Tara wrote: “I’ve been a runner for many years and have completed 8 half marathons. I started running in my early years of university and would always follow a 4-month training program for my races, but by the end of training, I’d get sick of only running. I decided after my last half that I wanted to focus more on strength training and non-running activities. Since then I’ve dabbled in various things like p90x, Jillian Michaels DVDs, using my apartment complex’s small gym… but I’ve never really stuck with anything long-term. I miss the structure of a half marathon training plan, and I’m not getting in all the exercise I want to because I feel somewhat lost and overwhelmed in the dozens of different styles/types of exercises. Some mornings, I set my alarm to get up to work out and then ponder what the heck I even should be doing, end up wasting too much time, and completely miss my workout.  I’m feeling a bit discouraged and frustrated as I don’t even think I know where to start.”


Tara’s problem is pretty common – we’ve all been there, right?  You want to workout and kick butt at the gym, but you don’t really know what to do.  So you end up half heartedly tooling around on the elliptical for fifteen minutes, lifting a few dumbbells, and wandering out of the gym without really breaking a sweat.  You leave feeling kind of defeated but aren’t sure why.  The problem isn’t a lack of drive – it’s a lack of focus. 


Planning for Success is one of the early concepts discussed in the Healthy Tipping Point book, and I think the philosophy behind it applies well to Tara’s situation.  If you’re struggling to get focused, you need a plan.  One that is actually written down (on paper, your iPhone, whatever)! 


In my eyes, a great plan incorporates the following elements:


  • A list of your short-term and long-term goals.  Tara’s short-term goal may be to tone her upper body after years of focusing on running, and her long-term goal may be to find a workout routine she regularly sticks with.
  • A summary of why these goals matter to you (and it’s even better if you can frame your intentions in terms of health as well as appearance – sure, appearance is very motivating, but healthy intentions have staying power).
  • Step-by-step plan to achieve your goals.
  • Clearly defined terms of success.
  • A summary of potential obstacles.
  • An outline of milestone markers (AKA rewards for achieving short- and long-term goals).


It sounds like Tara is getting tripped up by Number 3 – developing a step-by-step plan to achieve her goals.  The beauty of training for races or triathlons is that you don’t have to create a plan; training plans do all the work for you!  I think this is also why CrossFit is becoming so popular; you arrive at the ‘box’ and there is already an organized W.O.D (Workout of the Day).  No wandering around the gym aimlessly.  Plans give you focus and direction.


So, what should you do if you lack focus and feel overwhelmed by your workout options, but aren’t interested in doing a race?


  • Commit to one to three types of workouts for a month.  For example, for the month of July, Tara could commit to a combination of Jillian Michaels 30 Day Shred (<— here’s my review of the workout) and swimming.  Create a workout calendar for the month of July that incorporates these exercises, tape it to your fridge, and follow it as you would a running plan. 


  • The next month, you could swap in a different workout, which would help prevent burnout and keep your exercise interesting.


  • Alternatively, you could create a calendar that has you focusing on one different type of workout every week.  I interviewed a woman who felt overwhelmed by all the different group exercise classes at her gym; she committed to trying a different class every week for two months. She said she really liked the concept because it gave her enough time to decide if she actually liked the class (sometimes you have to go more than once to really know), she never got bored, and she was in fantastic shape by the end because she constantly challenged her body.


  • Realize you don’t have to stick with one type of workout.  It’s perfectly okay to do something different every single day; you’ll still see results. 



  • Find a buddy.  A workout buddy is tremendously motivating and can help you focus your efforts.


  • Create a ‘race.’  If you decide to create a personalized training plan, create a deadline – just like a race.  Perhaps your goal will be to complete 30 push-ups in two minutes by the end of the two-month period – mentally build up to that challenge and pump up the attempt with a lot of fanfare.  Perhaps your race will include banging out Level 3 of the 30 Day Shred and swimming 500 yards, back to back.  Or you could make your ‘race’ a triathlon of cardio equipment at the gym – 20 minutes on the treadmill, 20 minutes on the stair climber, and 20 minutes on the elliptical (whew!). Whatever you do, make your deadline extra challenging and fun, and be sure to celebrate your success afterwards.

If you’re not a runner or triathlete and don’t regularly follow a set training plan, how do you stay focused?  Do you do the same things every week or do you mix it up with every workout?  Any advice for Tara?



  • Claire @ Live and Love to Eat June 21, 2012, 10:49 am

    Really helpful post as I’m starting to train for my first 10K – I want to do it right and avoid getting injured (like I have in the past).

