How To Set Fitness Goals

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.

6) Assess

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).”

For example:

“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.

How to Use a Tape Measure to Track Fitness

A couple weeks ago, I posted the this:
“…a weight scale will NOT give you a complete picture of your health, fitness or progress, so don’t put so much credence in it.  You can’t judge your progress from just one measurement.”
So aside from the weight scale, what other stats are essential for tracking and measuring your progress and level of fitness?
Circumference Measurement

The easiest measurements to track and understand are circumference measurements with a tape measure.  Understanding the measurements is easy:  if you’re losing inches, you’re likely losing weight; if you’re gaining inches, you’re likely gaining weight.  (Note:  this assumption of weight gain or weight loss doesn’t indicate whether you’re gaining/losing fat vs. muscle.  More on how to distinguish that in future posts).  

Circumference measurements should be done once a month and recorded.  These are the most fun measurements because when you find that inches have been lost or gained, progress becomes very concrete.  This is the best way to tell if your body is really changing from the outside, and by how much.

Circumference measurements are relatively easy to do on your own if you have the right kind of instrument— and fitness tape measures are CHEAP!  Although a sewing tape measure will work, it’s kind of a pain to use if you’re measuring on your own.  I recommend using one with a locking mechanism.

Here are the essential points to measure on your body (from top to bottom):

-Neck (right in the middle)
-Chest (across the nipple line)
-Bicep (across the thickest point)
-Forearm (below the elbow at the thickest point)
-Waist (at the thinnest point, or across the belly button)
-Hips (across the middle of the butt)
-Thigh (4 inches above the knee cap)
-Calf (across the thickest point)

A few tips for measuring:

-For the most accurate measurements, measure in the nude.  Clothes add more bulk.

-Don’t round up or down.  Keep it as accurate as possible.

-Always record your measurements so that you can see your progress and not have to try to remember your last few measurements.

-It’ not necessary to measure both sides of your body (ie both arms and legs), but it’s no big deal if you’d like to.  Most trainers I know (including myself) only measure their clients’ right sides as there is not usually a significant difference.  Once you chose a side, ALWAYS measure that side.  Don’t alternate.

-Measure with your muscles at rest, not flexing.  Arms should be at your sides, and legs should be done standing.  This can make calves difficult to measure accurately on your own, so either try your best, or have someone help you with that one.

-No, you can’t suck in or hold your arms up when you measure your waist.  No cheating!  The point is to get accurate measurements.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask.  And please share with your friends!

Next week’s blog:  Body Fat Measurement.

Melissa is a Certified Personal Trainer at 24 Hour Fitness in Oxnard, California.  For regular diet and fitness tips and articles, follow her on tumblr, and “Like” her page on Facebook:

What’s the secret?

What’s the secret to looking good and feeling good?  The truth is that it’s no secret at all.  In fact, I’m sure you, like everyone else, know it.  It’s not a pill, and it’s not a shake.  It’s not a machine, and it’s not a medical procedure.  The “secret” is:

Regular exercise and healthy eating.

It’s so simple when it’s put into words;  but in our real lives, IT’S SO HARD!!!  Why?  WHY!!!?

The reason it’s so difficult to follow such a simple creed is that it seems nearly everything in our daily lives comes between our intentions and our practices.  Crazy schedules.  Old habits.  Unawareness and Misinformation. Children; parents.  Deadlines; homework.  Cheap unhealthy foods, expensive gym memberships.  Yes, the cards are stacked against us.  Or so it seems…

In the famous words of The Crystal Method (or Rev. Jesse Jackson… whoever you prefer of the two):  Let us not forget, there is hope!

You have two weapons with which to fight back!

The first, Motivation, is ultimately up to you.

The second, Knowledge, is up to me to impart to you.

As much as one might think that fitness and health are all about brute strength, barbells and dumbbells and sweat and soreness… it’s also about brains!  If you don’t know how to get where you’re going, how do you expect to get there? 

Sure, you can just get on a treadmill and run, and run and run— until you’ve melted off your weight.  Or you can do 1000 squats a day until your butt is all shiny and new.  If you think it’s that easy, why haven’t you done it already? Probably because you don’t want to torture yourself.  But it’s also because you know that you have a lot of questions about getting fit and healthy that a treadmill can’t answer for you. 

Well as your trainer, allow me to impart a first bit of knowledge to you:  Fitness does not have to be torture.  Neither does healthy eating, for that matter.  Yes, it’s a change, but a change for the better, AND YOU KNOW IT!  Now all you have to do is want it.

So when life has you up against a wall and you’re overwhelmed with things that threaten to come between you and your health, remember the simplicity of “the secret” of looking and feeling good and try to regain your clarity (or sanity… whichever seems most essential).

As always, feel free to ask me questions any time!