Fitness Articles

Are Your Fitness Goals Realistic?

Forget Failure. Set Yourself Up for Success!

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In life, we're told to dream big. Reach for the stars. Go for the gold. While I think everyone would agree that having big aspirations is admirable not to mention inspiring, you should take a more calculated approach when setting fitness goals. It may seem counterintuitive to start small, but remember that you want to set yourself up for success not burnout or injury.

Think about it. How many times have you or someone you know set a huge goal to lose 50 or more pounds, or exercise for an hour six days a week, only to fall off the wagon a few weeks (or days) later? The truth is that even when people have the best of intentions and the willpower to set out and do something grand, without a plan and a smart goal, they stumble—and are more likely to fail.

When you first set a goal, you're full of energy and completely motivated, but over time those feelings can wane and your overzealousness can push you to do too much too soon. The fix is to define a progressive set of fitness goals that build on one another to help propel you toward that big dream or aspiration. Breaking a big goal into smaller, realistic goals can help you both mentally and physically. This method can also help you improve your fitness level gradually and safely, which helps to build confidence.

The first step to setting realistic goals is to really think about your goal and write it down.

Then, ask yourself these three questions: smaller goalwithin your reach
    1. How big is the goal? Is your goal only attainable in three months or more? If so, make a or goals to get you to that long-term goal. Ideally, you should be able to reach the smaller goal in two to six weeks.

    2. What does it take to achieve the goal? This question addresses your goal's frequency. If reaching your goal requires five workouts a week, but you can only get a babysitter two days a week, then you need to scale back your goal. Be realistic about what time you have to devote to the goal and be honest about your fitness level. Building your fitness base takes time, and being smart about increasing it will help you stay injury-free. As a general rule, never increase your weight lifted or your minutes exercised by more than 10 percent in any given week. Slow and steady really does win the race!

    3. Can you see yourself reaching the goal? You want a program that you can stick with for the long haul—not just this week. Be completely honest with yourself and ask if you can realistically see yourself doing what it takes to achieve the goal at hand. If you can and it meets the above criteria, then you probably have a goal !
Take a look at these common situations (and fixes) that I've encountered as a personal trainer:
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About The Author

Jennipher Walters Jennipher Walters
Jenn is the CEO and co-founder of the healthy living websites FitBottomeGirls.com, FitBottomedMamas.com and FitBottomedEats.com. A certified personal trainer, health coach and group exercise instructor, she also holds an MA in health journalism and is the author of The Fit Bottomed Girls Anti-Diet book (Random House, 2014).

See all of Jenn's articles.

Member Comments

  • I'm pretty sedentary and I went every day to the Y for three month—but then I didn't go for over a month, lol! - 6/21/2014 11:54:24 PM
  • Great article. Because those little steps you take means alot. It goes a long way. - 12/23/2013 10:34:48 AM
  • Thanks for a good article. - 12/20/2013 6:00:05 AM
  • I really appreciated this article and it is helping me to be more realistic in my goals. Besides setting smaller measurable goals is more doable anyway. Success upon success will help build my confidence. Thanks so much Spark People!
    Sheila - 5/21/2013 9:14:26 PM
  • At age 77, my goal is to stay healthy and mobile. I aim for 60 to 120 minutes about 6 days of the week and I do water aerobics, walk, and ride the recumbent bike with a little strength training thrown in. Highly recommend the water aerobics for seniors! - 1/12/2013 10:00:08 PM
  • My problem isn't the setting and obtaining of realistic goals, but the continuation of it (I'm a self sabatogger)

    Also, where can I find that cool looking journal?? - 1/12/2013 4:46:57 PM
  • This is a great article that makes perfect sense. It names unrealistic goals (that I have indeed done) and suggests more realistic goals to replace them (that I will now do instead). I also see from the dates on the comments that this article has been around for over a year, but here it is January 2012 and I'm seeing it for the first time at just the right time for me. The suggestions in this article are not new news to me, but for some unfathomable reason I now get it. My brain is an amazing yet sometimes frustrating thing to me! Thanks SP for sending this article out through the cloud to my Inbox! - 1/12/2013 9:45:31 AM
  • I have just set some goals for my self and found this article very helpful becouse usualy when i set goals its like loose 40 pounds instead of loose 2 pounds a week and i end up stressing my self out and quiting the diet when i dont see instant results. I am starting to realize if i want it it will be one small goal at a time. - 12/30/2012 8:54:56 PM
  • As an individual who has difficulty setting fitness goals, this is helpful - reminders about small goals is good.
    as a small irony- one of the ads next to this article on my computer was for "Sensa" which purports to help you lose weight without work! Look, Ma, no goals needed! (at least the goal they noted is probably attainable with healthy eating and exercise ie. 50# in 6 months -albeit you'd have to work for it ) - 10/1/2012 10:59:36 AM
  • I like this article especially about saying "I'll go to the gym everyday" being unrealistic. I never thought of it in those terms even though I DON'T go to the gym every day. - 9/27/2012 8:25:39 PM
  • STILLASAMORY17
    The 10 minute suggestion was under the area for a sedentary person who said they were going to make a goal of going to the gym everyday. 10mins a day for a person who has been sitting on their rump for the past 10 yrs is very much a work out. Especially if they are of a way larger size. This coming from someone who was 502 pounds and just walking the short distance to the pot and wiping was the exercise of the day and made you tired enough to go take a nap. Now at 360, 10 mins is more than a doable task. - 9/17/2012 12:39:20 AM
  • Real do-able goals are what I need to achieve in my life. Thanks - 9/15/2012 4:23:48 PM
  • Thats how I was able to lose weight and build up my insurance, starting out with a reasonable exercise, amount of time and building on it. I challenged myself.
    If you do start out with 10 minutes, you have to be prepared to add more minutes as soon as you feel you can, 10 minutes a day is not enough to get a cardio workout. You also have to warm up and cool down. So take all in to consideration. - 9/12/2012 9:29:43 AM
  • Very sane advice. My answer to the title question is noooo... need to think smarter; have been getting injuries. - 9/11/2012 1:31:19 PM
  • IAMTOLOSE
    The article points out some key reasons for lack of success and how to avoid them. Thanks for a timely (at least for me) reminder that little steps lead to big success. - 9/11/2012 9:06:40 AM
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