January’s in any gym see the most business, which leads to a quick decline in membership activity come springtime. Each person guilty of this fall-off usually never intends for it to happen, but life, low motivation and no results all get in the way.

I’ve been in the industry for 9 years now, and have finally acknowledged the hard truth: many people are too lazy to do what it takes to stay on top of their health and wellness. That’s what makes the classic “get in shape” New Year’s resolution a thing in and of itself.

Scour the internet in the last week of December or the first week of January, and you’ll find myriads of fitness articles that will have you ready to go hard, before the inevitable dropout by the sixth week. But we’d be remiss to think our workout journey is going to be a successful one if we don’t acknowledge that going to the gym itself is not the only thing we’ll need to change if we’re trying to get in shape. Nor should it be the first thing. It calls for a lifestyle change, and certain things must be addressed before setting foot in the gym if you want results that stand the test of time.

1. Get sleep

You release plenty of hormones while you sleep, and give your nervous system a rest at the same time. Both of these factors are essential for your body’s recovery and aiding things like fat loss and muscle gain. If you’ve got a 70 hour per week job, or extra-curricular keep you busy, you’d better be darn good at scheduling to get seven to eight hours every night. And if you’re routinely only getting five, expect to burn out when adding the gym to the mix.

2. Eat clean, drink less.

Truth is the truth: you can’t out-train a lousy diet. If you’re someone who’s looking for a physique change, you’ll have to see what you put into your body, and moderate junk food and wasteful calories while giving favour to good, whole foods, more water, increased vegetable intake and maybe a useful multivitamin. We’re all human, so taking smaller steps is vital.

Look for fundamental changes first, like eating healthy square meals or controlling portion sizes, before doing something drastic like eliminating carbs. Oh, and if you’re a heavy drinker, you’ll have to cut down on the booze. But you already knew that.

3. Set a realistic schedule

So you say you plan to hit up the gym seven days per week at dawn for high-intensity cardio and weights? Then prepare to pitter out real quick.

The number one thing your training journey needs to be is realistic. For this to last, you’re going to have to ease into things. As a personal trainer, I like recommending to start with the “every other day” approach, which works out to three or four days per week. Get into a groove of making the gym part of your routine by alternating between gym and rest days. It’s a frequency that will still give you time to recover and plan your schedule while remaining consistent enough for results.

4. Learn benefits and requirements of exercise

It’s cool to say you’re going to get in shape by going to the gym, but it won’t happen by osmosis if you’re walking around the place like a chicken with its head cut off. If you can’t afford a professional to help you learn the ropes, it’s going to take a little diligence on your part.

If you’re serious about getting in shape, self-educate. Understanding the basic principles of training will strengthen your resolve to do things with purpose, and keep you safe. The best part is, such information is readily available for free on many trusted resources online. Here are simple training truths to get you started:

Training complex movement patterns like squats, deadlifts, overhead presses, rows, lunges and chin ups are great for calorie burn, fat loss, strength, and healthy joints. Spinal integrity is a key factor in most gym exercises. Practice weight-bearing exercises with a neutral spine, and avoid rounding where possible.

Cardio isn’t the answer for “toning,” and weight training doesn’t equal “bulking.” Many healthy bodies require both weight lifting and cardio.

Strength training isn’t only about muscle. It’s about walking tall and moving freely when you’re old. This can positively affect bone density, tendon and ligament strength, blood pressure and more. You can indeed get stronger without getting bigger.

Of course, all results will be facilitated and catalyzed through a proper diet.

5. Set an attainable goal

This is the final point, but it’s a good one. If you’re drinking the gimcrack Kool-aid of fitness infomercials, and think you can build 15 pounds of solid muscle or “reshape” your body in six weeks, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

At risk of being blunt, it took years of mistreatment of your body to get to the point of being deemed an out of shape, sedentary individual. You won’t reverse that all by going to the gym 20 times. If you’re going to think short term, your goals have to be small too.

For reference, a healthy and realistic amount of pounds to lose each week is one to two. Similarly, a natural 15-pound increase in pure muscle will take about one year, and that’s if you’re doing everything right. Don’t set deadlines for your goals. Instead, I look forward to how you’ll look, perform and feel at this time next January. Then work toward it.

It may seem daunting to be a fish out of water in the gym scene, but don’t be a stereotypical New Year’s Resolutionist. If you’re making efforts to go to the gym in the first place, you’re already in a better starting point than most. Just make sure you’ve covered your bases first, so you can hit the ground running by training hard, and more importantly, training smart.