If you aim to stay in shape, regularly following your current exercise program may suffice. But if you want to see changes in your body or overall fitness, setting realistic fitness goals can make a big difference.
What is realistic for you depends on your starting point. If you’re already active, you can push yourself harder by aiming to swim, run — or whatever you like to do — farther and faster. If you’re starting from a sedentary lifestyle, you’ll need to go more slowly. The key is to be sensible and not aim so high that you wind up on the couch with snack foods and a defeated attitude.
First, figure out what you’re trying to accomplish. Maybe you want to run your first 5K, or perhaps you’re a seasoned runner who wants to set a new personal best on a half marathon. Losing weight and gaining muscle are classic fitness goals.
Or maybe you just want to climb a flight of stairs without huffing and puffing. Older people might want to work on balance to decrease their risk of falling.
Avoid goals that are too vague. Without a definite fitness goal, you might get confused about whether you’re making any progress. This can lead to discouragement and abandoning the exercise program.
Breaking your goal into smaller goals can help you adhere to the program. For example, say you’re a walker who wants to start running. You’d like to be able to jog 2 miles nonstop by May. In February, work on alternating walking with jogging every 1/4 mile for the 2-mile total.
In March, pump it up to alternating 1/2 miles of walking and running, and in April, walk a mile and then jog a mile.
Many people are motivated by having a workout partner or a personal trainer. If you’re a sociable exerciser, invite a friend for a bike ride or attend a group exercise class. Make your workouts enjoyable by listening to music or podcasts.
Setting measurable and realistic fitness goals can help you avoid becoming a gym dropout.