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: 
    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

  • too bad there is no example about food. - 1/15/2016 10:21:22 AM
  • I am going to rejoin a gym that I used to use and love. - 1/14/2016 2:56:13 PM
  • The suggestion to "never increase your weight lifted...by more than 10 percent in any given week" is unreasonable for those of us who are lifting any weights less than 50 pounds, or for those machines that only go up in 10 pound increments when we lift under 100 pounds. - 1/9/2016 10:01:18 AM
  • NANCY_SH
    I have been exercising consistently 5 to 6 days a week for 13 months. I started with two goals: Goal #1: Move More. According to the article this isn't specific enough--the goal doesn't say how much to move or in what ways to move. However, it worked for me because I began to think about how to incorporate more movement in my daily routines. I parked farther away from my destinations, took the stairs instead of the elevator for 1, 2, or 3 flights, did squats while waiting for the microwave to heat my lunch. Goal #2: Make Appointment with Wellness Coach This Week. Fortunately, my health provider offers this benefit. I knew I had to set a time for this or I would put it off. The coach helped me define why I wanted to exercise more, which were lifestyle goals, especially to have more energy to keep up with grandkids and to develop new interests. She helped me set some early goals week by week that I was certain I could achieve. And she helped me focus on accomplishments (how I was feeling, for instance.) My first goal was to take two 20 minute walks in the week. Now I've worked up to a goal of at least 180 minutes of moderate to high intensity (though mostly low-impact) exercise per week, which I regularly exceed. I also mix up exercise activities to keep it interesting and challenging. I've added golf, water aerobics, and yoga into the mix, along with a variety videos for strength training and cardio workouts. BTW: I'm feeling pretty great. - 12/24/2015 10:54:24 AM
  • Realistic goals is what got me where I am today. I began with 10 fitness minutes a day and I felt a great accomplishment when I made it through 10 minutes. It might not seem like much but when going from the couch to working out, it was huge for me. I kept telling myself I can do for 10 even if its just walking in place. - 8/19/2015 9:33:22 AM
  • I disagree with you about the spinning classes. I think they could be safe enough to do every day. If you want to add to that and work out your abs and your arms, great. But stationary bikes are pretty safe! Let's give out true advice, please! - 6/1/2015 7:49:50 PM
  • I am pretty new here but I set a goal of joining the YMCA and trying Aqua-fit classes! I hope to go 3 times a week. - 1/15/2015 2:50:12 PM
  • A good article that gives realistic steps. I've just started back going to the gym, and hope to be able to go 3 times a week. I'm my own worst enemy and have a tendency to self-sabotage. Don't know why.
    The only thing I don't agree with in the article is rewarding yourself. I don't believe in rewarding myself for something I should be doing. That's like rewarding myself for cooking dinner or cleaning the house. - 1/7/2015 11:44:28 AM
  • Hmm... I have a sedentary lifestyle, and I DID set a goal to go to the gym for an hour every day for a month... and except for one reward day after losing 10 lbs, one shorter visit because I was coming down with a cold, and one bad weather day where it wasn't safe to drive there, I have, and it'll be a month tomorrow! I didn't say what I had to DO there, so sometimes the exercise was light, especially towards the beginning, but my goal was more to generate a healthy habit so that the pattern of fitness could be instilled. - 12/8/2014 4:12:23 PM
  • 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

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