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  • Writer's pictureSimon Coghlan MSc, BSc Physio, DipMedAc

Breaking Down Barriers to Exercise Adherence with Conditional Intentions

Updated: Apr 14

In physiotherapy and fitness, maintaining a consistent exercise regimen is often a challenge for many. 

As a seasoned physiotherapist, I've seen firsthand the struggle to stick with exercise programs, particularly among those juggling the demands of family life and professional responsibilities. I have struggled at times, and I know many of my patients have as well. 

Yet, a powerful strategy often goes underutilised in enhancing exercise adherence: implementing conditional intentions or "if-then" planning.

The Power of "If-Then" Planning

Conditional intentions harness the simple principle of linking anticipated situations (the "if") with specific, planned responses (the "then"). This strategy turns vague aspirations into concrete plans, bridging the gap between intention and action. In the context of exercise, it translates to establishing predefined triggers that prompt physical activity.

man excercing with resistance band

For example, an "if-then" plan might look like this: "If it's Monday, Wednesday, or Friday, then I will attend the 6 AM yoga class before work." This clarity removes ambiguity and primes the individual to act without deliberate decision-making.

The Benefits for Exercise Adherence

Increases Consistency: Embedding exercise into your daily or weekly routine with specific conditions becomes part of your habitual behaviour rather than an optional activity that can be easily skipped.

Reduces Procrastination: Conditional intentions set a predefined course of action, leaving little room for procrastination. When you know exactly what to do and when there's less temptation to put it off. 

Enhances Flexibility: While it may seem counterintuitive, having structured plans can increase your ability to adapt. By planning for various scenarios (e.g., "If it's raining, then I'll do a 30-minute indoor workout"), you're prepared to stick to your exercise goals under different circumstances.

Improves Self-Efficacy: Successfully following through with "if-then" plans can boost your confidence in meeting your exercise goals, resulting in a positive cycle of motivation and adherence.

Implementing Conditional Intentions in Your Routine

Start by identifying the common barriers that hinder your exercise routine. Is it time constraints, lack of motivation, or perhaps environmental factors? Then, craft your "if-then" plans around these obstacles. Remember, specificity is critical. The more detailed your plan, the more likely you will follow through.

It's also crucial to be realistic and flexible in your planning. Life's unpredictable nature means sometimes adjustments are necessary. However, the foundation of conditional intentions allows for easy modification without derailing your overall goals.

The Bottom Line 

As someone deeply embedded in physiotherapy and fitness, I believe in empowering individuals to take control of their health and well-being. Conditional intentions are potent in this endeavour, transforming lofty fitness goals into manageable, actionable steps. By embedding this strategy into your exercise regimen, you're not just planning to succeed but setting yourself up for sustained success.

Challenge yourself to incorporate "if-then" planning into your routine. The missing link between intention and action may be propelling you towards your fitness goals with renewed vigour and determination. Remember, the journey to better health is a marathon, not a sprint, and every step forward counts.

By Simon Coghlan MSc, BScPhysio, DipMedAc

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