A lifetime ago, before he retired, one of our staff members worked for a small Federal agency with a nicely appointed in-house fitness facility. As in most gyms, there were the regulars – in this case, 8-10 folks who used the facility nearly every day. Every New Year, as many as two dozen newbies would show up – resplendent in the latest in new outfits and shoes, with dreams of buff bodies or a summer race dancing in their heads.
The “regulars” would secretly, quietly, (condescendingly?) organize a pool – to guess who would be the first and the last of the new crop to drop out. Usually within six weeks, the 8-10 “regulars” were again the only folks using the facility. If this only happened occasionally, it wouldn’t be so bad, but it went on for decades.
Setting a fitness goal is one thing…
Achieving it is yet another. There are so many distractions and exigencies in our lives today that not only is keeping focused on our fitness goals difficult, but, more frequently, the timing and logistics of life, seem endlessly to get in the way.
There are some basic ground rules that can help you along the path to maintained fitness. Again, we’re back to that old “conventional wisdom.” Some of the tried and true “tricks” of staying in shape:
Well Defined Fitness Goals
Don’t set goals such as “getting into shape,” or “losing weight.” These are so amorphous as to be meaningless. Better to focus on specifics, such as enrolling in a fitness class at the local community center and attending at least three times a week, or beginning a walk/run program of 30 minutes three times a week. For many of us, beginning the process leads to the goal we’re really after. For example, if our ultimate goal is to lose weight (one of those amorphous biggies), attending a regular fitness class (and actually attending!) can lead to that goal.
Realistic Fitness Goals
Let’s say you’ve put on a few pounds over the holidays (does this really happen?). Getting rid of a few pounds/inches before swimsuit season is a far more realistic goal than doing it before the end of January. Goals should be motivational – not punative.
Or – say you’re a walker, doing an hour of brisk walking 3-4 times a week. Your friend in Boston is encouraging you to go up and walk with her in the Susan G. Koman 3-Day For the Cure in July. Depending on a number of factors (how long you’ve been walking, any ongoing injuries, etc.) this may be a completely unrealistic goal. However, having your friend come down to do the walk in DC in October may be completely within the realm of possibility. Similarly, depending on your current level of running fitness, getting in shape to run a 5K in April may be much more realistic than the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler. Again – goals should be rewards, not punishments.
Announce Your Fitness Goals
Letting your family and close friends know of your goal puts a little “benign” pressure on you to succeed – and some of us need that little bit of extra “motivation.” It’s easier to “cheat” when no one else is watching!
Similarly – having a workout partner can make it much easier. When it’s early morning and cold and raw outside, knowing your walking buddy is going to be waiting for you for your regular Saturday morning long walk can be that force that gets you out of that nice, warm bed – instead of rolling over and going back to sleep. And, when you’re flagging a bit at the end of that long walk, your buddy can be just the bit of encouragement you need to finish it up. (Don’t forget to reward yourself afterwards, too – stop by the bagel shop for coffee and a nosh!)
Keep a Workout/Fitness Log
Logs are another motivator, and can be of great help when defining fitness goals. They give a sense of accomplishment and let you see progress you’re making. They can also be invaluable in examining performance. For example, if you keep a detailed log of not only your workouts (e.g., time, miles, repetitions), but also moods, diet, weather, sleep – you can gain insight into, for example, why that last 5k you ran was so tough.
Making Fitness a Routine
One of the best pieces of advice our staff member got back in the ‘70’s when he began running, was to do it first thing in the morning, before work – particularly when just starting out. The reasoning was that something would ALWAYS come up to interfere with a noon time or after-work workout. If you go first thing in the morning, that time is generally yours – with no distractions. During the day you never know when a meeting or crisis will arise. Later in his career, he was fortunate enough to have been able to “educate” his boss (and, more importantly, his staff) that he simply wasn’t available at noon for an hour or so.
Once a workout becomes part of your daily routine, it becomes much, much easier to stay with it – so much so that, in fact, you’ll probably suffer withdrawal if you don’t do it!