Exercise these tips to stick with fitness goals

It’s January. Here they come — those eager folks ready to tackle their fitness New Year’s resolutions. They’ll hog the good treadmills, take over the free weights and crowd into aerobics classes.

“It’s like a brand-new club,” says Michael Middleton, personal training department head for Life Time Fitness in Woodstock. He says the number of people who sign up in January is substantially higher than any other month.

The treadmills will become available soon enough because, unfortunately, most of these people become New Year’s resolution clichés. “By mid-March, people are getting out of there,” Middleton says.

So why do those with even the most serious six-pack aspirations go back to their couch potato ways? Middleton cites several reasons: “They do too much too soon. They’re not educated about what they are supposed to do. When they don’t see the results they wanted to see initially, they’re ready to check out.”

“But I really am going to get in shape this year!” you protest. Good for you. We’ve got some tips to make sure you keep that promise.

Want it: If you're trying to get in shape because your spouse told you to or you figure that's what people do in January, you're probably not going to last. "They have to really want it," Middleton says. "If the want doesn't come from within, they're setting themselves up for failure."

Get help: Middleton recommends signing up with a trainer, even if it's just to get you on the right path. Patty Hiller, 50, of Woodstock enlisted the help of a personal trainer on Middleton's staff last January. "I have lost 52 pounds and 31 inches," Hiller says. "Having a trainer to motivate and encourage me helped." A year later, she continues to do two days a week of hourlong weight training sessions with her trainer, Tanya Pretorius, and three days a week of 45 to 60 minutes of cardio on her own.

Ease into it: Whether you join a gym or start a running program, don't overdo it. Carol Shunnarah is a program director and pace group leader with the Jeff Galloway running program. She organizes groups for the Getting Started program, which starts off with 30 seconds of running and one minute of walking. The first day, they just do 15 minutes. Because of the interval-based walk/run nature of the training, she says, "We don't have that many people drop out."

Set realistic goals: Some new runners might aim for a 10K or even a half-marathon. They might also burn out after the race ends. But in the Getting Started program, runners train for 12 weeks to run a 5K. Shunnarah says beginners usually complete the race in about 50 minutes. "It's fun to see people accomplish their goals," she says.

Be ready for obstacles: If you haven't been working out, you'll most likely have substantial weight loss in the first few weeks, Middleton says. However, soon after, you may hit a plateau in which your body doesn't respond as quickly to exercise. "What's your detour going to be?" asks Middleton. It may be time to increase the frequency, up your intensity or change your eating habits.

Reward yourself: "I think people need to have a cheat day," says Middleton. He suggests setting aside one day a week to go out to eat and order whatever you want. "Celebrate a hard week of working out. That's usually enough to get people back on track."

Don't be intimidated: Shunnarah says she used to think she could never keep up with other runners. "But I came out, and there were people just like me. You can run a 15-minute mile and still be running." She says once people give the running program a try, they love it: "They'll see they can do it with the walk breaks."

Commit: For Hiller, what started out as a New Year's resolution has turned into a way of life. "It has to be a lifestyle change, not just a change for a period of time," says Hiller, who still has 40 more pounds to lose to reach her goal. Middleton says that, in order to make that lifestyle change, it takes three months of doing something consistently. "We try to get people to commit to themselves and their goals for three months straight," he says. "By then, you've won the battle."