Building Fitness Habits Made Easy

Dumbbell Press - UCLA Total Wellness

Have you ever told yourself you would start running every day, only to give up a few days later? Or maybe you keep making plans to “get in shape,” but can never find a way to keep up a routine—we’ve all been there. Forming new fitness habits can seem like a daunting task, especially if you’ve failed to do so in the past. However, having strong fitness habits is important for both your physical and mental health. Understanding how habits work and how to make them stick can have a large impact on your fitness.  

What are habits?

Habits are behaviors that are performed as an automatic reaction to an environmental cue. [1] They are developed by performing a certain behavior repeatedly in a similar context, which creates a mental association between the situation and the behavior. Over time, with more repetitions, the behavior takes less motivation and effort to perform. Fitness has a habitual component to it, so understanding how to form strong habits can help you build a lasting fitness routine! Below, you’ll find five tips to help you form strong fitness habits. 

Start Small

There have been numerous occasions I’ve gone to the gym, only to get flustered by the amount of choices available and intimidated by all of the people who seem to know exactly what they’re doing. It is easy to get overwhelmed when starting a new workout routine, so when you are just beginning, it is best to start small. Not only can big changes be difficult to incorporate into a busy schedule, but they also require a great deal of motivation. That’s why it is much easier to commit to something small, meaning something that isn’t time consuming or too difficult. [2] Instead of telling yourself you will do a Chloe Ting core workout multiple times a week, try starting with something simpler, like a 45 second plank every day. 

Everyone has different experiences with fitness, which means what you consider “small” will be different from everyone else. For some people, “small” will mean a 3-mile run, while for others, it may be a long walk. All of these options are perfectly valid. When deciding what “small” means to you, try to choose something that feels manageable to repeat every day. Performing a behavior daily is better than doing an intense workout a few times a week, as it will help you form fitness habits faster, since habits are strengthened with repetition. [1]

Workout with a Friend - UCLA Total Wellness

Starting small can also help you build confidence in yourself and your fitness abilities. Confidence is extremely important when trying to change your behavior; it has been proven that belief in your own abilities influences whether or not you will perform a behavior. [1] Imagine the feeling you get when you complete a difficult task, and how that feeling of accomplishment, combined with familiarity, makes it easier to do it the next time. Small fitness tasks will help you achieve this feeling of accomplishment and success, making it easier to push yourself to complete more difficult workouts. 

Setting smaller goals can also help you build the motivation to start a new routine. Try setting a few small goals in addition to a larger fitness goal you may have. Not only do these small goals help you track progress towards a larger goal, but they also help you feel accomplished and may motivate you to continue your new routine. 

Make it easy  

Have you ever skipped a workout because it suddenly felt like too much effort? This can be explained by friction—any force in the environment that prevents people from performing a behavior. [2] Even the smallest friction in the environment—anything from oversleeping to changes in the weather to losing your headphones—could deter you from working out. 

In order to prevent friction from affecting your fitness habits, make things easy for yourself: plan ahead and create ways to combat friction when it arises. A great way to do this is by deciding on your workouts ahead of time and signing up for your fitness class the day before. Essentially, preparing as much as you can ahead of time will make it easier to start when it is time to work out. Preparation can be as simple as laying out your clothes and the equipment you need the night before so you can roll out of bed for your morning workout. All the little things you do to make things easier on yourself helps you avoid friction and develop stronger habits. 

Crunches - UCLA Total Wellness

Make it enjoyable 

Although working out can feel like a chore, it does not have to be something you dread; you are much more likely to keep up a consistent routine if you actually enjoy your workouts. To make your workouts more enjoyable, enlist a workout buddy. Going on distanced walks with a friend or doing strength training videos in the living room with your roommate are great ways to make workouts a social experience and hold yourself accountable. Another way to make your workout more exciting is to put on your favorite playlist or podcast. Not only does this help take your mind off of the physical activity, but it can also energize you, helping you power through your workout. 

It is also important to experiment with different types of exercise and find one that you like. There are so many different types of workouts—from dance to yoga to running—that you will be able to find one that interests you and fits your needs. Don’t worry if you don’t have specialized equipment or access to a gym—many fitness instructors now post videos online suited for at-home workouts, opening up a whole world of fitness opportunities for you to explore. You can check out a local fitness studio and see if they offer online classes, or try out the various videos on apps such as Peloton. For those wanting a free workout, YouTube also has a plethora of awesome workout videos! Remember––fitness habits can mean doing something every day, not necessarily the same thing, so don’t be afraid to mix it up!

Reward yourself 

Rewards can help strengthen habit formation by building positive associations with a new behavior. [2] Start off by rewarding yourself after completing an exercise. This can be a small reward, like treating yourself to a coffee, or making your favorite post-workout snack. Over time, you may not need rewards to motivate yourself, but they are a great tool to build motivation to work out at the beginning, and may help you see fitness in a more positive light. 

Stretch - UCLA Total Wellness

Be Patient 

It is essential to remain patient when forming new fitness habits. Habits take a long time to develop: they have been found to take an average of 66 days to form. [2] Slip-ups are likely inevitable, so don’t get frustrated when they happen. Instead, acknowledge the progress you have made and evaluate your routine to see if you can apply any of the other tips in this article to better motivate yourself in the future. 

You should also be patient with the results of your fitness journey. I started a new yoga routine at the beginning of the pandemic, and even though it is months later, there are days I still feel incredibly inflexible. Even though this can be frustrating, it is important to understand that fitness is a process and a long-term commitment; you will not see results overnight. If you start small and continue to build over time, you may not ever see dramatic changes—the important thing, though, is that you enjoy your workouts and feel good about yourself and your strong habits. 

Bottom Line 

Habits are strengthened through repetition and positive reinforcement. There are several ways to promote the growth of new habits, including starting with small tasks and making things easy for yourself. Many people may see fitness as intimidating, but understanding how habits are formed and how to strengthen them can help make forming new fitness habits more accessible, and even fun! The bottom line is to find out what works best for you, and go from there. As you progress through your fitness journey, remember to feel proud of yourself along the way!


  1. “Promoting Habit Formation.” Health Psychology Review. (2011). 

  2. “How to Build Healthy Habits.” (2020).

more in move well