The carbs are calling and your best laid diet plans are going to pot. Even if you haven't fallen off the fitness wagon, getting to the gym is proving tough – but are you being too hard on yourself and does that extra Custard Cream really count if you're planning an exercise session later? We grilled AJ O'Neill, West End performer-cum-personal trainer, zumba instructor and fitness class teacher on how to relight your love for the gym and keep your motivation at the max…
1. Find your mojo before you strut your stuff
Without music I would get nothing done - in life, at the gym, anywhere. Music can be a fantastic motivator - you can work to the beat, you can sing along, you can set yourself a time limit for an exercise along with the song - it really varies a workout. Gyms tend to pump high energy dance music onto the gym floor because the beats are fast and it encourages you to work harder. My advice - find music that you love, that is energetic and sassy and let it do half the work for you. My favourites in 2011 were Ke$ha, Gaga and Pitbull for cheesy workout joyousness!
2. It's ok to have a naughty meal!
I have a nasty habit of eating things I shouldn't then excusing myself because I've taught five zumba classes in one day. The problem is, that layer of belly fat just won't go! What is acceptable, even useful, is to eat carefully all week and then have one meal off to go nuts – by prescribing yourself one meal to indulge, it helps you stick to your diet plan for the rest of the week. As an added bonus, the one-off high calorie meal kicks your metabolism into overdrive (when combined with low calorie intake the rest of the week) so it works harder to burn those calories. Win, win!
3. Don't beat yourself up if you miss an exercise session or two
Most of us are our own worst enemy when it comes to fitness but any time you spend beating yourself up about lost sessions is time you could be using to get back in the exercise saddle! We all stumble at some point but every personal trainer I know motivates through positive reinforcement - the shouty beat-yourself-up method is a surefire way to fail. If you're nice to yourself, you're more likely to do well, and it's true that any exercise is better than no exercise!
4. Patience is a virtue
You've joined the gym, you've tried Zumba, you've dabbled with Yoga, toyed with boxing and cycled til you couldn't see straight but you're still not seeing results. Worse than that, it's been 3 weeks of trying so what's going on? First of all, you need to relax. Everyone's body works in different ways so depending on what classes you've done you have probably started building muscle as well as losing fat. Losing weight is not the be-all and end-all although all the exercise in the world won't help you if your calorie intake is too high. Fact!
5. Bring a buddy
Exercising with someone else, be it your best mate, a personal trainer or a room full of mates, is the most motivational thing you can do. I literally could not haul myself to the gym a few years ago (and I was at dance college, so I had NO excuse), but having friends who were more dedicated than I was, and discovering group exercise classes really changed my mindset. A class will push you to keep up with the group and break down the pain barriers to levels you won't think possible - it's one of the reasons I love teaching classes now
6. Small steady steps is all it takes
Any exercise that makes you sweat will be doing you good and the less fit you are the more benefits even just a little bit of exercise will have. I tend to walk up the escalators on the tube as a rule now - it takes far less time and is a great form of exercise. Sitting at home thinking; 'ah I'd love to go to the gym but if I go now it'll be closed in half an hour' won't do you any good. 30 minutes, three times a week is far better for you!
7. Late starters can still win the race
Just because you didn't start a New Year health kick doesn't mean it's too late. In fact, starting in February gives you a higher chance of success because a) it's not as dark so you'll feel better about getting up and going to the gym in the morning or later in the evening and b) most of the heavy January gym traffic has cleared so you'll have an easier time using machines and finding more space in classes! Plus, summer's still five months away so you have bags of time to achieve your perfect beach body
8. Try pick 'n' mix exercise classes
A lot of my clients ask me which classes to take. I love to dance so I naturally fell into Zumba (a fantastically fun dance cardio workout) which led on to body balance (a mix of tai chi, yoga and pilates) and recently body pump (a weight based full body workout). Each class has its benefits but try doing a mix of cardio, holistic/core and resistance - cardio will help you burn calories but it won't take the final inches of stomach fat away, only weights will do that. Don't be afraid to try new things either – it might feel like your first day at school but everyone will have been through it before
9. Don't always count calories
Every client I've ever had has been obsessed with calories - how many, what kind, what time of day to eat them, you name it. And yes, they are important, but unless you're partaking in a calorie-controlled diet scheme, there comes a time when you need to stop obsessively counting them. As long as you get exercise and eat sensibly sized portions of healthy food, you shouldn't need to fixate about your calorie intake. One chocolate bar in a week is not going to derail the health train
10. Get yourself in the right mindset
I'm very lucky to be in a job I love but we still all have days when we just don't want to get out from under the covers. Getting to a gym can be even harder so it's important to set yourself achievable goals and don't judge yourself by what other people are doing. You are the only person you have to outdo (unless you're playing a team sport of course, in which case that competitive spirit really helps)!