Fitness Articles

The Secrets to Achieving 10 Popular Fitness Goals

Ease Your Way in to These Essential Exercises

Setting goals is step one in the journey to a healthy lifestyle. While experts have different opinions on if goals should be big or more achievable, most experts agree goal setting keeps you on track and motivated, no matter the obstacles that arise along the way.
Whether you want to build muscle, feel better about your body, lose weight or just challenge yourself, those just starting out often have a particular, sometimes intimidating exercise or move that serves as their personal benchmark for success. Do this once seemingly unachievable thing, and you're well on your way to health and happiness, baby. The process of working towards one achievable goal, accomplishing it and seeing the changes in your mindset and overall confidence level lays the groundwork for a lifetime of pursuing and realizing increasingly more challenging goals.
Step up to the starting line today and unlock the secrets to effectively hitting 10 of the most common beginner fitness goals with expert advice from Jenn Mathis, regional director of fitness at Gold's Gym. Learn how each move works specific muscles, the benefits you'll reap and how to work your way toward success!
Run One Mile Without Stopping
  • Benefits: Consider running the MVP of cardio workouts: It builds endurance and strength, keeps the heart healthy and helps you burn calories and body fat, Mathis says. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health also found running can even help improve your sleep.
  • Muscles Worked: A laundry list of muscles (yes, it's that good for you!), including quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves and your core.
  • Achieve This Goal: Don't be embarrassed to start slowly. "Work on interval training first," Mathis suggests. Jog from one stop sign to the next, and then walk for a minute to recover. "Run for 10 seconds, walk for 50 seconds, then keep increasing the running time and decreasing the amount of time you're walking," Mathis says. You'll be at one mile before you know it!
Complete Five Proper Pushups
  • Benefits: Pushups build upper-body strength and endurance, which will make it easier to complete everyday tasks like yard work or hauling in the week's groceries in one trip.
  • Muscles Worked: "The main muscles that a pushup works are your chest muscles, your arm muscles and your shoulders," Mathis says. Proper form is key here—sagging your hips or arching your back will actually make the move harder.
  • Achieve This Goal: First, make sure you can do a plank. Then, move on to pushups on your knees. Once that feels comfortable, you're ready for your toes, Mathis says. "Do one, do two and keep working your way up slowly so you don't ruin your form," she says.
Climb Five Flights of Stairs Without Getting Winded
  • Benefits: Feel less exhausted when you climb stairs at your house or at work—less huffing and puffing is always a good thing!
  • Muscles Worked: Of course, your leg muscles—quads, hamstrings and calves—are working, but so are your glutes. "Some people forget their backside is what actually pushes them up," Mathis says.
  • Achieve This Goal: Add squats and lunges to your routine to strengthen the muscles you'll need to climb the stairs. Then, start on a step mill at your local gym, and gradually increase the number of flights you're able to walk up. "That will get you stronger and more conditioned to climbing those stairs without getting sore, without getting winded," Mathis says.

Hold a Plank for One Minute
  • Benefits: Planks help you achieve several other fitness goals on this list, from pushups to burpees, Mathis says. A 2014 study published in Gait & Posture found a strong trunk also helps prevent injuries among new runners. Plus, the plank teaches proper posture, a perk we could all benefit from in these days filled with sitting at a desk and hunching over the phone.
  • Muscles Worked: Your core, back, hamstrings, glutes, lower back and upper body all are at work here, Mathis says.
  • Achieve This Goal: If you've ever had any lower back pain or shoulder injuries, start on your knees before adding more body weight, Mathis says. Injury free? Start with a 15-second hold, stopping if you start to drop your hips or sag your shoulders. Add five seconds each time you work out, working up to a minute.
Finish a Set of 10 Burpees
  • Benefits: "The benefit is not only to make you total-body strong, but [burpees] burn a ton of calories when you do them correctly, which helps with fat loss," Mathis says. Burpees, the exercise everyone loves to hate, can also help in your day-to-day by making it easier to stand up or get out of bed.
  • Muscles Worked: You'll work your core, heart, legs, chest, back and arms. "Burpees are one of the hardest exercises because they incorporate just about every muscle of your body," Mathis says.
  • Achieve This Goal: Cardio plays a big role here, so work on your cardio first. Spending some time on an elliptical or walking at a brisk pace will help get your heart in fighting form. Mastering squats, pushups and planks will also help you successfully finish 10 burpees. Start with one, and then do two and when you reach 10, celebrate!
Touch Your Toes
  • Benefits: "In today's society, where a lot of people sit all day long for their jobs, their backside stays lengthened and their hip flexors stay tight, so when you stand up, you're already in a forward tilt," Mathis says. Fight against the negative effects of sitting by working on your flexibility. As a result, you'll limit pain and injury down the road, Mathis says.
  • Muscles Worked: This move isn't as much about the muscles being worked as it is about loosening up the hamstring muscles and hip flexors, Mathis says.
  • Achieve This Goal: Sign up for yoga, Pilates and core classes at your local gym or try an at-home workout, Mathis suggests. Be sure to stretch before and after exercising.

