Fitness Articles

Are Your Fitness Goals Realistic?

Forget Failure. Set Yourself Up for Success!

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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

  • 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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