  • Janae @ Bring-Joy June 21, 2012, 10:59 am

    After years of having a very structured workout schedule & getting paid to workout (ie. teach), I’m now at the point where I’m now on my own (now only teaching 1-2 times a week). I love it! I don’t have any hard or fast rules, other than I need to do a structured workout (as in, wear workout gear) 5-6 days a week for 45-60 minutes PLUS get lots of daily activity in like going swimming with my kids, going for walks with my kids, kicking the soccer ball around with my kids.

    I focus much more on strength training now than I ever did, because I’ve realized it’s a much better use of my time. Why run on a treadmill for an hour & not be with my kids, when I can easily burn the same amount of calories kicking a ball around, swimming, & then going for a walk with my kids & I get to accomplish two things at once!

    I think the most important thing is to get moving. So many people get hung up on having the “perfect” program & this gets in the way of them actually doing anything. Just move, break a good sweat & get out of breath, have fun, & add some weight training/core work in there somewhere 🙂

  • Amy Q June 21, 2012, 11:02 am

    Also, check out http://www.gppfitness.com– I have been reading it lately- and I think I am going to try it! Like CrossFit, only actually sounds better!

  • Bobbie June 21, 2012, 11:03 am

    Why didn’t you tell us you were going to be in Fitness Magazine?!? You’re in this issue for the Fitterati awards…

    • CaitlinHTP June 21, 2012, 12:02 pm

      Yay! I’m so glad it’s out – I can’t wait to see it. I was planning to announce it when I saw it. 🙂

  • Sara June 21, 2012, 11:09 am

    I totally agree that without a plan of action, going into a gym can be intimidating. Especially where lifting is concerned.

    I find that about every two to three months I start to get the itch of boredom with my workouts. So, I search for new ones. My most recent adds are Body Pump and Spin classes. I like Body Pump because they revamp the workouts every 6 weeks I think. I also change up my running routes when I start to not look forward to running. Sometimes I come back to workouts I did in the past. Jillian’s 30 day shred is one of my favs.

  • Kate June 21, 2012, 11:11 am

    I find classes at a local gym just to give you a bit of strcture are a great introduction. After trying and loving “Muscle Hustle” a HIIT (High Intesnity Interval Training) style total body class I started to replicate that on my own when the class no longer fit into my schedule. I’ve also asked instructors for a copy of the class workout which they have always been willing to share so I could also do it on my own.

    I also tend to keep a weekly plan in mind though not always written down. M/F Run, T/TH HIIT, W Bike, S/Sun rest/something fun or rest/rest.

  • Jenna June 21, 2012, 11:25 am

    I’ve always found accountability to be my biggest challenge. Over time and circumstance all my training partners have moved on, married, divorced, changed focus, changed jobs, gotten injured…. you name it… it has happened. All meaning that working out and fitness has fallen off their radar. And leaving me floundering.

    To keep myself motivated and accountable – I hired an online coach – someone to talk through my goals with both via skype and email, and achieve designated targets [maybe a feeling of fitness, a certain weight, a race goal].

    It has been surprisingly affordable, especially compared to hiring someone for in person training [which I didn’t need]. And provides that extra push… when working out might be the last thing on my mind.

    • CaitlinHTP June 21, 2012, 12:02 pm

      An online coach sounds pretty cool! Where did you find them?

  • Hillary June 21, 2012, 11:43 am

    This is one of the reasons I love following a training plan: it’s clear, goal-oriented, and usually east to stick with.

    That being said, I love the freedom of creating my own workouts. I try to switch it up (with classes, videos, etc) to keep from getting bored, but I always follow a basic plan of alternating steady cardio/interval cardio workouts and varying weight programs. It works for me!

  • Moni Meals June 21, 2012, 11:43 am

    Great motivational post. As a fitness professional and motivator myself day in and day out, this post nailed it. This will help many! 😉

  • Lindsay June 21, 2012, 12:15 pm

    I came to a similar point in my workouts several months ago and decided to put my running shoes up for a while and challenge myself in a different way. I wanted to focus more on building strength, a direction that I have never before totally focused on. I did some research and found a 12 week plan on bodybuilding.com that gave me enough structure that I wouldn’t wander aimlessly but at the same time some freedom to explore new to me areas of my fitness.
    I am back to running now and am feeling the best I have in years! Change is a good thing!!

