We all know the hardest part of getting fit isn’t completing your workout, but starting it in the first place. After all, it’s one thing to say you’re going to stick to an exercise routine — and another to actually do it. Unfortunately, actually getting (and staying) accountable to your workouts is far easier said than done. And without a healthy sense of accountability, your goal of getting to the gym more often will be dead in the parking lot.
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We’ve all been told to “just find a workout buddy” or “schedule your workouts in advance.” But what if you like working out alone? Or, your schedule changes every day? Never fear: We tapped top trainers, sports psychologists and bloggers for better ways to stay accountable to your sweat sessions.
Whether you prefer to work out solo, or at home (or actually prefer sitting on the couch), we guarantee these tips will help you keep your commitments in check.
15 Tricks to Improve Your Workout Accountability
1. Sign Up for a Competition
There’s nothing like an “I’ve got to be fit by X date” mindset to get you moving. But signing up for a 5k, obstacle race or CrossFit competition also gives you something way more motivating to work toward than improving your looks. Plus, if you don’t put in the training time, you might not be able to complete the race, says Lisa Niren, head coach at Peloton Cycle. (Or, you will, but things might get ugly.) Here’s to crossing the finish line strong.
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2. Put Money on the Line
Oh, money, the great incentivizer. Try handing over cash to a friend, and then earn it back by achieving your fitness goals, Niren says. Or, if you’re technologically inclined, sign up with an online betting system like the Pact app or DietBet.com. The concept is simple (and oh-so motivating): Hit your goals and you’ll win cash. Miss the mark and you’ll lose it.
3. … Or Bet Something Else
Short on funds? “You can put anything on the line; it doesn’t just have to be money. For example, you could bet on housework, babysitting, tickets to the movies, or anything else,” Niren says. “Find something that motivates you to help you achieve your goals.”
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4. Share Your Goals on Social
“Whether you have a hundred followers or thousands, sharing your workout plan with social media before it happens can help you stick to the plan,” says Brian Kelley, Pavement Runner fitness blogger. “The night before a run, I might send out a tweet that says ‘10-mile run in the morning, alarm set, shoes ready.’ It helps keep me accountable for the workout and in response, friends might wish me luck or send me motivational mantras. It’s just that something extra I might need.”
5. Make a Video Diary
Behold, the power of video. Record yourself talking about your goals or performing awesome lifts, then post it on YouTube or Instagram, Niren recommends. If you’d rather not share with your real-life buds, find a likeminded community at GiveIt100.com. The site is designed to keep people accountable while they work on something, anything, for 100 days straight. You’ll upload a video every day and fellow site-goers can follow you, like your posts, and cheer you on through comments.
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6. Enjoy Your Own Rewards Program
Create a workout log and have a reward attached to hitting a certain goal, be it losing 10 pounds or lifting 50, says Barbara Walker, Ph.D., a sports psychologist with the Center for Human Performance in Cincinnati. To celebrate, buy yourself some new fitness threads, a killer bike, or splurge and go on a bucket list trip.
7. See It to Believe It
Fantasizing about getting fit might actually do your body good. “Every day, do a five-minute visualization session, envisioning what it is you want to see in yourself, who you are striving to be as a high performer, or super-fit person,” Walker says. By checking in with yourself and how you are progressing on your goals every day, you’ll hold yourself accountable to the most important person around: yourself.
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8. Take Photos Every Week
“The number on the scale can be deceiving, but a photo of how you look in your underpants or your favorite dress will not lie,” says Larisa Stahl, trainer at KORE. “Track your results in a special album on your phone so you can see changes.”
To up the ante, post a “before” picture of yourself, along with your goal, recommends Brett Hoebel, creator of the 20 Minute Body and celebrity trainer on The Biggest Loser season 11. “If you have the guts, it’s one of the most motivating. I’ve done it and it’s no joke,” he says.
9. Do It for a Cause
Being self-motivated is hard — so how about sweating for donations to your favorite charity? “You become accountable to the people who give you money, the people who are cheering you on, and most importantly, the people you are trying to help,” says Georgina Miranda, who has so far climbed six out of the Seven Summits, the highest peaks on each continent, to raise money and awareness for victims of gender-based violence in Africa. Try signing up for a charity run or enlisting to run a marathon on behalf of an animal shelter.
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10. Follow a Long-Term Fitness Program
“Don’t just pick and choose your workouts willy-nilly, going to a class here, doing a DVD there, says Kourtney A. Thomas, C.S.C.S., owner of Lagniappe Fitness in St. Louis. When you choose a longer-term workout program, you’re automatically holding yourself accountable to something — and for long enough that it actually stands a chance of becoming a habit. “Set a goal, choose a training program, complete the training program, reach your goal,” she says.
11. Sleep in Your Clothes
Good-bye, comfy pajamas. “This may sound funny, but if you have a workout planned in the morning and are having trouble making it happen, try sleeping in your workout clothes,” says Kelley. That way, to skip your workout, you actually have to peel your workout clothes off of your body and admit to yourself that, yup, you’re letting yourself down.
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12. Set Your Electronics to Shut Down
Program your digital devices to conspire against your desire to skip a workout in favor of Facebooking. Download an app like BreakTime for your phone, tablet and computer, and program the app to shut you out of your devices at the time you’ve scheduled your workout, explains Tiffany Henness, the blogger behind ThoroughlyThriving. We’ll like that.
13. Let Others Track Your Workouts
Most fitness tracking apps come with a competition or leaderboard feature because, well, they work, says Stahl. Apart from entering you into some friendly competition, they allow the people closest to you to know if you’re sticking to your workouts. Sign up (use a code name if you prefer your privacy!) and prepare to unleash your inner athlete.
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14. Vent in a Journal
We’re not talking about writing down your reps and sets; but rather, your feelings. “Shifting your perspective, in terms of choosing to define and place meaning upon your workout is another effective tool in staying accountable,” says Kenneth Ferrer, trainer at Barry’s Bootcamp. Each day, write down how you are doing mentally, emotionally and energy-wise. Then write down whether or not you’ve worked out that day. Sooner or later, the patterns that emerge might make working out seem like the obvious choice.
15. Sign a Contract
Sit down by yourself, or with a friend, and write down what your workouts will entail, how often you’ll complete them, and possibly your end goal. Whether or not you tie rewards or consequences to the contract, simply making your goals official will help you feel accountable, Niren says.
Originally posted August 2015. Updated June 2016.