Goals are how you navigate the route to success in your athletic pursuits. Without goals, you are likely to forget why you are getting up at 6 AM for a 10 mile run, and begin to lose motivation. When you set goals, you connect your thoughts with action to create motivation. As you set your goals, take time to look at the long-term picture before breaking this picture into short-term goals that will help get you there.
Determine Your Baseline
You can’t know where to go if you don’t first understand where you are coming from. If you are just beginning on your athletic journey (if you’re working toward your first half or full marathon, for example), I recommend getting a medical checkup, just to make sure you’ve got your complete wellness picture considered. It can also be helpful to get an accurate baseline of your physical fitness level.
If you would like to see improvements in cardiovascular strength, first determine your resting heart rate. As soon as you wake up, before you even get out of bed, put your finger to your wrist until you can feel a pulse. Looking at a clock and counting for 60 seconds, count the number of heart beats. This is your RHR. As your cardiovascular fitness increases you will notice that this number decreases because your heart gets better at pumping blood throughout your arteries.
If you would like to see changes in body composition, look beyond just the number on your scale to your percentage of fat, muscle, bone and water in your body. DEXA, and bioelectrical impedance tests can show you this information clearly. They can be performed in most gyms by a certified personal trainer. Record your baseline so you can more accurately assess your progress.
In it for the Long Run
Take a step back and think about what overall objectives you want to achieve through fitness. Consider:
- What do I hope to gain from regular exercise?
- Why am I interested in this?
- What types of physical activities interest me?
- Do I need to take a class to hone my style?
- What is my main motivator? Is it weight loss? Improved energy levels? Reduced disease risk? To compete as an elite athlete?
If you are already at a comfortable fitness level consider which F.I.T. principle you would like to focus on: Frequency, Intensity or Time.
- Frequency If you want to ramp up your frequency of training—whether it’s to train 5 days instead of 4, or compete 2 weekends in a row instead of separating races out by a month—you’ll want to hone in on recovery nutrition to reduce cortisol levels and improve sleep.
- Intensity If your long-term goal is to improve intensity—to lift heavier weights or compete in sprints—consider how you are fueling your body before exercise. You can’t drive your car with no gas in the tank, so make sure you are giving your body energy to push your workout to the next level.
- Time If you would like to be able to push harder for longer and increase the time of your activity, you’ll have to fuel your body DURING exercise.
Set Goals You Control
There are many ways to set goals—some good, others less so. Being able to achieve your goals is probably the single biggest factor in maintaining willpower, especially in the face of a larger, long-term goal that has a lot of hard work between where you are now and where you want to be. What makes the difference between a constructive goal, and one that has the potential to disappoint?
Ultimately, it all comes down to your ability to control the outcome of your goal. If your ability to achieve your goal depends on factors that you have no influence over, you’re setting yourself up for failure. It’s more important for your goals to be realistic than for them to be impressive. Because if you can conquer a series of small, progressive goals, you’re likely already on your way to meeting your big-picture vision—and you’ll feel better about the journey, too.
Be S.M.A.R.T., Be Present, Be Successful
Of course, you can set goals without a prescribed structure and have success. But sometimes a little structure can help you break old habits, or guide you through a process until you can make it your own. S.M.A.R.T. is probably the most common structure for goal-setting—even though it’s used often in business or school settings, it can be just as useful anywhere you choose to apply it.
While long term goals set the foundation for your performance, short-term goals break down specifically how you are going to obtain them. S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym often used to describe the different attributes a short-term goal should contain to guarantee you to succeed. Here’s what they represent:
- Specific A common mistake people make is to set goals that are too vague. If your goal is to lose weight, specify how much — and by when.
- Measurable Measuring both your successes and difficulties will also help you evaluate whether your current plan is the best way to achieve your fitness goals. Tip: a measurement isn’t limited to a distance you can run, or a time you run it in—the number of times you do something, or a small landmark you can compare improvement against counts, too.
- Achievable Another common goal-setting mistake is setting expectations for ourselves that are too high, or simply out of reach. By creating achievable goals early, you will stay motivated and greatly increase your chances of success. Again, this goes back to your ability to control the outcome of your goal.
- Realistic There’s no need to set unrealistic goals such as “I will work out every day this month.” These can often set you up for failure and create a loss of motivation. Choose something that works realistically with your current circumstances and you’re more likely to meet your objective (and stay motivated along the way).
- Timed Goals with no pre-determined finish date are doomed before they begin. Setting a fixed timetable—like a race, or another deadline you’re accountable to—will create a sense of urgency that can provide extra motivation to achieve your fitness goals.
Now It’s Your Turn!
Following these S.M.A.R.T. and F.I.T. guidelines will set you up for success and give you the tools you need to achieve your goals. Remember to be patient. Slow but steady achievements will provide you with the motivation you need to achieve your overall fitness goals.