  • laura June 21, 2012, 12:17 pm

    I just wanted to applaud you for how impressed I am with your posts after Henry! A lot of mommy bloggers fall off the radar after the baby and ONLY do baby posts.. but not you… way to go!! how are you finding time to write?! Or are these pre-scheduled? Whatever your method, way to go on keeping up with your content! While I LOVE hearing about Henry, it’s nice to have a bit of normalcy in your posts, too!

    • CaitlinHTP June 21, 2012, 1:00 pm

      The Husband and I are both working part-time so he watches Henry while I write.

    • Jacqueline June 21, 2012, 4:50 pm

      I second that! Great job on the wonderful content I’ve always loved about your blog. And I LOVE hearing about Henry too!

    • Margaret June 21, 2012, 5:33 pm

      I third that! While I do find the pregnancy/baby posts strangely intriguing (considering I don’t even know if I want kids…), I’ve also experienced what Laura said about blogs becoming just mommy blog once a baby is born. Having a mixture of your new normal with Henry and the rest of life is great!

      I started reading HTP a few months ago, and am now working backwards reading old posts. It’s fascinating reading someone’s life in reverse! I love how honest and straightforward you are about everything, it’s informative and inspirational.

  • Lauren June 21, 2012, 12:35 pm

    I have never run any races, or tri’s but I still exercise 5-6 times per week. I do a combo of high intensity interval training (walking/jogging and running/sprints), incline walking, weight training, and circuit training. Works for me! 🙂 Maybe try to look up some circuit workouts to try out? That way you have a set plan, which is high intensity and keeps both your mind and body guessing. There are a TON available on-line, posted by bloggers, PT’s etc. Good luck! 🙂

  • Katie @ Peace Love & Oats June 21, 2012, 1:03 pm

    I used to make up a weights/cardio routine that I did each week when I wasn’t training. Having a plan at the beginning of the week really helps!

  • Marie June 21, 2012, 1:03 pm

    I like to lift, and what works best for me is to buy books that have training plans. Over the past 2 years I’ve completed the plans in:

    The Female Body Breakthrough
    The New Rules of Lifting
    The New Rules of Lifting for Women

    I’m almost through The Impact Body Plan, and next I’ll do either Eric Cressey’s Maximum Strength or Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program.

    I like knowing exactly what I have to do in a given workout and that these plans are written by someone who’s a lot more knowledgeable than I. If I had to write my own plan, I fear that analysis paralysis would set in and I wouldn’t accomplish anything. I also don’t worry that I’m ignoring a body part or not properly periodizing my training. It’s all done for me, and these books are quite reasonably priced and can be found at many libraries.

    • Kelli June 21, 2012, 1:10 pm

      I agree with this totally! There are also a lot of great workout plans that can be found online, for free. I prefer weight lifting to anything else, so I typically write my own weight lifting routines. Occasionally though I get bored or burned out & follow a book or an online plan that lasts for 6-10 weeks. It is always fun & challenging to try new things & it really keeps me motivated!

  • Annette@FitnessPerks June 21, 2012, 1:05 pm

    I believe that planning and goals is KEY to success in the gym! great post. I teach a bunch, but I also am following -loosely- a training plan for a half IM, and that works for me. Gotta find what works for you, individually!

  • Army Amy* June 21, 2012, 1:07 pm

    I’m definitely no expert on strength training, but I find that I do best when I have structure. Right now I’m doing one plank each day and as many push-ups as I can in one sitting. (I’ve worked my way up from 7 push-ups to 20!) It’s part of a challenge another blogger is doing. I have my little calendar, and every day I fill in my stats. I’m loving it!*

  • Breanne June 21, 2012, 1:12 pm

    I’m totally a Group X person at the gym. I need the variety and the group dynamic (buddy system! when I tell my friends I’ll be there, I HAVE to go) to power me through.

    I do hit burn out though and so I try to vary my classes as much as possible. Cardio and core training on day, yoga/pilates a couple times a week, a different cardio class, and strength training.

  • caitlin June 21, 2012, 1:15 pm

    I am really trying to get back into lifting weights and making goals like ‘this week I will lift 2x a week”. Going to Barre really keeps me motivated and is such a mood lifter!

  • Julie (A Case of the Runs) June 21, 2012, 1:59 pm

    I definitely got really bored with running (I’ve been running for 6+ years and have done way too many races), so I started doing fitness videos with running a few days a week and pretty much quit my gym.

