Lisa Jackson

Lisa Jackson

The co-author of Running Made Easy shares her tips for getting started with exercise.

Everyone has to get started, and virtually everyone dislikes making the first steps.

But they have the power to change our life and allow us to do the things we really want to do. Yes, exams and interviews may fill us with horror and dread - yet they're often the only way to get us where we want to be. Want to be able to take your friends clubbing without relying on your parents for a lift? Want to get into university and have the time of your life for three years? Usually there's a test, exam or interview you have to get through first. So what's the most painless way to do just that?

The answer's in an unlikely place - your screen.

Ever thought that for top sportspeople such as Colin Jackson, David Beckham and Paula Radcliffe, every single event they enter is just like an exam or interview? They too have to endure the same painstaking preparation, the jittery nerves, the hard slog... all in order to hopefully emerge triumphant at the end of it all.

So let's take a look at the secrets of their success and see if, by applying the same skills and techniques they do, we can ensure you, too, will have something to celebrate in a few weeks or months from now. Ready, steady, go!

  • Work out what motivates you

    Whether it's fame (and a chance to rub shoulders with celebrities!), winning a place in the record books or simply knowing they've challenged themselves to the utmost, top athletes are always very sure about the reasons why they're prepared to put themselves through years of gruelling training for just a few minutes of glory on the winner's podium. Before you even start to contemplate studying, take a leaf out of their book and spend a few moments thinking about why it's important for you to do well in your test, exam or interview.

    Will passing that test mean you can get into that cool college you want to go to? Or will a successful interview mean you'll be able to embark on your dream career (and so be one step closer to being able to afford that designer outfit or car you want to own one day)? Imagine the benefits in the greatest detail possible, then write down every single reason why it's important for you to do well and pin this list above your desk so you can refer to it whenever you feel your motivation flagging.

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  • Create your own training camp

    Many top athletes spend part of the year away from home staying in training camps where they can focus 100% on raising their game. Do the same by turning your room or home into a training camp. Remove anything from your study area that's likely to distract you - hide that iPod, lock away that TV and switch off your mobile. And make sure your study area is neat and tidy to start with so you don't suddenly find yourself overwhelmed by the urge to give it a top-to-toe spring clean when you're due to study! Next make sure your desk is well-lit and that your chair is comfortable. Finally, let your friends and family know when you're likely to be studying and ask them not to disturb you at those times.

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  • Aim big, think small

    Winning an Olympic gold medal is a dream for most athletes - but it can be such an immense uphill slog to get there that it can all too easily seem just too daunting to contemplate. That's why all athletes remember the saying, 'The longest journey starts with a single step' and break each major goal (such as going for gold) into tiny, manageable steps (such as shaving a tenth of a second off their time). So, for example, don't be intimidated by having to get through a file the size of the Yellow Pages, instead break each subject down into small chunks, sections or chapters, and aim to tackle each one, one step at a time.

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  • Do more of what you find difficult

    Professional sportspeople don't just focus on doing what they're good at - they analyse their weaknesses and pay particular attention to improving those areas. Work out what your weak spots are (sticking to the point in interviews/learning dates in history) and then allow extra time to tackle them.

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  • Come up with a cunning plan

    Athletes don't simply line up at the start, run as fast as they can and hope for the best! Being successful in a highly competitive field takes months and years of preparation and every athlete has a unique training plan.

    Become your own coach by constructing your own training schedule and noting down when your exam, test or interview is and how long you've got to prepare for it. Then draw up a timetable on a big sheet of cardboard, dividing each day into 20 minute slots, leaving 10 minute breaks between slots and allowing yourself an hour for lunch. And while you're at it, don't forget to schedule in an exercise session, too - it'll stop you feeling stale.

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  • Write your game plan

    Once you've drawn up your timetable grid, it's time to fill in the gaps. Divide up the work you've decided you need to cover (see step 3) among the slots you have available and write this down on your training plan.

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  • A change is as good as a rest

No athlete does the same training day in, day out - they all vary their routines and cross-train to challenge all their different muscles and keep themselves interested in what they're doing. So don't sit at your desk and vow to memorise every scientific equation ever invented in one sitting - do just 20 minutes of equations, then take a short break and do 20 minutes of English revision before taking another break. That way you'll never get bored and you'll get more revision done.

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  • Don't sprint at the start

    Trying to do too much too soon is fatal - great athletes know to bide their time and pace themselves until the final straight. Remember that with studying too - don't set out to study for 14 hours a day or you'll burn out before you know it. Six hours, interspersed with frequent breaks, is more realistic. Remember, it's not a 100m sprint, it's more of a half-marathon!

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  • Reward yourself

    Top athletes reward themselves with flapjacks, massages and long, muscle-easing soaks in the bath after reaching their training goals. If you're going to perform at your peak, make sure you have your own set of treats in place to reward yourself with each and every time you complete one of your goals. Done the 20 minutes of French vocab you set out to learn? Then allow yourself to spend 10 minutes having a cup of tea, going for a walk in the garden or calling a friend for a chat. (Just make sure you spend more time overall studying than rewarding yourself!) At the end of the day, plan a bigger reward, such as watching your favourite TV programme or going to the cinema.

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  • Look after number one

    Physios, nutritionists, masseurs, coaches - most top athletes have a team of professionals behind them taking care of their every need. You too should recognise that to perform at your best you're going to have to take care of yourself by getting enough sleep, exercising regularly (going for a run or swim is a fab way to get oxygen hurtling to your brain) and eating healthy snacks (such as nuts and seeds).

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  • Now you're ready to start revising.

    Like training, where the hardest part is often lacing up your trainers, with studying the hardest part is often getting started. So what are you waiting for? Pull up that chair, open that book and get ready to be the best you can be.

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It doesn't matter what game it is, I just try and do my best.

Alix Popham

Wales and Llanelli Scarlets rugby player

Training ground

Colin Jackson

Work hard

Colin Jackson reveals more top tips on making exercise part of your lifestyle.

Media zone

Pierre Dulaine

Video clips

Check out the video with the famous dance instructor Pierre Dulaine.

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