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Setting fitness goals

Stephanie Taylor Christensen writes about personal finance, small business, and consumer issues. She is the founder of Om for Mom Prenatal Yoga and Toning in Columbus, OH and Wellness On Less, a site dedicated to prioritized living and c...

Achieve your next fitness feat

Have you ever had a fun and empowering workout which left you vowing to start hitting the gym every day going forward — only to lose your motivation the very next day? The problem isn't your ability to achieve goals, you're just setting them the wrong way.

Woman with personal trainer

Researchers at California State University, Sacramento found that how you define your "mission" is critical in setting fitness goals that you can and will achieve. Here's how to set fitness goals you can stick to and conquer.

Level of difficulty

When setting fitness goals, the end result you strive for should present a challenge — but it should also be attainable. Be realistic about your current fitness level, and what you can accomplish in the short-term. You may dream of running a marathon — and you can! But if you're currently winded after running for one mile, set out to first complete a 5K race. Once you've accomplished that, keep pushing towards greater distances — a few miles at a time. (This is also important in preventing injuries caused by over-training.) You can reach that ultimate goal of the marathon — but get there one goal at a time.

TIP: Yeah You! Taking time to reward your good fitness behavior goes a long way with continuing to strive for new fitness goals. Effective rewards can be internal (simply taking time to feel pride in your accomplishments), or external (treating yourself to a new outfit).

Be specific

Your boss would never assign you the ridiculous goal of "running the entire company" on your next performance review — how would you ever begin to take on such a task? The same idea applies to fitness goals. General goal statements like "start working out" or "lose weight" won't stick long enough for you to go after them. But a specifically defined fitness goal of "biking for 30 minutes, three times a week" will give you a clear view of what you need to do, and how you'll do it.

Think in the present

The study also indicated that setting a short-term goal "mobilizes effort now." You're far more likely to meet a goal of hitting the gym "three times by this Saturday" than you are of "going to the gym three days each week, for a month."

Get feedback

Exercisers who review their progress are more likely to keep pressing towards their fitness goals. If you're working with a trainer, partner or instructor, ask him or her to periodically assess your progress and provide suggestions for your next fitness goals. If you're working out solo, keep track of when and how you've developed your fitness up to this point. Track how far you're running, biking or walking, how often and at what pace. If you're strength training, record how much weight you're now lifting and what exercises you've mastered. If you're practicing yoga or Pilates, what poses have you incorporated into your practice and how has your flexibility, balance and core strength improved? Taking time to review what you've accomplished will help you appreciate how far you've come and provides insight on how to set your next phase of realistic and specific fitness goals.

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