1. Just Show Up
On low-energy days, head to the gym with the promise that you can leave after you finish your warmup. “Tell yourself you’ll just do the Dynamic Warmup,” says Rachel Cosgrove, author of The Female Body Breakthrough and creator of the Look Better Naked fitness program. “Once you get to the gym and get your blood pumping, chances are you’ll finish your full workout. Ninety percent of the time, my clients do.”
2. Play the Percentages
Have your body-fat level measured early in the program and then toward the end to gauge your fitness progress. “You’ll actually have numbers that you can shoot for, and something that you can definitely measure, as opposed to, ‘I just want my abs to look better,'” says Tim Kuebler, a certified trainer in Kansas City, Missouri. A body-fat percentage from the high teens to the mid-20s is considered healthy for most women (ranges vary by age), according to the American College of Sports Medicine. A trainer can estimate your percentage using calipers, and most gyms offer this service for a minimal charge; just have the same person do it each time, as measurement techniques can vary.
3. Book It
“You’ll never find the time you’ve got to make the time,” says Chuck Wolf, manager of sport science and human performance at the USA Triathlon National Training Center in Clermont, Florida. While that seems obvious, lack of planning continues to be the biggest reason people fail to work out, Wolf says. He suggests keeping a calendar and your scheduling workouts at least a week in advance.
Have a contingency plan, too, in case the unexpected cancels your workout. “You’re 40 percent more likely to work out if you have strategies to help you overcome the obstacles,” says Rod Dishman, PhD, an exercise scientist at the University of Georgia.
4. Make a Date with a Friend
Having a pal waiting for you at the gym will get you there. “If you’ve made a commitment to someone, you have a tendency to keep it,” says Tristan Gale, an Olympic gold medalist. But that doesn’t necessarily mean your best friend is also your best workout partner. Look for someone who’s on the same fitness level and has similar goals.
5. Target Your Heart
Heart disease is the number one killer of women, claiming 500,000 lives each year, according to the American Heart Association. Find out what your cholesterol levels are and what they should be. Then work toward meeting that target by exercising regularly. “You’ll decrease your risk of heart disease while providing yourself with a very important, concrete goal,” says John Thyfault, PhD, an assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Missouri-Columbia.
6. Be Defensive
Need more inspiration than trimming your waistline? On your do-anything day, consider taking a self-defense class, which will increase your confidence as well as your heart rate. Learning practical defense skills–eye strikes, heel palms, knees to the groin–will also bolster your sense of control, says Dana Schwartz, a self-defense instructor. “You get to fight every class, and every class you see improvement in yourself,” Schwartz says. “I think people are surprised by how powerful they are.”
7. Invest In a Trainer
If you don’t know what you’re doing when you get to the gym, it pays to hire someone who does. Beyond helping you plan your workout, a personal trainer will observe and correct your form to make sure you produce results and avoid injuries. “They’ll spot you through the movements, so you can really feel what muscles [are working],” says Brenda Powell, a certified trainer and general manager of the Institute of Human Performance in Boca Raton, Florida.
8. Find a Happy Place
You hate fish, but that doesn’t mean you stop eating. The same is true for exercise. “I can recommend running,” says Ronald W. Deitrick, PhD, director of exercise science at the University of Scranton. “But if a person doesn’t like running they’re not going to do it. They don’t care what the benefit is.” The “perfect” exercise is the one you’re happiest doing, so make sure you find yourself wanting to work out.