    I’m currently doing the Beachbody Insanity program. I never thought I’d wind up doing those infomercial things, but it gives me structure like you wouldn’t believe, and it really works! Like anything else, you need to be self-motivated, but once you get into it, there is an addictive factor that I never got with other fitness DVDs, and the feeling of completing one of those programs I know will be pretty sweet (I’m 2.5 weeks away from finishing).

  • Amber K June 21, 2012, 2:15 pm

    I don’t go to the gym with any specific plan. I only work out because I know it is healthy for me. I motivate myself with the thoughts of a longer and healthier life, and also how I want to be around for my family and future children.

    That’s not a very concrete answer, but that’s where my motivation comes from. Once I’m at the gym I pick what machine I feel like doing that day and that usually means the elliptical because then I can read at the same time.

    I’m much worse about strength training. I know how good it is for me, but it’s rare that I’m able to focus my goals and go through the motions.

  • Katie - Life Discombobulated June 21, 2012, 3:33 pm

    Oh, how I love this blog! 🙂 The post topics are so wide-ranging and fun to read, but always informative.

    I totally need a plan when I get to the gym. I have a decent knowledge of different types of lifting, so I can mostly create a plan from memory, but I really like to get new ideas from magazines/blogs/websites (like Crossfit), too, to mix things up. I plan how long and what type of cardio I’ll do, then use an index card to write out upper and lower body exercises with number of reps and sets. I take the index card to the gym with me, then keep it so that I can use the workout again if I’m in a hurry or just don’t want to put a plan together on a certain day.

  • Katherine @ The Fit Lady Sings June 21, 2012, 5:33 pm

    I’m so glad I came across your blog, Caitlin!

    I’m currently training for a triathlon, but strength training is really important to me. I workout 5-6 days a week, so at the beginning of my week, I plan out my cardio workouts (swim, bike, run, brick workouts), and then incorporate 3 strength training workouts… 1 upper body, 1 lower body and 1 total circuit/fun workout (something like yoga, workout dvd, etc). I also bring a notebook to the gym with workouts that I’ve done before or new ones I’ve found online.

  • Lauren @ Sassy Molassy June 21, 2012, 5:48 pm

    While I am often training for a race, I find that when I’m not, having some kind of goal is really helpful for me (even as a really motivated person). For example, I’ll get extra motivation from focusing on getting my arms strong for an upcoming wedding I’m attending or getting my core in shape for cycling season.

    I also like attending classes because they make things fun and add an extra bit of motivation for things you might not do on your own at home or navigating the gym after work.

  • Mary June 21, 2012, 7:21 pm

    I am a huge fan of Cathe Friedrich (see Cathe.com) and she posts monthly rotations which make organizing workouts easy and fun when I am not training for a race. You do need a collection of her DVDs to do them though, but I find them the best home exercise programs around. She has an excellent strength training program called STS that is similar to P90x in some ways but has a lot more variety over the 3 months.

  • Kristen June 21, 2012, 9:08 pm

    I have been lifting weights with a great trainer for 8 years now and highly recommend it. He keeps me focused and motivated and it is HIS job to figure out what I should do for the hour. I love that there is always something new to learn and he pushes me harder than I would if I were at the gym alone.

    Also, if you think it is too expensive, finding a good trainer makes all the difference. My trainer has always partnered me with one or two other people through the years which cut my cost at least in half. My current partner has trained with me for 3 years and she was in the same shape and financial need so it worked out great!!!

  • Lea June 21, 2012, 10:00 pm

    Training plans are the only way I ever get in an effective workout. They motivate me to go to the gym and get in a quality workout even if I’m not feeling it. The great thing is there are so many training plans you can follow that aren’t just based around running. I’m currently doing Jamie Eason’s LiveFit Trainer and loving it and there are a lot of other weight training/cardio programs out there, and I know some gyms offer a bootcamp style workouts on a regular basis.

  • Sydney June 22, 2012, 1:12 am

    When I first started strength training I felt the exact same way but my friend introduced me to the “Women’s Health Big Book of Exercises” and it literally has tonnnns of different strength exercises you can do at the gym to work different muscles and at the back it even has a bunch of different workout routines set out for you in order to achieve certain goals. I really like it!!

  • Jennifer M June 22, 2012, 4:18 pm


    Thank you for this post! I was just thinking today how overwhelming it is to sort out what is right for me, and going to work for me, given fitness info overload! I like your idea to stick to something for a month, write goals and create challenges for yourself. This information is so helpful and comes at the perfect time!


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