How resolutions become training routines
Expert interview with Performance Coach David Breuer
2022: New year, new training resolutions. Same procedure as every year?
We spoke with David Breuer. David is a former competitive athlete and now a performance coach with his company David Breuer Erfolgsupdates. He is also an expert on the subject of habits.
In the interview, he gives practical tips on how to make your good resolutions a lasting reality and reveals why motivation only plays a subordinate role.
Personal details: David Breuer
- Born 1982
- Former professional handball player (including TSV Bayer Dormagen and TuSEM Essen)
- Eternal record goal scorer in the 2nd Bundesliga
- Today Performance Coach, Speaker, Teacher, Consultant with DBE | David Breuer Erfolgsupdates
- The topic of training habits / workout routines is a theme in his consulting and speaking work
- More about David: Wikipedia
You want to watch the interview as a video (English subtitles)? Voilà. All bookworms, please skip ahead one section.
Andreas and David in conversation
How can you change your habits?
We all know it. At the beginning of the year, we make a number of resolutions, such as more exercise and a healthier diet. This usually lasts for a few weeks at most. The main mistake we all make is that we rely exclusively on motivation. However, we cannot stay motivated 24/7. This leads to the fact that we will train when we are motivated. But this does not lead to regularity.
The key lies much more in habits or routines. There is scientific research on this, which has produced the habit loop. This can be adapted to training habits.
What does it take for a habit loop?
Put simply, three elements come into play here: firstly, a cue, secondly, the routine or the behaviour, or in this specific case; the training. And thirdly, the reward.
For training, for example, this model can work like this:
I use a certain day at a certain time as a trigger. In other words, a binding training plan that serves as a guideline. In addition, a concrete object can also serve as a trigger. The Post-it on the fridge as a trigger for the weekly shopping is a good example.
At the back is the reward. As a rule, every athlete knows the feeling of happiness after an intense effort. Runners call this “runner’s high”, which is caused by an increased release of endorphins in the body.
In this respect, sport and the good feeling afterwards are reward enough for many of us. It is the combination of effort and fun that makes sport so special in this respect.
Another typical reward after sport is relaxation. For example, consciously dropping onto the couch, which you only allow yourself as a reward after an intensive home gym workout. Or of course sauna or wellness.
What are your personal mechanisms for training routines?
After my professional career, my learned habits (travelling to the gym, binding training times) were gone for the time being. So I had to relearn that for myself as well.
The first thing I did was to test at what times of day I could best motivate myself to train. I found out that a short workout directly in the morning as a small ritual is very good for me. I would also recommend this to typical morning grouches.
The positive effects – such as activation of the circulation or mood enhancement through favourable hormone release – also work for them.
What are good working triggers for learning new habits or training routines?
The first important point is always that the trigger must be visible. That means you can’t walk past it.
I simply use a glass of water. I first drink a glass of water, which is always followed by my workout ritual in the morning. Then I reward that with a second glass of water.
So all in all, it’s a very simple sequence that works.
It is also helpful to document the workouts you do. It has been found that even visual contact with the training calendar is perceived as motivating. Even the tick or cross for another completed workout is perceived as a reward. As you can see, it really only takes small building blocks to establish training habits.
What prevents us from establishing the new habits?
Our brain basically likes habits because it saves energy that way. Too many changes at once are not only hard to do physically – if we are talking about training – they also challenge our minds. Therefore, it makes sense to establish new habits bit by bit.
In concrete terms, this can mean that we start with perhaps ridiculously small numbers of repetitions that do not yet challenge us physically, but help to programme the habit loop in our head. We talk about micro-habits.
This can look like doing, for example, only 1-2 push-ups every day at a fixed time. When a routine has crept in, we increase the number of repetitions. In this way, we have initially won over the head for the process of change and after a few days we increase the number of repetitions so that we also gain the physical effect.
So it is much more helpful for our habit loop if we do one push-up on 30 consecutive days instead of 30 in one day.
It’s no different for athletes. They don’t feel like training every now and then, but they are used to it. You can compare this with going to work every day.
We humans know a lot of things better than we should. But we do what we are used to.
How can you manage to establish exercise habits at home when you can no longer go to the gym?
If you have not exercised at home before, you will not have established any workout habits within your own four walls.
Here, too, you need a cue that is permanently in sight. I find it problematic if the training equipment is placed in the basement or laundry room. I don’t spend much time there, so the equipment is hardly visible as a triggering moment. In the worst case, the end result is an unused treadmill that is eventually converted into an extremely expensive clothes horse in the laundry room.
A fitness cupboard in the living room is of course a different solution. The key to the cupboard, which I place next to the house or car key, can also be used as a trigger and remind me to exercise again and again. It is also important that the barriers are as low as possible to start training. So if you have to build up or rummage around a lot before the training can start, again it becomes a bit less likely that I will establish my routines.
In addition to the clearly visible cue and the low threshold, the reward aspect, which I mentioned earlier, is of course also very central. It is also very helpful, especially for newcomers, if they start with a very small amount of exercise. Especially at the beginning of the year, we often try to pursue several goals at once. In terms of habits, however, this is particularly difficult.
It is therefore more promising if we prioritise our goals and start by establishing a new habit before we follow it up with other things.