Fitness…The Toyota Way?
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The Toyota Approach To Fitness

How approaching exercise like a Japanese automaker can get you in the best shape of your life.

By Kellee Katagi

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If you’ve ever struggled to stick with your fitness goals, you’re in good (or maybe bad, as it were) company. For example, polls annually show that among people who set workout-related New Year’s resolutions, 60 to 70 percent have abandoned them by the third week of January.

There’s a better way. By following one simple strategy, you can forever end your on-again, off-again approach to exercise. The key? Appoint yourself CEO of your Personal Fitness Plan.

The goal is to get outside yourself and take an objective, rather than subjective, approach to your workout regimen—to replace feelings with facts, and in-the-moment decisions with long-range planning.

To do this, we suggest a tried-and-true management strategy: the Toyota Way. The Japanese automaker first publicly outlined this system in 2001, and since then has continued to follow it to ensure efficient and effective results. To apply it to your workout routine, adopt five of its key principles:

Challenge. This means you commit to working through challenges, courageously facing struggles and problems and searching for creative solutions. Example: During workouts, your energy levels are low, which makes you dread them. Instead of using that as an excuse to bag them, you schedule time to research proper exercise nutrition and limit yourself to one TV show each evening so you can go to bed earlier.

Kaizen. This is the process of continuous improvement. Just because your workout seemed hard today—or you skipped it entirely—doesn’t mean you quit. Instead, assess the problem and commit to a solution. And even if today’s workout was great, consider how you can make it even better next time.

Example: You could do only two pushups when you were supposed to do 10. Next time, do the two pushups, then drop to your knees and do the rest, which will build your strength. Add one or two full pushups each workout session until you can do all 10.

Genchi genbutsu, or Japanese for “going to the source.” This has two components: first, checking facts yourself to make sure they’re correct.

Example: Your friend says you shouldn’t eat before you exercise. Instead of taking her word for it, you look to a reliable source for the answer.

The second component: digging to find the source of the problem. Example: You can’t squat very far without breaking form, so you schedule a session with a personal trainer. The trainer determines your calves are too tight and assigns some stretches.

Respect. You respect yourself and your health too much to give up. Example: Regularly remind yourself, perhaps in writing, why your exercise goals matter.

Teamwork. Research shows that your chances of sticking with exercise—and the quality of the exercise you do—increases when you have accountability.

Example: Hire a personal trainer, even if it’s only for a few sessions, until exercise becomes a habit. Or recruit a workout partner. At the very least, talk with friends and loved ones about ways they can keep you motivated and encouraged as you tackle your workouts like a boss.

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