Chaturanga Dandasana
Master Chaturanga Dandasana Pose
  • Benefits: This pose is essential to every yoga practice, so feeling comfortable with it is your first step to finding more Zen. By adding yoga to your fitness routine, you'll also boost your flexibility and your balance, according to a 2016 study published in the International Journal of Yoga.
  • Muscles Worked: This works the same muscles as a plank with a little more focus on the arms and forearms, Mathis says.
  • Achieve This Goal: Master the plank first to teach your body how to stay in a straight line, Mathis suggests. Then, perform the chaturanga on your knees. Once you can do that for 20 to 30 seconds, move up to your toes.
Do 15 Kettlebell Swings with a 10-Pound Weight
  • Benefits: Good news: "Everyone can do this if they do it right," Mathis says. In a 2012 study published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, participants who did 12 rounds of 30 seconds of swings followed by 30 seconds of rest improved their strength by nearly 10 percent!
  • Muscles Worked: It's a total-body move that works your legs and hips as you throw the kettlebell, your lower back and glutes as you hinge forward and your upper back, shoulders and arms as you lift the kettlebell up.
  • Achieve This Goal: Start without the kettlebell to get the motion down, Mathis says. Stand straight up and keep your hands together. Drop your knees down and hinge at your waist. Use your hips to come forward to standing, and then lift your arms. Practice that hinging motion, and then add a five-pound dumbbell or kettlebell. Then, increase to the 10-pound weight for 15 swings.
Jump Rope for One Minute Without Stopping
  • Benefits: The playground activity is actually a great exercise and works your cardiovascular system as well as your coordination, Mathis says.
  • Muscles Worked: "You're using a lot of your legs and your calves since you're jumping off your toes," Mathis says.
  • Achieve This Goal: Work on your cardio first by running, doing the elliptical, or walking outside. Then, add the jump rope motion without the rope. Hold your hands at your sides and do 50, 60, up to 70 jumps to make sure your cardiovascular system is ready. "Then, add the jump rope and go for 30 seconds, then 40 seconds, all the way up to a minute," Mathis says.

Pilates Teaser
Complete a Pilates Teaser
  • Benefits: This tough move works your core as well as your flexibility. Plus, it can protect you against back pain that tends to creep in late in the day, Mathis says.
  • Muscles Worked: The exercise works your legs as well as every part of your core—your lower abs, middle abs, upper abs and obliques.
  • Achieve This Goal: Start working on your plank to strengthen the backside of your abs, which are necessary to perform this move. Practice toe touches, too, until you're able to hold your legs at the 45-degree angle. Progress to practicing by laying flat and lifting just your legs up to the right angle, then back down. Then, when your legs and abdominals feel strong, you're ready to progress to the full teaser move. 

