Find the right gym
Some people love the prison-style weights-only gym, but for most of us, finding a place where we feel comfortable and where people are friendly is important. Environment, equipment and classes are all factors to consider when choosing a gym.
David Cooper, operations manager at Gym Box, believes the days of the standard-model gym are over: "We enlisted a nightclub designer to give an exhilarating, urban feel. We have huge free-weight and resistance areas, so members are not fighting over equipment and space. Resident DJs play every evening and members make requests." Gym Box does Bollywood grooves, Turkish bellydancing and Thriller Nights - a Michael Jackson-based dance class where you can "moonwalk your way to fitness" - but even less edgy gyms are now offering punchbags and kick boxing alongside standard aerobics and spinning classes.
Don't look at everyone else
Some will be gym addicts and some will be naturally lithe. Far better to focus on yourself - not necessarily in the mirrors, but by switching off and enjoying your session.
Vicky Mahony, academy trainer at Holmes Place, says we should also buy good - and good-looking - gear: "Most of us are body conscious, and even when we're going to the gym we like to look nice. Maybe investing in some new gear will help you stay committed to going regularly. It is also important to have the right training gear and the right trainers for the exercise you are doing."
Some people need a devil on their shoulder, others need a softly-softly approach. Contract a personal trainer who fits your profile or, as a cheaper alternative, get a gym buddy who will spur you on.
"A trainer is important in drawing up goals, as well as reviewing them," says sports psychologist Jill Owen. "This should be someone with whom you easily build up a rapport and whose style suits you in terms of adding to your motivation and enjoyment." Also, it's important to make use of the gym's staff. "Getting to the gym on the first day and realising you have no recollection of how to work the equipment is sure to put you off," says Owen. "Don't be embarrassed to ask a trainer for a reminder."
Mind over matter
Many of us treat a trip to the gym as an obstacle, something to get out of the way as quickly as possible. Owen suggests "finding ways of creating positive associations with the gym. Play motivating, energising music as you train. Using other enjoyable facilities at the gym, such as the sauna, steam room or pool (though perhaps not the bar) can be another way of making the experience positive - but these activities must take place after your workout in order to act as a reward." Sebastian Bailey, director of The Mind Gym, recommends making bets, organising competitions and buying ourselves presents as rewards, too.
"Choose a food plan that is sensible and practical," says Ian Marber, qualified nutritionist and author of The Food Doctor Diet. "Many people will find a gym, do some cardiovascular exercise and some weights and soon see they have some muscle. They then decide, 'Oh, I'll get some proteins' and change their diet." Marber says that consistency is the key: "It's that Thursday thing. You have a double full latte and a skinny thinny carrot cake and you know you've been bad. So you think, 'OK, I'll be really bad and start all over again next Monday.'" To break these cycles, Marber says we must choose an enjoyable, sustainable diet that has proteins, carbs and low glucose.
Don't cheat time
From day one, we have to be clear about when we are going to fit the gym into our schedules. "People set themselves up for failure when they try to start at a busy time," says Owen. "The gym has to become a priority. Even when you are busy, come into the gym for shorter workouts. After a holiday, make sure you return to the gym quickly, as once time has passed it becomes harder to get back into it." She recommends identifying our "excuse profile" and pre-empting it. "Do you tend to be 'too tired', 'too busy' or do you always convince yourself that you will go tomorrow? What were the reasons you stopped going in the past? Make yourself aware of your likely excuses and decide in advance not to entertain them," she says.
Do yoga instead
The gym is not a fix-all, and it isn't suited to all needs and personalities. People are turning to yoga because it provides a break from stress and because yogis seem to have slim, supple bodies, too. "It all depends on what your goals are," says Mark Davis, director of Triyoga. "If you want washboard abs and the ability to bench press your own weight and run a six-minute mile, it isn't going to happen with yoga. But if you want a strong, vital body that feels light, dynamic and pain-free, an elegant posture and naturally healthy eating habit, and a calmness and inner radiance that has everyone thinking you're in love, then sign up for a yoga class."