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Tips to Achieving Exercise Goals

Updated on December 29, 2011

Some highly motivated individuals never have a problem with setting and achieving fitness goals. Others of us, unfortunately, are motivated to be healthy, fit, look good, lose weight, and a number of other exercise-related physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual benefits, but without our drives set in high gear. We spend more time researching new workouts than actually doing them. We spend money on gym memberships, exercise equipment, home workout videos, and a number of other health merchandise and services but then stop at the part where we should be getting our money's worth. We fail before we really get started because of a multitude of reasons: not setting a clear, long-term goal, being unrealistic about short-term goals, letting health problems get in the way, not finding the time, giving into self-doubt, and so forth. The following advice is for those who need a little boost of motivation without the aim of trying to sell you anything.


Set Your Goals

Mistake number one always starts in the goal-setting process. A common goal blunder is wanting to lose weight. Females are particularly bad about this. They want to lose X pounds in X days. After the first couple weeks of having put on pounds instead, they give up on the routine. Big mistake! If you are exercising, then you are gaining muscle mass. Muscle weighs more than fat and fat burn takes more time. You will gain, then level out, and then lose. Of course, you may not ever lose if you are building some solid muscle. You may continue to gain or reach a plateau weight-wise. If your goal is to lose weight, you need to think in terms of inches, not pounds. Buy a measuring tape. Better yet, grab a camera and take some before photos that you can refer back to over the course of your exercise program.

The other thing you need to watch for is your short- and long-term goals. If your long term goal is to run a 20 mile marathon in three hours by next year and you are new to running, your short-term goal for next month should not be to run 10 miles in 1.5 hours. You need to build up to your goal. That is what short-term goal setting is all about. If you exercise regularly, you may already have an idea of what your goals are and what steps you need to take to get there. However, if you are new to exercising or have exercising stop-and-go's, you need to start small. For example, if the last time you did a sit-up was five years ago and you buy an ab workout DVD, your long-term goal will be to have tight abs, but your first short-term goal should be to complete every exercise in the video. You will not accomplish it the first run through, so aim to do a little more each time until you reach your first goal. Keep building up from there.

What factor is usually the most prominent in holding you back from fitness goals?

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Factoring in Health Conditions

In this day and age it seems just about all of us have some health problem of some variety. Some problems are chronic and unrelenting like arthritis. Others are on standby but can be a serious problem when triggered, like asthma. Naturally, some health conditions will reduce the number of possibilities for exercise programs. The fragility of one's bones in osteoporosis may mean higher impact routines like running, jump rope, and ice skating (for possibility of falls) are best avoided. However, Tai Chi offers a safe alternative as does Yoga (although some advanced poses may be risky). Research and talking with your doctor can help tremendously in finding safe exercise alternatives no matter your health condition.

For some of us, the health condition does not limit our choices so much as requires modification of certain exercises. For example, osteoarthritis of the knee does not limit you from working with weights. However, you may want to reduce or even not use weights at all while doing squats to prevent speeding the deterioration of the joint. When following along with a DVD workout or in a class, do not feel obligated to do or work up to a particular exercise if you know it will negatively aggravate your condition. Find or ask about an alternative exercise that works the same muscle group(s) and do that instead. There are always options.


Finding the Time

Time. Yes, this is the number one most widely used excuse for not sticking to our exercise goals. (This author is one of the worst!) Waking up even just 20 minutes earlier to squeeze in a workout seems like such an unnecessary things to do to many; even to those who know just how necessary the workout is for their health! Here is where looking at your goals is important. If you know you absolutely will not cut into the hour of your favorite TV drama, then you need to readjust your goals.

So that one hour is the only time of your day you could, if you are being entirely honest, use as free time. You would replace it with exercise, but, of course, it's the new season and you just cannot miss it! Then use the commercial time. If you use a service that lets you fast-forward, do not use that feature. Let the commercials run and do your exercise routines in the two to five minute commercial slots. Better yet, use the commercial time for exercises that take your focus away from the TV, and continue with exercises that you can still watch, like bicep curls and chair dips (using your couch instead), while the show is on.

Time can be found just about anywhere. Spend five minutes of your lunch break to take a brisk walk outside, through the office, or wherever you have space to do so. In between meetings, phone calls, patients, etc. take a moment to stretch, do a few squats, or even some jumping jacks. When all else fails, learn a Yoga sun salutation. They take anywhere from a minute to five minutes. Every time you realize you have a couple minutes free, do a sun salutation. If it can be done in full combat gear, it can be done in any uniform. Do not let location, attire, or embarrassment stop you.


