Jurg Widmer Probst

How to set good fitness goals and achieve them

We have all been there, whatever our levels of fitness or commitment to getting healthier. We set a goal – for example losing a certain amount of weight, or maybe running a 5k or even a marathon.

We commit to it for a few days, or a few weeks even, before something goes wrong and we give up. It might be that we get injured, or just disheartened with the progress we are making and don’t feel motivated any more.

Then, we stop, feel bad about ourselves, and fail to make any progress until we feel motivated to start again. And all too often, the process repeats itself. So, how do we break out of this? Is there a way to set fitness goals that are testing, but achievable, and that we will stick to until we beat them? We believe there are – so here are out tips.

Willpower really is all down to you.

There have been varying theories on what exactly willpower is, with some researchers suggesting that it is something that is directly linked to rest. And while it is clear that rest (in the form of enough sleep and healthy food at regular intervals) is a fundamental part of helping us to feel in better shape, it isn’t the whole story.

Newer research suggests that willpower is actually only as limited as you think it is – so, for example, if you tell yourself that you don’t have enough willpower to get up and go for a run or hit the gym, that will be the case. This has big implications because it really hands back the power to get fitter to you – whether you have the will to do something really comes down to your own attitude, and nothing else.

Just do it for yourself.

This might seem counter intuitive – after all, having a goal such as raising money for charity, or even just telling lots of people what you’re trying to achieve can all have a motivating effect on you. But the opposite can also be true. By setting a goal that is motivated internally, you can often make much more progress.

What do we mean by this? Well, for example, if you commit to go to go out for a run every day because you are trying to raise money for a charity, it is likely that you are going to feel fairly  motivated. You’ll keep going because you’re thinking about the money you’re raising and the good thing you’re doing for others.

But it will be tough, and there is a good chance that you will be much less motivated to go for a run than someone who actually just loves going running. If you get a big personal buzz out of pulling on your trainers and hitting the road, then you are more likely to stick at than someone who is doing it for purely altruistic reasons. So, find a fitness goal that fits with things you love to do, and it will be far easier to keep to it.

Keep it interesting.

No one enjoys running the same route every day, or working the same muscles on the same equipment at the gym. It is boring and demotivating – but is remarkable how many people make this very basic mistake when they are setting their fitness goals and creating a programme to achieve them. To return to our previous point again – the key to setting and achieving fitness goals is to find activities that you enjoy, and nothing kills enjoyment like endless repetition.

So, mix it up. Pick a different route, or head out on a trail to build a bit of variety into your runs. Or, if you’re creating a programme of gym workouts, make sure that you are focusing on a wide range of muscle groups, or mixing up the equipment you use. For example, if you’re used to just using the gym’s machines, then try using free weights too for a bit of variation.

A final thought on this. So much of setting and achieving our fitness goals is really about being good to ourselves. Too often, people see getting fit almost as a form of punishment – and while it does need to be tough, we also need to try and find something we feel passionate about.

So find an activity you love. Set goals that will test you but that you can achieve, and don’t be too hard on yourself. However you get on, know that you can always begin again: focus on the start that you have made, not on the failures you have had along the way.