The 4 Expert-Backed Steps That Will Help You Reach Your Fitness Goals This Year

Fortune Well March 4, 2024


The 4 Expert-Backed Steps That Will Help You Reach Your Fitness Goals This Year

We’ve all been there—we vow to eat healthier, get more toned, up our water intake, and sleep better. But life somehow just seems to get in the way, making such fitness goals feel more elusive than feasible.

The reason why most people can’t follow a fitness goal might not be a lack of motivation, but the goal itself. Most people write unspecific, unattainable goals that have no chance of being achieved, fitness experts told Fortune. These pros shared four steps to take when outlining your fitness plan to set yourself up for success. 

Understand where you are in your fitness journey, and plan your goals accordingly

 It’s important to understand where exactly you are on the stages of change model, says Neal Pire, certified health coach and fellow at the American College of Sports Medicine:

  1. Precontemplation, before you have identified the change you’d like to make
  2. Contemplation, when you consider making a change
  3. Preparation, when you have a plan to change
  4. Action, when you begin to change
  5. Maintenance, when you sustain the change for six months

Pire says a fitness foal likely won’t stick if you go from the contemplation stage (“I want to lose weight”) straight to the maintenance phase (“I will go to the gym five times a week”). If you want to lose 50 pounds but don’t have a plan to do it, Pire says to move out of the contemplation stage to the preparation stage by experimenting with different exercises to find the best one for you, or by educating yourself on how exercise aids with weight loss. 

“Sometimes it takes a year to go from contemplation to action, but some go through the first three stages and they’re exercising already in the week,” she says. “It’s a matter of how devoted they can be right from the get go.”

Be specific 

Having a nebulous idea of “wanting to lose weight” or “exercising regularly” likely won’t result in completing the goal in your desired time frame. 

Instead, certified strength and conditioning specialist Connor Agnew suggests following the SMART method (an acronym standing for goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound) to devise resolutions that you can easily follow. Instead of aiming to lose weight, Agnew suggests giving yourself the specific, attainable goal of losing a pound a week on average.

Prepare for the “humps” 

Though experts estimate it takes six weeks to build a gym habit, Agnew says he’s seen novice gym goers lose their drive two weeks to a month in. “I’d say after those initial two weeks, that’s a big time for people to push through, and then that initial month,” he says. “Those are two times where I see a lot of people kind of drop off on their goals.”

To account for the two-week and one-month “humps,” Patrick Wilson, fat loss coach and owner of Realistic Gains, said to attach shorter milestones to your resolutions. If the goal is to lose a certain amount of weight at the end of the year, Wilson said to build in smaller benchmarks at two to three month intervals to ensure you’re staying on track.

Be prepared for motivation slumps as the year goes on

Remember the three tenants of the self-determination theory of motivation to account for dips in motivation, Agnew advises:

Autonomy, or having a say in what you’re doing. Agnew has found giving yourself choices is key to ensuring your resolutions stick. If your goal is to meal prep each Sunday, for instance, Agnew says making two separate meals and having the option to choose which one to eat throughout the week will be more exciting than consuming the same thing every day. 

“What I’ve done before is I’ve had three lists for the week that I knew I was gonna go do, and then I would look at it and say, ‘Man, I really don’t wanna squat today. I’m gonna bench press instead,’” he says. “I still worked out and I had a higher quality workout overall because I made those choices.”

Relatedness, or a sense of belonging. Agnew says people who have accountability partners, such as a friend or significant other, who encourages them or joins them in working out are much more likely to stick to their fitness goals. Accountability partners don’t even have to be close friends, he adds. They can be online communities like those on Reddit or group training clubs like Orangetheory.

Competency, or feeling good at what you do. Remember to always be easy on yourself, Agnew says: “Give yourself some grace and understand you’re not going to be an expert immediately.”

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