Learn how to create practical fitness goals that will last all year.
It’s that time of year for goal setting! Maybe you’re planning on huge goals for you New Year’s resolutions or maybe not. Perhaps you’re overwhelmed and don’t even know where to start with fitness so you keep delaying starting something. There are so many voices telling you which fitness routine is best or which workout program to join that it can be difficult to know which is actually the better option. I’ll share today how I approach setting fitness goals that last.
How To Set Practical Fitness Goals
When creating goals and habits, focus on ones that are sustainable. Sustainability is what creates a long-term healthy lifestyle, instead of a short term fad you quit in a few weeks. And the best way to create healthy habits around your physical fitness is by setting practical goals. Practical goals will be both attainable and sustainable. You want something you can achieve with a little work and planning, that won’t overwhelm you or set you up for failure. This is something I had to focus on after having my son. It wasn’t practical or sustainable to jump back into a run-five-days-a-week routine right then.
So, for example, if you’ve never run, don’t set a goal to run a marathon in two months. If you don’t have experience lifting weights, don’t try to deadlift 100# on your first gym session. Those aren’t bad goals but they aren’t necessarily practical. And if life is extra crazy right now with work/parenting/schooling, maybe it’s not the right time to set a 30-day-streak where you never skip a workout. You need to set a goal that’s sustainable.
I’m not against big, lofty goals. I love them myself! But I set smaller, short-term goals that build to help me achieve the bigger, long term goals. And those short-term goals are what I’m focusing on today.
Fitness Goals For Beginners
Remember that fitness goals encompass more than just doing a set amount of miles, minutes, or classes. There are many other things that contribute to fitness. Below are some practical fitness goals for those just starting out.
Move every single day
I make a goal to go on a walk every day, no matter how short. Sometimes that means a 10 minute stroll down my block and back. A little bit of movement and a little bit of fresh air does wonders for me. On days that I’m running, if I really don’t feel like it, one of my tips to get motivated to run is to just run for five minutes.
So if you don’t feel like walking or doing your workout, start with five minutes and see how you feel. You may want to go longer. If not, you got five minutes in. A great way to hold yourself accountable to moving everyday is through tracking your progress by counting your daily steps. Your iPhone counts your steps all day through the Health app, and you may also want to use an affordable fitness tracker.
You’ll start getting an idea of how much you’re moving from day to day, and you may notice that you could easily add a quick 15 minute walk to the end of your work day, which is a great realistic goal.
Lots of people want to enjoy running for the freedom it gives their mind, body, and lifestyle, but they get discouraged if they take walk breaks. Or, it doesn’t feel good, their knees hurt, it’s hard to breath, etc. If that’s you, be patient. Building up to running takes time and walking is okay! If you want to improve your running (or don’t even know where to start), join my online running course, The Rookie Runner Program.
Or, there are lots of free running apps to guide you. A plan is one of the five things all runners need from time to time.
Drink more water
Upping your H2O intake is a very practical and attainable goal! The more you up your fitness game, the more important hydration becomes. I start my morning routine with a big glass of cold water, even before my coffee. Then, I keep water by me all day long, If you struggle with plain water, try adding lemon or LMNT.
Warm up for your workouts and commit to stretching afterwards
Warm-ups are necessary, especially as you age. I didn’t really need a warm-up before my workouts, but in my last 30s, they’re necessary to make my workouts more enjoyable and to avoid injuries. These are the dynamic stretches I do before a run.
Stretching after a workout also helps with injury prevention, especially if you’re running doing high intensity interval training or strength training. A practical and sustainable goal I set for myself is to stretch for five minutes after every workout and to foam roll two times a week.
If you won’t stretch on your own, maybe a practical goal for you is to do a 30 minute yoga class each week. If that feels like too much, commit to a 10 minute stretching class from the Peloton app! When it comes to stretching, something is better than nothing.
Eat a pre-workout snack
Fasted workouts aren’t my style. Instead, I prefer to fuel my runs, rides and strength workouts so I feel my best rather than lethargic. Most people will feel better with a little something before working out. I have a few go-to pre-workout snacks and I vary what I eat depending on my mood and my workout duration and intensity. Try a few and see what works best for you.