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Member Comments

  • I am 79 years old, and I know I will not be able to do all of these, but I am sure I can modify some of them to fit my abilities. I think it is a great list!
    We need alternative tips for those of us who are not-so-young and have joint issues. I try to stay as active as possible but most of these are completely impossible for me.
  • Age is not the defining factor here, I am 56 and I do some of all of these...because I want to. My limit is my fake knees, I am not supposed to run or jump on them...they have a shelf life. Regardless, there was a point in time when most of these moves would have been unattainable. What changed was my willingness to see the benefit in improving my level of fitness and agility. I just got sick and tired of feeling lousy, out of shape, easily winded, exhausted, and uncomfortable. Build slowly, modify, do what appeals to you. A new goal is a worthy endeavor...find your fit and exercise your strong. You will be amazed by what you are capable of doing.
  • I CANNOT do burpees. The recommendation to start with 1 really isn't very helpful.
    I have good cardio function. I can run, do a plank, do a few pushups...
    How do you actually work up to 1 burpee?
    I also cannot 'hop' my feet forward in yoga.
  • I'll be 60 next month, and these are some nice goals to work on. I can't do a lot of them in the numbers they're saying yet, but it's a matter of working up to them. Pushups, check. Burpees, I can do a couple. The others, I am working on slowly. Running does make my knee swell up like a balloon, but the docs aren't prepared to do anything about it yet, so fast walking will have to do until I can address that.

    I'm not too old. It will just take some time and modifications.
  • I disagree with the "older" folks commenting here. I'm 58 and can do most of these already. And yes, I've had one knee operated on 3 times and have back and hip issues.
    Thank you for the push I needed to attain the couple of exercises I haven't reached, YET!
  • Great tips for youngsters! I completely agree with previous commenters that we need tips for us older people. I'm 52 - kettlebells are doable, but anything else just isn't humanly possible. SparkPeople seems to be geared toward the younger set with not much for us. Maybe it's time I delete my account.
    Redrobin47 has a very good point - there are many of us older people who need goals for our age and fitness levels, taking into consideration physical limitations. Fitness doesn't end with the "youngsters" and there are some moves that are not appropriate for people who are not fit to begin with, even those in the same age group as the author.

    I'm 64, and with bad knees and a hip problem, not to mention arthritis in my lower spine. I don't jump rope, run, do burpees, use kettlebells, nor can I do the Pilates Teaser or the Yoga pose it's too hard to get up off the floor once I'm down there. :)

    However, I can touch my toes without bending my knees, work out on the elliptical trainer for 35 minutes with a varying intensity program, leg press 120 pounds, do a 45-minute HIIT aerobic exercise video, swim for 1 hour without stopping, use the weight machines at my gym.

    Don't make me feel like a failure because of the unrealistic goals favored by the author.

    How about an article featuring older trainers or a trainer who works with older clients, giving us oldtimers some realistic goals!!!!!

    Great article! I'm looking forward to attempt these 10 fitness goals.
  • I had to wait until I quit laughing to comment. I will be 69 years old in Sept. and consider myself pretty fit. I walk 5-7 miles a day and do ST with 5# dumbbells and resistance bands. With bad knees & hips, positional vertigo and old age, I could never "run" a mile, jump a rope, or do the pilates move the teaser. I'm sure that there may be plenty of people my age who may be able to do these things but could you do an article with 10 things "seniors" can do?
  • Well, all of these are completely out of my reach. If I get down on the floor, it takes a crane to get me up. I don't jog and I don't do windows. Most of these exercises are not for people who have physical limitations. How about something for us?
    I loved this article. One thing I especially liked is that most of these challenges can be attempted from home without special equipment. It gives me something to shoot for while inside on a miserably hot & humid day.
  • A great article...filled with powerful tips and advice. Although I can hand plank for nearly two minutes, I still cannot do pushups without my knees down. I am continuing to try though, I won't give up.

  • Great article - informative and packed with solid tips and advice. Scaling an exercise or workout is a good way to build up toward better fitness and attaining the proper form and function.

About The Author

Moira Lawler Moira Lawler
Moira Lawler pursued her love of storytelling at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, where she earned her bachelor’s degree. Since then, she’s covered a range of lifestyle topics, but she loves health and fitness the most. When she’s not writing, Moira’s probably running or walking in her hometown of Chicago, always trying to reach her daily step goal. 

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