Simple ways to stick to a workout plan, from an exercise expert

4 min read
Image: WaterAid/Brendan Foster

January is the time of health kicks, new gym memberships and the determination to try something new. If you’re one of the many people who have signed up for a sporting challenge, or are just hoping to get a little fitter this year, we’ve got some great advice for you. We spoke to top endurance therapist Andy Walling, who’s worked with star athletes, to get some tips on how to stick to a regular and manageable workout plan…


If you’ve recently started working out regularly as part of your New Year’s resolutions then congratulations – you’ve already taken the hardest step.

To truly make exercise a lifestyle change, the important thing is to keep it sustainable and consistent. That’s when you’ll see the best results. But remember that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Keep patient, listen to your body and trust that a modest amount of regular activity can have a profound effect.

How much should I exercise in a week?

You don’t have to spend hours in a gym or push yourself to your limit to experience the physical and emotional benefits of exercise. Small amounts of exercise can soon add up.

Ideally you should aim for 30 minutes of exercise five times a week. But you can make this flexible to fit into your lifestyle or level of fitness – you could break it up into 15 minutes twice a day, or 10 minutes three times a day.

If you’re a complete beginner, remember that in the early stages of an exercise programme, something is always better than nothing. A short walk is better than sitting on the couch!

The intensity level of your exercise should be varied throughout the week. You’ll know how intense an exercise is based on your ability to talk:

  • Low-intensity activity: You can easily talk in full sentences, or sing.
  • Moderate intensity: You can speak in full sentences, but not sing.
  • Vigorous intensity: You are too breathless to speak in full sentences.

Low intensity exercise can become the bulk of your training and can be progressed in time as you get fitter. Being comfortable with moderately intense exercise is probably optimal for general health benefits.

What should I do before and after my workout?

To reduce injury risk, be sure to warm up before exercising. This can be as simple as walking slowly, easy spinning on a static bike or jogging slowly at the start of a run. Dynamic movements such as small walking lunges, sumo squats, stretches with holds no longer than three seconds and arm swings are a good way to start. If you are about to lift weight, then use light weights through the movement you are about to do.

A runner training for an event stretches in the park
Image: WaterAid/Brendan Foster

After your workout, it’s important to take a few minutes to cool down. A light jog or walk after a run, an easy spin on a static bike or even moving around in a swimming pool can help prevent soreness and injuries.

How do I stick to a regular exercise routine?

If you can make exercise a regular habit then you will reap the rewards. One way to do this is make it sociable – arrange to exercise with a friend or family member. It can help motivate you, make exercise more enjoyable and have an even greater positive impact.

What else will help me improve my fitness?

Your body performs best when it’s properly fuelled and hydrated. A well-balanced diet and plenty of water will help you train and recover.

I’m a beginner, is there anything I should be wary of?

If you’ve never exercised before, or you haven’t exercised for a significant period of time then it may be a good idea to get medical clearance first. If you have health concerns such as heart disease, asthma, diabetes, or high blood pressure, discuss your exercise plans with your doctor before you start.

What should I do if I feel pain during exercise?

If you feel pain or discomfort while working out, stop. It may be worth seeing a physiotherapist, personal trainer or strength and conditioning coach before you are injured to get advice on avoiding injury.


Training for an event? We’ve got training plans for all abilities. See training plans >

Want to take on a sporting challenge for WaterAid this year? Check out our events >