3 Questions to Ask Yourself when Setting a Fitness Goal
by Patrick Wood, ATC, CSCS
One of the hardest questions to answer in fitness is, “What’s next?” The first step in figuring out this complicated and challenging question is to decide on your goal. For some, it might be training for a specific sport, adding muscle, or losing fat. For others, it might just be for general fitness and feeling better. Whatever your goals are, here are three questions you can ask yourself to make sure you achieve your goal.
How does my body feel?
As someone trying to get back into fitness, you have to be realistic with yourself. If you’re forty years old, thirty pounds over your goal weight, and haven’t touched a weight since you lifted in high school for football, you might want to start off slow.
Progress slowly to avoid injuries and so you don’t burn yourself out. If you’ve been intensely training and feel completely dead, maybe you should take a week to recover so you don’t end up over-training and moving backward. If you’re feeling energized but experiencing some joint pain or tautness, you might want to take some extra time to address the discomfort before jumping back into training.
Making sure you’re in tune with your body is important in staying healthy. Don’t let your ego put you at risk for potential injury. In other words, don’t try to be so impressive at the gym that you push your body beyond its limits. A fitness-related injury could be something small like a strain that could set you back a couple of days to a week or something much more serious like a complete tear. The former could interrupt your fitness routine, and the latter could affect your training for the rest of your life.
Make it a priority to always think about the long term. It’s better to stop one rep short of your limit or even take some time off to address an issue than to sustain a major injury that sets you back for weeks or even months. This is why assessing where you are at and how your body feels should be the number one priority when considering what to do next in fitness.
How’s my mind?
Are you still enjoying what you are doing or do you dread training every day? If you’re enjoying your training, keep on keeping on. If thinking of your next workout brings back a feeling of dread, something needs to change. If you dread your workout because you’re tired after a long day of work, try starting off your day with the workout instead. If you hate working out because it takes so long and you usually workout for two hours, it’s possible to get in a very beneficial workout in half that time. If you just don’t enjoy the style of training you are doing, then find something you do enjoy!
If you can only get yourself to workout once a week doing that, it would be better to challenge yourself and be more consistent doing the ten to twelve rep range with cardio you enjoy. Remember, it’s better to do an okay training routine consistently than a perfect training routine inconsistently. If you’re not doing something you enjoy, you’ll be less likely to give it your all and be consistent.
How’s my progress?
If what you’ve been doing has been working and you’re still making good progress, then nothing needs to change. If you feel like your progress is starting to slow down or has come to a standstill, you should switch it up.
In fact, it’s generally recommended to add some variety to your workout every three to four weeks. That’s how long it typically takes for your body to get used to working out, making progress, and making proper adaptations. Anything after that tends to have slower progress. If you are a power lifter and have been training only five sets of 1-3 reps, try doing three sets of ten. It might not be what the books say is best for your progress, but you will see the most improvement in the things you do the least. Do a couple of weeks of this, and then go back to your regular training to see if you’ve improved.
Always keep in mind that there is no single right answer to what you should do next. Each person has a different goal, different injuries and restrictions, different enjoyments of different styles of training, and bodies that respond differently to different styles of training. Just because one person achieved great results training a certain way doesn’t mean you’ll get those same results. Just because someone didn’t achieve great results training a certain way doesn’t mean you can’t achieve great results with that style of training.
“What’s next?” takes a lot of practice to answer. You have to try new things and learn what works and what doesn’t work for you. As long as you ask yourself these questions, you can at least be guided in the right direction.