Resolutions Series: How to Rev Up Your Workout Routine

This is the first in a series on New Year’s resolutions. We plan to do one on eating less and another on spending less — let us know if you’ve got a resolution you’d like us to cover.
How to Keep Your #Exercise #Resolutions | CorporetteOver the years, we’ve made far too many resolutions — some were successful and some were not.  The one we make every January, however, is to really commit to a workout regime; even if only to offset all those extra holiday calories.

Photo credit:  work it out, originally uploaded to Flickr by IamSam. Psst, check out more recent articles on exercise for busy professionals here. 

If you’re like us, here’s where you get stuck with the workout resolution:

– you find working out on machines at the gym to be mind-numbing and not that great of a workout

– you find classes at the gym to not fit in your schedule reliably (in the morning they’re all either way too early or way too late, and at night they’re all way too early) — plus if one last-minute thing comes up at the office your good intention of making the class is blown

– you don’t really know what to do beyond the gym

If you’re looking to slim down quickly — lose the Christmas calories — then you need to do cardio.  If you’re looking to lose weight in the longer term, you should be doing both cardio and toning (toning will improve your metabolism and help you lose weight, but you probably won’t see six-pack abs or Madonna arms until you’re near the bottom of your weight range)

After the jump: some solutions for the busy, intelligent woman…

The Gym

If you’re heading to the gym, we highly suggest getting a heart rate monitor — especially if you’re trying to do a program like Weight Watchers, which lets you offset some food calories with exercise calories.  Calorie burn, as estimated by gym machines, is notoriously inflated — and you should be careful also not to fall into that age-old trap of thinking you can have pizza for dinner just because you worked out for 45 minutes.  You may want to look into interval workouts to really rev up your metabolism — even shorter workouts can be more effective if done with intense bursts of energy.

In addition to bringing a magazine, you may want to try to offset the boredom by bringing a friend, an audio book (we’ve heard great things about, or — if you have TiVo — try putting some recorded shows on your iPod with the help of this tutorial.  (We have NOT tried this yet — we will try it soon and let you know how it goes.)  You also, obviously, can download shows via iTunes.

Pros: If you’re already paying for a gym membership, hey! At least you’re using it!  Good job.  Plus you can catch up on your tv-viewing and wade through your magazine pile.

Cons: In cold weather you have to dress for the gym and then undress for the workout… plus, see above re: mind-numbing boredom.  In our experience it’s the easiest to fall into a rut this way, also — your body will get used to the exercises and it will stop being effective after a while.  (Do your best to stay focused, and switch machines every so often.)

Home Exercise Equipment

In all honesty, we almost never used the treadmill, bicycle, or rowing machine we had when we lived with the ‘rents, and accordingly we haven’t made the investment in gym equipment for our already-packed NYC apartment.  However, if you can really commit to using it — and it can be done, as our friend L can attest — then you’re doing great.  Smart Money just ran an article on which new machines are worth the money.  If you’re truly time-starved, you may want to look into equipment such as the ROM (if you’ve ever used one please let us know your thoughts — we just saw an advertisement for one recently and were intrigued).  One caveat:  Because most machines focus on cardio, you may want to pick up some toning videos (we recommend some favorites below) to add some muscle and definition.

Pros: You can work out in your pajamas if you want, AND fully enjoy whatever you have saved on your DVR.

Cons: You may have a very expensive and unsightly coat hanger on your hands.


In terms of calorie burn and flexibility for your schedule, running is by far the best exercise for the busy woman.  However, if you’ve never been a runner, the very IDEA of running can be exhausting.  But trust us — it is entirely doable with the Couch to 5K program from  This online program — free, by the way — gets you up off the couch and on the street or treadmill with an easy-to-follow, minute-by-minute schedule.  At the end of 10 weeks you’ll be running for 30 minutes solid.  (Really.)

Pros: You can do it anywhere, gym or no gym (as long as you’re dressed appropriately for the weather) — and when that last-minute emergency comes up at the office, the 10-minute delay won’t matter at all to your workout the way it might if you were trying to make a spinning class at the gym.  Also, if you run outside you can maximize the time you set aside to workout — you don’t have to spend 15 minutes in the locker rooms getting ready to workout or ready to leave.

