So, you set a goal; but do you have a plan?
When I ask a client about their fitness goals, 99% of the time I hear one of the following answers: “I want a flat tummy”, or “I want to get toned”, or “I just want to be healthy”. These are all valid goals and they’re all good starting points, but they’re not enough to define what it is you want out of your fitness program.
Often, after a person sets a goal they start working out, doing a little bit of one thing and a bit of something else in the hope of eventually getting a flat tummy or hitting their target weight. That is kind of like deciding you want to get from Boston to New York and then driving in the general direction hoping you will eventually get there.
In a conversation I recently had with a client about goal setting I tried to get her to be more specific about what it is she wants. Getting a bit frustrated with the multitude of questions coming her way she finally said, “I don’t know how to answer that, I don’t speak fluent fitness”. And of course, she was right. It’s your trainer’s job to help you clearly define your goal and then translate that goal into actionable items by building the best roadmap to get you there. But it is crucial that you understand and clearly define the goal so that the process makes sense to you and you understand why your program is designed the way it is. For those who choose to go it alone, honing your goal and understanding what type of workout you should be doing will help you build your own roadmap to success.
Using the SMART acronym along with my own secret sauce, is a good way to start:
Specific: “I want to lose weight” is an unspecific goal. “I need to lose 20 lbs. to return to my pre-pregnancy weight” is a specific goal. “I want to get stronger” is an unspecific goal. Knowing how much weight you’d like to lift is a specific goal. Often, the most impactful goals are “real life” ones. I recently worked with a client (lets call her Judy) who needs to be able to lift a piece of equipment in and out of her car on a daily basis. To do that she knows that she has to comfortably deadlift and squat 70 lbs. That is a specific goal and one we can work towards.
Another example is a client who needs to carry her groceries from her driveway to her kitchen and wants to be able to do it in one trip. That’s approximately 30lbs. in each hand for a distance of 50 yards. With that goal in mind we can build a program that will give her the strength and endurance to carry out this task.
Measurable: Can you measure the end goal and the progress along the way? Can you measure if you are getting stronger? In Judy’s example, as we strength train, we can measure how close we are getting to her goal by her monthly improvement in her deadlifts and squats. After a few months she can now deadlift 70lbs, but we might only be half way there with the squat. By measuring that we know where we need to put in more effort.
If you’ve heard me talk about this before you know I am a big believer in focusing on what your body can do rather than what it looks like. “I want a flat tummy”, in my opinion, is not a great example of a specific or measurable goal. It is entirely subjective, especially since our perception of our own appearance is so often a bit distorted. However, if flatter is what you are going for – make a plan to measure it. Take “before” pictures and then progress pictures along the way.
Attainable: A male client once came for a consultation with a picture of a bodybuilder and told me he wants to look like that in 6 months. While I never like to tell a person their goal is not realistic since I believe you can do almost anything you set your mind to, it’s important to remember that, like Rome, Schwarzenegger wasn’t built in a day. Or 6 months for that matter. Make sure your goal is both safe and attainable. Give yourself enough time to enjoy the process and move forward safely. No crash diets or binge workouts ever yielded strength that sticks or results that last.
Relevant: This is probably the most important part and where so many people go wrong. Many famous coaches have been known to say: “Keep the goal – the goal” meaning – don’t get sidetracked by other workouts or exercises that won’t move you closer to your goal. If your goal is to lose weight think twice about whether a yoga class is the best way to help you get there. Your time is probably limited so it’s important to keep your activities relevant to your goal until you achieve it. I am currently training for a certification that involves a number of strength based tests. That means that as long as I am training for that, all other workouts are irrelevant to my training. 5K’s, Tough Mudders and bootcamp will have to wait even though I love doing them.
Time Bound: My favorite! Give yourself a deadline. Most of us work best when we have one. Sign up for a race, start a 90-day program, join a bootcamp that is a 6 week session, prepare yourself for your cousin’s wedding or your 20 year reunion. If you want to lose 10 lbs. set yourself a date: “I will lose 10lb by September 5”. If you want to run a 5K road race, make sure to give yourself enough time to train (remember – attainable goals!) but sign up for it so you have a deadline, or rather, a finish line.
This is where I add in my own secret sauce to crushing a goal: Find something that scares you and excites you at the same time. If I’m excited about the thought of achieving something and terrified enough, I know that will drive me to train well for it. If I’m registered for a race, paid the non-refundable fee and told all my friends I’m going to do it, I will get up off that couch and get my training in because I don’t want to be unprepared on race day. When the thought of achieving something gives me a simultaneous small panic attack and rush of excitement then I know I found a goal I should work towards and will train for.
Once you set your SMART, scary and exciting goal, find the path that will lead you there. Consult with a trainer or read some online resources to figure out what type of training you should do, and in some cases, what to avoid. Some forms of training complement one another while others can be detrimental to the goal you are working towards. I often tell my clients “something is better than nothing” but if you are putting in the work, it might as well be the right kind of work. Crush those goals and then go set some new ones!