing ourselves looks like: divine intervention, the humility to ask for help, the willingness to show up, and a commitment to keep your goals even when your body tells you to stay home.