Why Goal-Setting Matters for Fitness

(Photo credit should read BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP via Getty Images)

It would be difficult to find someone who would argue against the benefits of physical fitness. We all know that building muscles helps our overall strength, and that cardiovascular training helps keep our heart and lungs healthy. Stretching and developing lean muscle keeps us flexible and helps us avoid joint pain as we age. In short: it’s a universally accepted truth that exercise is good. This, however, begs the question: If we all understand this, why are most people out-of-shape?

There are lots of answers to this question, ranging from heredity to laziness. Most people fall in the middle of that spectrum, with their biggest challenge to fitness being ignorance or confusion. It’s understandable; we are bombarded with conflicting information about diet and exercise constantly. It can be overwhelming, but there is an easy way to start, whether your goal is to train for an MMA fight, or simply lose excess weight. Set goals and stick to them. Here are some reasons this approach is essential to health and fitness.

You Need to Have a Structured Plan

Whether you’re sculpting your physique for a match or just trying to look good in your swimsuit as you shop for repositioning cruises this summer, you know you need to exercise and watch what you eat. The missing link for most people is doing this strategically. Far too many folks waste time at the gym by going in, doing a few weight lifts that they like and feel good, and spend a little time running, walking, or pedaling on a cardio machine. Is this better than living an exercise-free, sedentary lifestyle? Absolutely. Is it an effective way to get the body you want? Absolutely not.

You don’t need to get a degree in exercise science or nutrition to build an understanding of how the body works. You do, however, need to get specific about your exercise, fitness, and weight loss goals if you want to build a plan to achieve them. For example, if you’re training for a fight and want to put on bulky muscle, you need to work on a program designed to increase bulk and stick to a diet that gives you a caloric surplus from healthy sources. If you’re looking to trim down, you need to go in another direction, working compound muscle groups, and maintaining a caloric deficit. As you can see, these are somewhat opposite goals, and are achieved in different ways. You need to know what you want before you begin.

It’s Important to Track Progress

Let’s say you know what you want to achieve and know how to do it. That’s a terrific start. Now it’s time to set incremental goals. If you’ve ever done any serious weight training, you’re probably familiar with the concept of progressive overload. Simply put, this is the practice of adding slightly more weight each session or each week to increase your overall strength and your maximum lifts. For runners, the equivalent is beating their previous times. If you ran a 9:00 mile last week, for example, your goal may be to run it in 8:55 this week.

The point is that these incremental goals will determine the pace of your efforts and chart your trajectory to your major objective. Only you, or your trainer, can decide how much more intense your workout should be day-to-day or week-to-week.

Goals Help You Reward Success

Along a similar vein, it’s vital to stop and reflect along the way. Highly competitive people tend to keep their eyes on the finish line. That’s great, but you need to keep sight of how far you’ve come. You may want to reward yourself along the way when some of your incremental goals are met with a day off the gym or a cheat day. If you worry this will derail your progress, at least do something to acknowledge your achievements. Maybe go shopping for an outfit that fits your new body shape, for example.

A measurable goal is one of the best ways to track success or adjust a strategy as needed along the way. In fitness, this is a crucial component of making gains in the gym and getting the scale where you want it.

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