Cons: Running can be incredibly hard on the joints, particularly if done outside on concrete.  Treadmill running is actually less of a strain on joints (but harder on muscles).  If you’re running outside you may want to look into reflective gear, such as these arm and leg bands from Brooks (available at Dick’s Sporting Goods for $10).

Exercise Videos

Exercise videos can be a great way to get the workout you need, even in limited space in your apartment or house.  Minimal equipment is needed — most videos can be done with a set of 3- and 5-lb weights and a mat; with the more recent videos you don’t need much more than a 4×6 space in your apartment to do the workout.  (Some of the ones we recommend below, like the Jari Love line, may require heavier weights, or step aerobics equipment, such as The Firm TransFIRMer.)  Note also that you can try videos for next to no cost — try ordering them from Netflix or even your library. is another great place to get new and barely-used DVDs for lower prices.

If you’re new to the video genre, some videos we recommend:

Toning Videos:

Kathy Smith: Lift Weights to Lose Weight, Vol. 1 – 2 – For the intermediate. If you have 20-25 minutes to spare every day, you can alternate workouts for your arms and legs — or do the whole workout for a 60-minute toning workout.
Women’s Health: The Wedding Workout – For the newbie. 11-minute segments allow you to work your arms, legs, and abs on different days, or do a 35-minute workout all at once. (And no, you don’t have to be a bride-to-be to own it. There are only a few annoying comments about punching the photographer out, and that’s during the optional 11-minute cardio segment.)
Get Ripped! with Jari Love: Slim & Lean – This 60-minute toning video will leave your bits and pieces feeling like jell-o. For the hard-core workout bunny.


In our experience, it’s actually really hard to find a good video that is just cardio — if you have any suggestions please let us know.
Cardio Kickbox – For the intermediate-advanced. This is only 25 minutes but it is hard-core cardio.
10 Minute Solution – Carb and Calorie Burner – For the beginner who really thinks she has no time. This is high-intensity stuff, done 10 minutes at a time.

Mixed Cardio & Toning

Jillian Michaels – 30 Day Shred – For the intermediate. Again, this is only 25 minutes, but it’s an amazing workout if you focus and commit to it.
The Firm – Ultimate Calorie Blaster – For the intermediate. This is a great 45-minute step-aerobics video — basic moves at a high intensity.

Pros: Much less monetary and space investment compared to home exercise equipment, and total flexibility with your schedule.  We also find it easiest to zone out during these workouts (while still following the nice person on the television) and still get a good workout.  You’re much less likely to get bored, also, because there’s always a new routine to try.

Cons: You have to have be pretty motivated to do the videos on a regular basis.  It’s also very difficult to find the right mix of cardio and toning with a video.  Finally, it can be hard to get a great workout when you need to kick it to the next level — it seems unlikely to us that you’ll ever get a bikini body just doing workouts alone.

Personal Trainer

A personal trainer may seem like a great idea if you’re a busy woman with more money than time.  Almost every gym can introduce you to a personal trainer; most will even let you work out with a friend, with the trainer, for a discounted rate.  (Full disclosure — we’ve only worked one-on-one with a personal trainer for about 3 months, back in early 2008.)  For advice on choosing a personal trainer, check out this article from

Pros: Your commitment should be much better to the gym — you have money invested, and you’ve got someone waiting at the gym for you.  When we went to our trainer we were required to cancel our appointments 24-hours in advance or lose the money we’d paid for the session.

Cons: Very expensive.  Furthermore, in our limited experience, the workouts weren’t that great — if we had spent the time running or doing a workout video, it would made much better use of our money and time.  You also have to nurture the relationship in ways that you may prefer not to — had we been more vocal about not liking the workouts then it may have been a better experience.  We would ONLY recommend this to someone who’s already very near her weight-loss goal, and looking to tone up — in other words, for the girl looking for a bikini body.

As our tone may indicate, we tend to run or do videos most of the time (but we’re trying to get back into the gym!).  What do you guys do?  Are you kicking things into higher gear because of New Year’s resolutions — and if so, how?