Quieting the Voices

Oh how annoying our own voices are! We use awful words like "can't" and convince ourselves that something is silly or that others will laugh. So what if they laugh? If you are exercising, not only are you improving your physical health but also your mental and emotional health. Those who will actually laugh (and not because they do the same thing) are the ones who will find themselves out of shape, in poor health, and suffering from Alzheimer's and dementia at earlier ages. The wise men often are laughed at by their so-called peers who fail to achieve wisdom themselves. Do not let your perception of others' perceptions stand in your way of doing your own thing.

When the worries are of a self-doubting nature, however, things get a little tricky. The moment we let the little voice in our heads tell us we cannot do one thing and submit to it, we open the way to failing everything. Take a workout DVD for example. Today, many videos show an exercise and modifications. One modification is for slightly advanced, one for more advanced, and another for those who need to work up to even just the regular exercise. Sometimes, when we are new to an exercise, even the "easy" modification is just too difficult for us. Modify it further.

For example, in Kettlenettics video workout there is an exercise where they swing the k-bell between the legs and then overhead as a sort of swinging squat. At one point, the exercise moves to stepping forward and back while doing so. If your heartrate and breathing are way up there and that is beyond your scope, do not do it. You can continue with the exercise before the additional step or slow down. Just because all the modifiers are doing it, does not mean you have to do it their way. Focus on form and get a good workout, but do not exceed your current capabilities. When that does not work, as mentioned in the "Factoring in Health Conditions" section, find an alternative to build up to the exercise if you need to. As advised in the P90X videos, just keep moving. So long as you keep going and continue moving forward with the exercise program over weeks and months, you will build up to the level the routines expect you to.

Extra Pointers

The above tips will help keep you moving forward with your fitness goals. The following short list is pretty basic, common knowledge in exercise, yet somehow neglected nonetheless.

  • Stay hydrated. Water, water, water, water, water. This is key. Yes, electrolyte drinks are good. Yes, any fluids are good. Water, however, will flush all the toxins that will build up into your muscles and cause you to feel soreness. If you know you get sore easily when starting a new routine, drink plenty of water. Add a piece of fruit, like lemon or lime; not only does it add a tinge of flavor for those who do not like the taste of water but also is good for the metabolism.
  • Eat. This should say "eat healthy," however, the aim here is to stick to your exercise goals. Your body needs sustenance. The more active you are, the more nutrients your body will require. If eating a balanced diet is not your style (and we all know better than to make two lifestyle changes at once) look into taking a supplement. Be sure not to eat a meal right before working out to avoid cramping. If you take supplements, take them with a meal or snack after your workout. Two great supplements include B12 (to help get the most of the nutrients from the foods you are eating) and iron (to get oxygen to your cells). No matter what, make sure you are getting protein (that goes double for vegetarians and triple for vegans!).
  • Rest. Do not overdo it. Sometimes you get a good workout but do not start to feel it until the next day. Start slow and build up. Likewise, do not try to stay up for 48 hours and squeeze in two days worth of exercising. Your body needs rest. Yes, exercise during that 48 hour period, but treat it as one day (or find time for a nap).
  • Listen to your body. Note that this does not mean pamper your body. If you are doing a series of over-head claps and feel your shoulders burning, that means your muscles are getting a workout. If the next morning you wake up and feel a weird sharp pain in your shoulder when you move your arm a certain way instead of the usual muscle soreness associated with a good workout, do not continue the workout until you take care of your shoulder. In other words, do not treat every little sensation as a possible injury. Likewise, do not treat every pain as simply muscle soreness when it clearly is not. Push through little pains, have serious pains looked at.

© 2011 Evylyn Rose


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    • Evylyn Rose profile image

      Evylyn Rose 6 years ago from Colorado, USA

      When it comes to goal-setting in general, often it's a learn as you go process. Set an initial goal and a preferred time-frame for achieving it. See how that went and adjust accordingly. For example, in weight loss goals, if you focus so much on losing say 10 pounds a month but only lose 5lbs despite working hard and sticking to your routine, don't quit! Adjust your goal for the next month. 10 pounds isn't coming off like you had hoped, but you know you can do 5 pounds in a month, so aim for 5 again. Maybe you only lose 2lbs the second month, but notice you've built up some pretty good muscle. Maybe reanalyze the goal. Lose another 2lbs, but add measurement goals as well. Goals for writing work much the same. ;)

    • Turtlewoman profile image

      Kim Lam 6 years ago from California

      I agree that setting goals is definitely important when it comes to exercising. If only I can do the same when it comes to writing hubs. I just haven't figured out what's considered "reasonable and realistic" goals yet. :-) voted up!

    • Evylyn Rose profile image

      Evylyn Rose 6 years ago from Colorado, USA

      I agree! ;) Thanks for the comment.

    • rutley profile image

      rutley 6 years ago from South Jersey

      Thanks for sharing! More people need to get moving! We are way to huge!