Eat more greens
I don’t diet but prefer to follow the 80-20 approach where 80% of my diet is healthy and 20% leaves room for whatever I want, like candy, wine and cookies. For most people, food restriction creates more problems than it helps. When people ask me how to eat better or what to remove from their diet, I tell them to focus on adding good things to their diet rather than cutting things out. (Bonus: When you eat better, you’ll feel more energized to workout. And when you workout, you’ll feel more motivated to eat well. It’s a happy circle.)
A simple way to “add a good thing” is to eat greens every single day. Usually that’s in the form of a salad at lunch, like this kale salad. In the warmer months, I get my greens in a smoothie, usually this mint smoothie or though Daily Harvest. I also usually have a green side dish with dinner, like roasted broccoli or brussels sprouts. If eating greens every day feels like too much, try to eat greens three times a week. Veggies are one of the things I stock up on at Trader Joe’s and here are some tips for eating healthy when you don’t feel like it.
Add strength training
This doesn’t need to be anything crazy. Gone are my Crossfit days. Now I do pilates, the megaformer or at-home Peloton strength classes. I set a goal a few weeks ago to pick a 10 minute Peloton arms toning class and keep doing that same one 3x a week until I was able to do the whole thing without a break. It took me a few weeks but I finally did it. That was obvious proof that I increased strength with just 10 minutes and 3 lb weights! (Note: the peloton app can be used by anyone, even if you don’t have the bike. Or, find any strength training program – there are lots of workout apps out there!)
Get more sleep
This is something I bet we’d all like to do but don’t prioritize. Before becoming a mom, getting more sleep was feasible most of the time…if I prioritized it. In addition to simply going to bed earlier by turning off social media and the TV, I could sleep in just a little bit by prepping for my mornings the night before. That includes laying out my workout clothes for the next morning, setting my coffee maker on a timer (or setting out my nespresso pod), and prepping breakfast (e.g. overnight no-sugar chia seed pudding or making a pan of baked oatmeal for the week).
Set yourself up for success by doing a little more work on the front end, so that you can get more sleep at night.
Fitness Goals For Non-beginners
Okay, if you’ve been on the fitness train for a while, let’s outline some some practical goals to help you step it up!
Build Muscle Strength and Lift Heavier Weights
Strength training is important for all athletes, but often overlooked in favor of another of your favorite workout. I’m guilty of this – I’d much rather run than do my PT exercises or a strength workout. But, I know to be a better runner that I can’t neglect strength training.
Not sure where to start? Get some simple at-home fitness equipment and download a workout app and you’re on your way. I try to do three strength workouts a week, whether that’s Pilates, a Peloton strength class or bodyweight exercises.
If you’ve always done low weight/high rep strength training, hit the gym (or use your home gym!) one day a week to lift heavier for fewer reps. You’ll develop a different kind of strength that will help improve your workouts. Don’t worry about bulking up, lifting actually helps you lose weight! You’d have to lift a LOT of weight for a long time and take a LOT of protein powder and supplements for your muscle to change that much. (Yes, my body changed after a year of CrossFit. But I didn’t look like a different person!)
Hold a plank for x amount of time
Increasing core strength will benefit your workouts and your posture. Start by doing 1 plank a day for 30 seconds, and every 7 days, add 15 seconds. By the end of the month, you will be SO much stronger. Planks are great because you can do it ANYWHERE and you can vary them to make them harder over time by lifting one leg and/or one arm, doing a side plank and even doing reverse planks.
If you hate most forms of core work, try pilates! It’s the best ab workout I’ve ever done, but it’s not traditional sit-ups or planks.
Run faster or further
If you’ve been running consistently, it may be time to add in a little speed work and work on running faster. Changing up your running routine will help you see more changes and improvements rather than doing the exact same loop at the exact same pace year after year. Your body adapts to things quickly so if you’re not seeing the same results you used to with running, try mixing it up!
