Are you an honest exerciser?

I sit here with a glass of wine to write about the virtuous pastime of running with a clear conscience. Today I went to the gym. Not only did I set my alarm for 5.15am, get up when it rang and haul myself out of the house into the darkness, but when I got there I trained really hard.

I made myself accountable.

Many people go to gyms or into the outdoors to train, and that's where their motivation peaks. The act of getting there is their greatest achievement. After that, not a lot happens. They sit on a bike watching an array of TV screens, turning the pedals with very little resistance or at slow speed or both; or do the same on a treadmill.

Perhaps they wander around the gym floor aimlessly, occasionally lifting a weight or doing some ab work with plenty of rest in between.

When enough time has passed they go home. They may have caught up on the news, or chatted someone up, which is fine; but their fitness, presumably the reason for them being there, has not changed.

At least they made it to the gym. That's a step one, and further than the people who buy the gym membership then can't get beyond the snooze button on the alarm clock.

Step two is what you do once you get there. The important step: this one's about using your precious exercise time wisely. See it as giving yourself the gift of an hour or so of total self-focus.

It can be hard to do this without some direction and that's why people join classes or hire personal trainers and coaches, or arrange to exercise with friends. But even under these circumstances it's possible to goof off.

Before I'm accused of being too hard-line, let me acknowledge that taking it easy is fine sometimes; it can be good for the mind to wander and to let the body just go through the motions. But ultimately, there's no avoiding the fact that acquisition of fitness requires effort. It requires pushing yourself to levels of discomfort.

No amount of money paid in gym memberships or to personal trainers is going to make your heart fit and your body strong if you personally aren't committed to putting in the effort.

The only person who can make you fitter and stronger is you.

Here are some ways to keep yourself accountable:

Set yourself a goal

If you're lacking direction, enter an event that's a few weeks or months down the track and try to recruit a friend to do the same.

Identify your training goals

From the macro: ie. what you want to get out of the session, to the micro: goals you set yourself within the session. The sense of achievement in reaching them or at least giving it your best shot makes the effort worthwhile.

Plan your training session before you leave home

A plan that you've thought about and set yourself will help you commit to the session. Write it down if necessary and follow it.

Use time

Time doesn't lie and it keeps your mind focused. You can compile a 45-minute workout that is all time-based. For example, on a stationary bike, warm up for five minutes, then do two minutes hard at a certain RPM, then one minute of acceleration. After that, try one minute recovery, then do it all again at a different RPM.

Aim for eight acceleration goals, so you have a number of opportunities to beat them. Be honest with your rest breaks and realise it doesn't matter if you fail. Next time you might not.

When running, include some small timed goals along the way. Accelerate for a minute on and a minute off; accelerate up hills then stay strong over the top for a further minute.

Do weekly interval training and threshold runs. These are great for keeping yourself accountable because they have goals that need to be met and if done regularly become measures of your fitness progression.

Break it down

Divide the session into manageable portions so you only have to focus on one small goal at a time. It's called segmenting and it's good for training and to apply in races. And life in general.

Be prepared to count

Like using the clock, count the number of pedal strokes or your running cadence over a certain distance and try to beat the number each time. Counting serves as an excellent decoy for the inner voice that tries to divert your focus onto the discomfort you're enduring.

Reward yourself

If you've trained hard enough you'll know it and you'll reward yourself just enough not to jeopardise your hard-won progress. Cheers to that.

How do you keep yourself accountable in your fitness work?