It’s seldom shin splints or sore muscles that stop us following fitness routines – it’s the mental hurdles, from self-consciousness to simple sloth. Identify yours and start leaping them today.

1.    Hurdle: “I don’t have time to exercise”

Description: Description: “I don’t have time to exercise”

This is the number-one reported barrier to exercise in research across the world,” says Dr. Leon van Niekerk, a senior lecturer in sports psychology at the University of Johannesburg. We all lead full and pressured lives, but this makes it more important to exercise to de-stress.

“We’re never too busy to go shopping or visit friends,” says Charmaine Giani group fitness specialist for Planer Fitness in Johannesburg. “yet we often only make time for exercise if diagnosed with conditions like high cholesterol or diabetes.”

Leap it

“When people say they don’t have time, they mean they don’t plan their time,” comments Dr Van Niekerk. “In my research, those who indicated they ‘don’t have time’ also spent lots of it watching TV and sleeping late. They changed their behaviour when they managed their time differently – suddenly they realised they had more than they thought.”

Diarise exercise as you would a medical or work appointment. Get up 40 minutes earlier, or do 10-minute spurts four times a day. “Just making a conscious effort to be more active can bring vast health improvements,” says Durban personal trainer Hayley Cassim, director of the Clofton High Performance Centre.

Park a 10-minute walk from work, take stairs not lifts, walk during breaks, and use a stationary cycle or do stomach crunches watching TV. Convert weekend time spent watching movies with friends to hiking or cycling with them.

“Also look at the new craze of express classes,” advises Franciska Venter, research and development specialist at Virgin Active SA in Cape Town. “You can get similar or better results from a 30-minute high-intensity workout as from a time-consuming moderate intensity one.”

2.    Hurdle: “I worry about how I look”

Description: Description: “I worry about how I look”

It’s easy to be intimidated by the shapely gym bunnies and bicycle babes you see sporting little more than a lick of Lycra and a glowing smile. Women’s self-image and confidence tends to rest more on their weight and appearance than men’s, and they’re more likely to judge themselves harshly because of it says Dr. Van Niekerk.

“In fact, my research has shown that by age 40, women who take aerobics classes regularly think better about their bodies, but they still feel negatively about their general appearance,” he says. The idea of donning clingy sports gear or disguising yourself in baggy track pants is more than many women can stand.

“Unfortunately some gyms have turned more into social playgrounds where people even wear make-up, and less about venues where you go to train and sweat,” explains Cassim. It all contributes to a stalemate situation where you need to work out to get in shape – but don’t feel in good enough shape to work out

Leap it

“Some women manage to take up the challenge even when they’re really overweight – the difference is in the way they think about themselves,” comments Dr. Van Neikerk. “Do you have any evidence that people are staring or laughing, or is self-consciousness something you create in your own mind?”

Take note of those exercising around you who have yet to achieve an ideal healthy shape, or may never manage it but are toned and fit. Consciously talk yourself up – tell yourself you’re responsible for your health and fitness, and set a date to start.

3.    Hurdle: “I’m scared I’ll embarrass myself”

Description: Description: “I’m scared I’ll embarrass myself’

It’s common to fear not knowing how to use the equipment, or imagine tripping, and looking silly – especially when you’re overnight or unfit, says Cassim.

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Recognise that uncertainty is part of learning any new skill, like driving a car,” says Dr. Van Niekerk. “As soon as you gain experience you grow more confident.”

A reputable gym will start you with a personal assessment and programme and show you how to use equipment: “It takes only a few weeks to become comfortable – forget other people and focus on what you’re doing,” says Cassim.

If still unsure, start out with a personal trainer or a friend for moral support, advises Venter. If a gym is truly not for you, work out at home (see Hurdle 5) or walk, hike or run.

4.    Hurdle: “I’m too tired”

Description: Description: “I’m too tired”

“This is an ironic excuse, as exercise is the best way to overcome fatigue and give you energy and zest,” comments Dr. Van Niekerk. “Exercise stimulates the excretion of ‘feel good’ hormones and pheromones – you get your own anti-depressants flowing through your body.”

Leap it

Know that being tired is mostly a mindset, not a reflection of the level of physical energy you have, advises Dr. Van Niekerk. “Even when tired, we have enough energy to run away when in danger. If you have the right reason to do something, you will see it through.

Rather than thinking ‘I’m too tired to exercise,’ think ‘Because I’m too tired, I need to exercise,’” he advises. “Start with 20 minutes a day, three days a week, and as your energy grows, build up.”

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