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Fitness Articles  ›  Pitfalls and Plateaus

Are Your Fitness Goals Realistic?

Forget Failure. Set Yourself Up for Success!

-- By Jennipher Walters, Certified Personal Trainer & Fitness Instructor
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Unrealistic Goal for a Non-Competitive Exerciser: I want to complete an endurance event in two weeks. Competitive events are an excellent way to stay motivated and a great goal, but many triathlons and running races put a lot of wear and tear on the body, and if you do too much too soon (or without proper form or footwear), you can get injured, which really puts a damper on your dreams and is just plain painful!
Realistic Goal: I will complete a shorter distance endurance event like a 5K or sprint triathlon in three to six months. If you want to begin participating in endurance events, it's important to start building your fitness base slowly and really listen to your body. If you can walk comfortably for at least 20 minutes and can commit to working out four to five times a week for 20 to 40 minutes, then a 5K training program is a great place to start. A run/walk program is flexible and lets you see results over the course of just a few weeks, which is both exciting and motivational. Plus, if you get into it and find that you really despise running or it makes your knees hurt, you can walk and still reach your goal instead of giving up after the first week. Additionally, the time frame of two months is long enough—and the 5K itself is challenging enough—so reaching the goal is big enough to result in one of the best rewards of all: bragging rights!
Unrealistic Goal for a Sedentary Person: I want to go to the gym every day. There are two main issues with this goal. First, it's not specific—what activities do you want to do and for how long? After all, just showing up at the gym doesn't accomplish anything unless you get your body moving. Second, it's not realistic. I love to work out and even I don't want to go to the gym every day. Plus, taking a day off here and there helps give your muscles time to repair and rest, and it gives you a break mentally.
Realistic Goal: I will be active for at least 10 minutes each day. While this goal isn't specific when it comes to the activity, it is specific and realistic with the time constraint. While going to an hourlong Spinning class every day would be impossible, not to mention not very healthy for you (cross-training is important so that no specific groups of muscles get overused), doing something active for 10 minutes a day, whether it's a walk after work, some push-ups or sit-ups over lunch, or a full session at the gym or with a workout DVD, is very doable. Also, note the addition of "at least" in this goal, which helps to emphasize that 10 minutes is just a minimum. Over time, this goal could progress to have a minimum of 15, then 20, then 30 minutes.
Unrealistic Goal for a Novice Exerciser: I want to do the workout I did in high school. If you used to play a sport competitively when you were younger and are itching to get back into it, beware. Most sports require explosive and powerful movement that can give your body a rude awakening—such as extreme soreness or injury—especially when you try to do something that you haven't done in years. Even if you were the high school team captain, if you haven't practiced it in many years, start slowly and be cautious.
Realistic Goal: I will meet with a personal trainer once a week for a month and follow his or her strength routine two times a week. Even if you were MVP of your team back in the day, a lot has changed in sports performance and workouts over the last few years. Instead of going out and doing the same old workout that you remember from high school, take the time to meet with a personal trainer who specializes in your sport or regularly works with athletes. He or she can get you back in the sport saddle with a strength routine that prepares your body for competition and will help you prevent injury. A qualified personal trainer will also help you set other realistic goals once you've built your foundation to play. (If you're not sure how to look for a personal trainer or what else you need to ask, read this.)

Don't Forget to Reward Yourself
Perhaps the most important component of setting an effective and realistic fitness goal is rewarding yourself when you reach your goals, even the small ones! From buying yourself a new magazine to read, enjoying a long bath, or buying a new pair of workout shorts, the reward should be a time where you compliment yourself for your hard work and revel in your success.

Also, don't be afraid to tweak a goal as time goes by. Life happens! Remember, the key to setting yourself up for success is to be realistic. Now, start setting those goals!
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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

  • 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
  • JENNAAW
    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
  • That is how I got back into the swing of things. I started slow and easy, 10 to 15 min workouts for a couple of weeks then 20 min cardio and 25 min cardio and tone combo and now I am able to do an hour cardio or 45 strength and add in an ab routine or some pushups. I feel great and when I am able to complete exercises that before I could only do 10reps and die. - 9/11/2012 9:03:48 AM
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