Or maybe you want to work on running further rather than faster. Set a goal to run a race that’s further than your previous. If you’ve done a 5K, go for a 10K. If you’ve done a 10K, maybe eye a half marathon. And if you’ve done a few half marathons, set your sights on a marathon. There is no best distance except the one that you get excited about! I’ve run over 50 races and seeing progress across the variety of distances kept me motivated.
Some people love doing a variety of workouts and never feel like they have enough time to do them all, e.g. run, strength train, yoga, pilates, everything. Others tend to prefer one workout and have to work hard to incorporate cross-training. Cross-training will make you a better athlete, help prevent injury and keep things interested. The “best” kind of cross-training will vary by person, but the moral of the story is to incorporate something different from your usual routine.
Cross training is especially important if you’re recovering from an injury. Depending on medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, you’ll want to talk to a doctor about the best options for cross training.
This past year, I started taking Pilates classes and couldn’t believe how much I loved them after being a runner for so long. I thought that it was going to be too easy and wow, was I wrong. That just goes to show you that there’s always new muscles to train.
Recover from your workouts and take rest days
If you’re constantly pushing yourself without proper recovery, you’re likely limiting your progress. Recovery doesn’t have to be a big ordeal – small things like a proper post-run meal, stretching, and taking easy days — will add up to improve your health and fitness. To make any improvements in your fitness journey, you have to learn to recover properly.
How to Set Realistic Fitness Goals
Focus on one goal at a time
Don’t try to do too much at once! If you try to train for a half marathon as a new runner and develop a three-times-a-week yoga routine as a newbie yogi, you’ll likely feel overwhelmed. If you try to run faster and further at the same time, you’ll end up injured and recovering from an injury can be frustrating when it forces time off.
Instead, set one primary goal to work towards. When I was trying to leave Corporate America to work for myself and train for the Boston Marathon at the same time, I worked 80+ hours a week ended up with anxiety and panic attacks. Not to say you’ll run into something as severe as that, but I learned my lesson to not have two huge goals at the same time.
Know what’s driving your goal
If you have weight loss goals for your wedding or have a race on the calendar, that specific date is really helpful. But if you don’t have a tangible date to aim for, decide what’s driving your goal’s “due date.” Are you sick of feeling sluggish during the work week? Maybe you’ve stopped being active since having kids and want your me-time back. Or perhaps your doctor told you that you need to reduce your body fat so you’re taking up running for fat burning.
Knowing your WHY will help you follow through on your goals when it gets really difficult. My WHY helps me wake up early to run.
Remember how it feels when you DO meet your goal
When I feel like I need to work rather than take time for myself, I remind myself that I rarely regret a run. Or, if I’m tired from being up all night with our son, I remind myself that I feel SO GOOD once I finally get outside even for a 10 minute walk in the cold.
Be flexible with your definition of success
There will be be days where you feel like you fall short. Life gets in the way. Injuries pop up. We just have off days where self care isn’t in the form of exercise. And that’s okay. What’s important is to be flexible and adapt to find new wins to celebrate along the way. Try to think of defining success as a feeling, not a number.
For example, instead of making your definition of success losing 50 pounds, make a goal to feel like you’re at a healthy body weight. I especially learned the importance of being flexible with defining success while I was running while pregnant with Thomas. Running while pregnant was an ever-evolving experience. Some days I felt amazing, and the next day I hated my run or skipped it all together. I had to learn to be okay with defining success “Hey, I got out here today!” rather than my usual standard goal of running 30-40 miles a week.
Have a support system in place
Accountability is one of the keys to setting habits that stick. Make sure someone knows your goals and celebrates you as you work towards them. I’ll never forget how excited and proud my running coach was when I PRed at the 2019 Boston Marathon. My husband is also one of those people in my life who will celebrate every little win, and also tell me when I need to slow down and rest. When you have people setting you up for success, it makes your fitness goals much more attainable.
Don’t feel like you have to achieve your goals without guidance. Bring in an expert! If you want to build strength but you’re overwhelmed by weight training, hire a certified personal trainer. Or maybe you need more guidance to take your running to the next level. Hire a running coach or take my running course and join a Facebook group with like minded people for moral support.
What fitness goals are you working on this year?
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