How To Set Fitness Goals
by Melissa Hernandez
(originally posted January 8, 2011)
If you want to lose weight, get buff or simply be healthier, there are four things you must do to achieve victory: set goals, eat better, exercise, and stay motivated. There are many books and articles you can read that give you tips on what you should eat, how you should exercise, and how you can stay motivated to meet your goals. However, there are few places to go that give advice on setting your fitness goals in the first pace. This is a shame, really, considering that many people don’t know how to set a solid, achievable fitness goal. When you also consider how many people fail to meet their fitness goals, it becomes clear that those same people were probably doomed to fail from the very beginning of their efforts. As you begin (or continue) your journey toward a healthier life, consider this guide to help you achieve success.
1) Think of the end result
Would you like to be thinner? Gain muscle? Improve performance? Or just be healthier overall? It’s okay to have more than one end result in mind.
2) Quantify and specify your goal
Don’t just say “I want to lose weight this year”— make it a clear-cut goal. For example: “I want to lose 20 pounds this year” or “I want to gain 5 pounds of muscle this year”.
In addition to quantifying a target weight, it is also important to quantify and specify your exercise schedule as part of your goal. How many times a week will you exercise? What days of the week will you exercise? What time of day or within what window in your schedule will you exercise? For what duration of time will you exercise each time? What exercise(s) will you do?
3) Set realistic goals
Many people set themselves up for failure by setting unrealistic goals and suffering through excessive workouts, often finding themselves burnt out after just a few weeks. Sure, you could drop 30 pounds in a month by going to the gym 7 days a week and running on the treadmill for 90 minutes, but how long can you maintain that? Once you burn out and stop exercising (which is what inevitably happens), the weight will come back and you will likely feel worse than you did in the first place before you started your extreme fitness regimen. This is why it is important to set realistic goals that can be maintained for the rest of your life (See #5 below). Rather than trying to lose weight quickly in a short span of time, strive to make exercise a regular part of your life. This will allow you to reach your fitness goal at a healthy and moderate pace and will keep you healthy in the long run.
The truth is (and this won’t come as a surprise to many): it’s not easy to lose weight. If you’re really dedicated, you could shoot for 2 pounds of lost weight per week— but most people don’t have the time or energy to push themselves that hard. It may be easier to set a monthly goal, for example: 5 pounds a month— which theoretically means one could shoot for 60 pounds lost in a year.
On the flip side, although losing weight is hard, gaining muscle is harder. It’s not common to gain more than 5 pounds of lean muscle per year. (Although many misguided weight-lifting souls may claim they can gain 5 pounds of muscle in a day/week/month, they are most likely gaining fat through a similarly misguided diet). While people with weight loss goals can sometimes have dramatic physical changes over the course of time, exercising for muscle gain requires more dedication, more time, and a little blind faith for results that are typically less dramatic over a comparable span of time.
4) Manage your goal
During the course of working toward your goal, you may find that you need a little flexibility, which is okay. Using markers, escalating goals, or adjusting your goals in the middle of your efforts, might aid you in achieving your fitness goals.
Markers, which may otherwise be thought of as “mini-goals”, help you to take things a step at a time without getting overwhelmed. Set a few of these throughout the year to help yourself stay on track. For example, if you want to lose 30 pounds this year, set a mid-year marker to lose 15 pounds.
Depending on your current level of fitness, it may be advantageous to have an escalating goal. This means starting out easy and working your way up to an ideal. For example, this might entail walking for 10 minutes a day, 5 times a week to start, and working your way up to 20 minutes a day, five times a week after three months. Another example could be jogging a mile at a slow pace, 3 days a week and working up to running a mile at a faster pace 5 days a week after 6 months. Although I recommend 30 minutes of exercise at least 6 days a week, people who are starting out may need to work up to that— and that’s okay!
If you find that you’re getting burnt out by, or are not staying on track for meeting the goal that you’ve set for yourself, don’t be afraid to make adjustments. Goal adjustments don’t make your attempts a failure; it’s better to step back, reassess and make changes than it is to keep going until you quit altogether. Remember, the idea is to make it manageable so that you stick with it. Conversely, if you find that you are progressing toward your goal quickly, you may need to reevaluate your goal and aim a bit higher.
5) Make fitness a part of your lifestyle
If you’re serious about your fitness goals, you need to dedicate time and energy to meeting them. It seems ridiculous to say so, but health is often times not a priority in peoples’ lives. Shouldn’t it be? As it’s commonly expressed: what do you have if you don’t have your health?
Once you set your goal, commit to sticking to it. Your attitude should be, “Missing my exercise time is not an option.” This means that you do not schedule anything else during that time. Don’t stay up late then sleep in and miss your exercise time; don’t schedule a dinner during your exercise time. Plan your morning or evening around it. Commitment doesn’t mean “whenever it’s convenient”, it means EVERY DAY.
Also, don’t let anyone make you feel bad about dedicating a part of your day to your health; you’re not a freak or fanatic for doing so. You schedule times to eat every day, right? And time to work, and time to sleep? Fitness should be as important to everyone’s day as are those other things; anyone who says otherwise is either lacking or slacking. People who think of fitness as something extra as opposed to something necessary are people who will fail to meet and maintain their fitness goals and will, consequently, remain unhealthy and likely unhappy.
Nothing will motivate you more than measuring your progress. More importantly, if you never measure your progress, how will you know when you reach your goals? As part of your fitness goal, commit to assessing your progress by weighing yourself at least once a week (though I recommend doing it daily) at the same time of day each time, and to measuring your body fat percent at least once a month. (If you’re looking for an easy way to kill two birds with one stone, invest in a weight scale with a built-in body fat tester). Most importantly, be sure to log each measurement every time you take it. This is manageable if you have a smart phone (there’s an app for that!), but even if you don’t, it’s not difficult to keep a pad of paper and a pencil near your scale.
7) Write it
To get you started, try fitting your fitness goal into this statement below.
“I want to lose/gain (number) pounds this year by (type/place of exercise) (number) times a week, (days of the week) at (time).”
“I want to lose 25 pounds this year by jogging around my neighborhood 5 times a week, Monday through Friday after work.”
Now memorize it and say it to yourself all day! Print it and put in on your mirror, in your kitchen or by your TV remote. Share your goal with others and hold yourself accountable. Most of all, don’t dread the road to achieving it; enjoy the effort, the benefits and the great feeling you’ll get when you meet your target!
And remember, once you achieve your fitness goal, the journey doesn’t end there; this just means it’s time to set new goals!
Melissa is a NASM Certified Personal Trainer and the owner of Rocksteady Fitness in Oxnard, California. For regular diet and fitness tips and articles, follow her on tumblr, and “Like” her page on Facebook: Rocksteady Fitness.