    • Evylyn Rose profile image

      Evylyn Rose 6 years ago from Colorado, USA

      Thanks for the comment, vote, and share, Brett! I agree that we get too focused on the wrong target when it comes to setting our fitness goals. Hope the article helps!

    • Brett.Tesol profile image

      Brett Caulton 6 years ago from Thailand

      Voted up, useful and socially shared. This is fantastic advice for those wanting to get in shape, way tooo many fall into the trap of aiming to loose weight, rather than changing their shape and tone.

    • Evylyn Rose profile image

      Evylyn Rose 6 years ago from Colorado, USA

      Thanks, Bella. Wonderful perspective! Why waste time thinking about how you'll feel after you've fit into such-and-such a dress when you can be focusing on how good you'll feel after today's workout instead! Fitting into the dress later on is just the bonus. ;)

    • Bella Nina profile image

      Bella Nina 6 years ago from USA

      You are spot on about how women think. We set unrealistic goals, fail . . . and then quit. Again.

      It is traditionally the time of year to think of all the things we should and should not be doing. So, we may as well get going . . . again . . . and take each day and do our best that day.

      I have changed the way I think about exercising, goals, etc. Now I focus only on what I am to do today. Have the plan, but FOCUS ON TODAY ONLY. That way, by doing what I should do each day, I actually SUCCEED EACH DAY. The long-term goals will take care of themselves that way. Great hub, thx.

    • Evylyn Rose profile image

      Evylyn Rose 6 years ago from Colorado, USA

      You're welcome and thanks for the comment! I am definitely one of those notorious negative self-talkers. In the past I would try to tell myself to just be quiet, but that doesn't work so well. This year, I'm working on listening to the voice, asking why I tell myself that, and actually take the time to correct the thinking that leads to the self-talk. It applies to far more than just exercising.

    • mljdgulley354 profile image

      mljdgulley354 6 years ago

      Very good tips Evylyn, thank you for sharing. I especially like the self-talk tip. Some of us are notorious for talking ourselves out of doing something we would probably enjoy.

    • Evylyn Rose profile image

      Evylyn Rose 6 years ago from Colorado, USA

      K9keystrokes - Thanks for the comment. Sadly, even though I've known for a long time about the muscle vs. fat, I still get upset when the scale doesn't say what I want. The tape trick didn't always do it for me either. Pictures, however, are quickly becoming my favorite method to judge weight. I can look back at pics of myself over the years and tell when I was and most definitely was not in shape. It helps a lot in telling the difference.

      cardelean - I fall off the exercise bandwagon all the time! I have such a horrible tendency to fall into the thinking that I can't get back on, but it's so much easier to than we fool ourselves into believing. Hope to be welcoming you back on with me soon. :) Thanks for the comment and let me know how it goes!

      Nell - Thanks for commenting. The few minutes is definitely something that helps me with my arthritis, especially when I falter in sticking to my routines. I used to do sun salutations behind the front desk in the clinic I used to work at. On occasion a patient would catch me and I was always amazed at how friendly and supportive they were about it. It just shows that there really is no excuse for not taking those very brief moments to do something. ;)

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 6 years ago from England

      Hi, I totally agree with you when you said just take five minutes or even two, to do some sort of exercise or yoga, I tend to do that. I try and do exercises each morning but some days I just can't be bothered, so I wait until I get a few minutes and then do stretches etc, little and often is my motto! I am loving reading all these goal hubs, I am learning so much more! thanks!

    • cardelean profile image

      cardelean 6 years ago from Michigan

      I was really on top of working out for several months in the earlier part of the year. I had a lot more energy and I felt really good. I fell off the exercise bandwagon and need to get back on. Thanks for the great hub.

    • K9keystrokes profile image

      India Arnold 6 years ago from Northern, California

      Super-good advice regarding the muscle vs fat weight comparison. A majority of people fail to understand that muscle far outweighs fat! You have shared some helpful advice on how to achieve exercise goals!



    • Evylyn Rose profile image

      Evylyn Rose 6 years ago from Colorado, USA

      prasonline - Thanks for the comment. Definitely good for all areas of health!

      Simone - I agree! I remember days before the Army that I managed to convince myself I was just not the exercising sort. It took a couple months of determination to get in shape to join, but the addiction does come. Problem though is that it is so easy to fall out of and harder to get back into. Whether it's because of injury, emergency events, or getting too lax on vacation, we all lapse at some point. I recently started the P90X workouts and I foresee my addiction flaring up again. ;)

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 6 years ago from San Francisco

      So many good pointers here! I really think it's all about building exercise into one's everyday schedule: making it a vital part. That's what I do, and now that I've exercised enough to be addicted, there's no stopping me, hahaa.

    • prasonline profile image

      Prasanna Marlin 6 years ago from Sri lanka

      Exercise,, very good for your health

      Regular running and jogging is a good way to improve your health and fitness.

      Good article. keep it up