  1. I have to disagree with the cons about a personal trainer. I go about once a week (maybe 2 or 3 times a month) and its great. I use her as my external concience. I explained at the beginning that I am very goal oriented and I wanted her to support me by reviewing my progress towards my goals each time. My goals were to work out 4x a week (so she has a calendar and I report on my exercise and she writes it down), to lose 10 lbs (from 160 to 150), to stay under 150 lbs. She wasnt that into caring about my weight so i have to do that by myself, but she has been great about helping me see if I am doing enough workouts. ANd our weight workouts are challenging and much harder than I would do by myself. If you can afford it, I would highly recommend it.

  2. Great article, I’m excited to try checking out some of the video suggestions for those nights I just can’t brave the cold.

    I’m with lobbyist. A personal trainer is expensive but they can tailor a workout to your goals and if you tell them something’s not working for you, they can adjust the workout more to your liking. More importantly, they hold you accountable for actually showing up.

    Also, don’t forget to set aside time at the beginning/end of your workouts to stretch. Walking around in heels all day and then trying to work out is an easy way to get shin splints/pulled muscles.

  3. I have to vote for personal trainer! As a litigator, it’s too easy to blow off working out b/c something comes up at work or because I’m just too tired at the end of the day. I schedule my trainer appointments for the early evening hours — I often have to come back after them — but having paid for the hour insures I get there except when work is an absolute crisis (in which case, yes, I eat the session). I go 2X a week — on the weekend, I’ll do gym cardio or ride my bike (depending on the season), and if work is slow, I’ll make it to the gym maybe once more during the week — but steadily going to the gym 2X a week for the year and a half since I got my trainer is WAY more than I ever went REGULARLY before.

    My trainer pushes me, and keeps me from slacking. We have a great relationship, and I look forward to seeing him. It’s not my primary weight loss strategy — strict calorie counting kicks in when I need to lose a few pounds (like now post-holidays) — but it’s really helped me firm up and build muscle mass and I look a lot better.

    Yes, it’s insanely expensive (but my firm pays for my gym membership, so I rationalize by saying I “only” have to pay for the trainer). But the money per month is still less than I could blow in a shopping spree (especially if handbags or shoes involved) and it does more for me mentally, healthwise and lookwise than shopping ever could. (The mental benefits of mindlessly lifting weights, doing push ups etc. after a stressful day of anxious clients, jumpy partners, phones that won’t stop ringing etc. etc. cannot be overestimated).

  4. Y’all are aware that people exercise for reasons other than to lose weight, right?

  5. I’m a big fan of running outside – even in the cold. I feel like this is the best use of my time, as you state above. I just need to do it more often — starting today.

  6. I agree with Peg. I just got some great cold-weather outdoor running wear and I barely notice the cold – gloves, hat, and a warm, wicking top are key (UnderArmour (sp?) is the best!). Plus, since I am training for a marathon, I *can* eat the occassional pizza and still lose weight! ;)

    Also great for losing weight and toning up, if you live anywhere near mountains – snowboarding. I have *never* had such good ab definition.

    Finally, like “a reader” pointed out, and Elaine mentioned, there are non-weight benefits to working out. IMO, if you focus on those benefits you are much more likely to stick with exercising in the long run!!

  7. I fell off the workout wagon (I was doing really well for months!) and made a resolution to use the gym membership I’m paying for monthly.

    Another thing that worked for me before I got extra lazy was dance classes. Ever considered this? I love to dance, so I had a ball learning choreography and “performing” in the studio.

    Just check your local dance schools/companies for adult classes…it can be expensive, but it’s definitely fun enough to keep you interested. That’s half the battle!

    Tamia´s last blog post..Work Style

  8. Getting a Heart Rate Monitor was the best investment I ever made.

    I’d also like to enthusiastically agree with your recommendation for the Couch-to-5K program. There are also several free podcasts that are very useful — particularly at the beginning, when intervals are short — where it coaches you through when it’s time to run or walk. I did it this fall, and practically weapt with joy when I was able to complete my first 5K. Now I’m training for a half-marathon.

    Not to mention that the endorphins from running keep me from feeling like I want to blow my brains out at work.

    Also, for strength training, I recommend the book “New Rules of Lifting for Women”. It debunks a lot of myths about the possibility of bulking up (nearly all females are incapable of it, even if you try) by lifting heavy weights. Plus, it has a complete weight-lifting program that is easy to follow, and maximizes results while minimizing the time spent in the gym.

    Both of these programs work because… well, they are programs. You schedule them just like you do the rest of your commitments. I keep a calendar at work with my running schedule. Sometimes I have to juggle things around, but the runs get “rescheduled” — not cancelled.

  9. I’ve been running for the last year and really enjoy the mental break. Sometimes, like now, I’m at the gym, while the rest of the time I can run outside and get some much needed fresh air. I’m also a huge fan of Bikram Yoga. It is a total stress reliever and you feel so energized when you’re done.

  10. First, I second a [email protected]:02: people do and should work out for other reasons than weight loss.

    Second, Pilates (group mat classes or private equipment instruction) is a great way to counteract the abuse of sitting at your desk 14 hours a day.

    Third, the New York City Ballet Workout videos are pretty good, with some awesome core exercises.

  11. I finally bought the correct clothing to stay warm while running outside – no more excuses! It’s also one of the few times in my day that I am ALONE and no one can get in touch with me – that in itself is a needed and wonderful break in the day.

  12. I wanted to weigh in on the pain of running. I’m slightly older than your target demographic (I’m 48) so I may have more experience with joint pain than some folks who are a bit younger. I totally bought the “running is convenient and burns a lot of calories” argument, but am a larger person, and running was hard on my joints so I had to pace myself (no more then 3x per week, always a break day in between, watchign my distance, etc.) Eventually I learned about running forms that focus on a fast cadence (my feet touch down 90 times per minutes.) It made a huge difference. I used the “Chi Running” program, but I know other running coaches call it other things. I can now run 7 days a week (though I don’t.) I still have a slow pace (10 or 11 mph) but I can, truly, see myself running into my seventies using this method. I also think I look better as a runnder, so I’m not sheepish anymore when I run around town. As a litigator, I like the time alone to put thoughts together, something my time in a gym or wiht a trainer rarely offers.

  13. I’ve been exercising with Wii Fit since October. Cardio, toning, balance and even some yoga thrown in. Got Wii boxing gloves for x’mas! Doesn’t require as much space as I thought. Tracks weight, bmi, and ups the intensity as you progress. I love it!

  14. I have a private yoga instructor who comes to my apartment twice a week. It’s expensive, but because I don’t want to let her down I am pretty good about either doing it or rescheduling it. It’s first thing in the morning so I only have to cancel for travel or early meetings – and there is no way I’d get up this early on my own, so this ensures that I get at least some exercise twice a week. The yoga on its own has not caused me to lose weight, but I am noticeably stronger, deal with stress better, and have a considerably more toned (although still about 10 lbs overweight) body. My butt and thighs are thinner and look MUCH better than they did when I started (18 months ago). After I’d been doing it for a year, I changed my eating habits and lost about 15 lbs in six months; when I was done the body I had looked much better than the last time I was at this weight, before I started the yoga. It’s very possible that without the yoga I wouldn’t have been able to stick to the new eating habits, too, as I’ve always been an emotional eater.

    Unlike the couple of trainers I’ve tried, who I felt just coached me through a basic set of exercises that I easily could have come up with myself, my yoga teacher makes my workout. She is constantly introducing new poses and variations, so that I’m always challenged and never know what’s next, even though the core of the workout is now quite familiar. I’m also lucky that my teacher does not have a strict 24-hr cancellation policy, so I don’t pay for sessions I can’t use.

    If the yoga at home option is too expensive, and you’re good about getting yourself to classes, try to find an early-morning yoga class. I am NOT a morning person, but now that I’m in the habit of getting up for this I’m glad I do because I don’t have to worry that something will come up at work and derail my plans. If you don’t like one class, keep looking – there are many styles and the teacher matters a lot.

  15. Swimming should be on the list as well. Obviously convenient access to a pool is necessary. It’s easier on the joints and a good toning workout.