Beyond Quitter’s Day: Realistic Fitness Goals

You’ve made it past Quitter’s Day and maybe re-evaluated your goals to keep your motivation high. But
have you set realistic expectations for your fitness journey? Doing so is crucial for long-term success
and remaining dedicated. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced fitness enthusiast, tailoring your
goals to your current level of fitness is essential. Here’s a guide on how to set realistic exercise goals at
every level:

Beginner Level:

  • Start Small & Keep it Simple:
    • Begin with achievable goals. For example, aim for 20 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise like walking three times a week. There is no need to purchase an expensive gym membership or equipment; just a good pair of supportive sneakers!
  • Focus on Consistency:
    • Make consistency your primary goal. Building a routine is key for beginners. For example, each week look at your calendar and schedule your workout. Some weeks may be more hectic than others if you are a caregiver, but if you have a plan you will be more likely to accomplish your goals.
  • Include Variety:
    • Explore different types of exercises to find what you enjoy. This can include walking, cycling, or basic bodyweight exercises. There are many different apps that don’t require a subscription such as HASfit or thousands of videos on YouTube. Not having a subscription means you may have to endure additional ads, but you will have the opportunity to explore something different without much investment.
  • Monitor Progress:
    • Keep a workout journal or use fitness apps to track your progress. Celebrate small achievements; use these markers to splurge on a massage or new workout gear. Try not to make rewards about food splurges as it may cause unhealthy relationships with food and exercise.

Intermediate Level:

  • Increase Intensity:
    • Gradually increase the intensity and duration of your workouts. Add interval training or weights to challenge yourself.
  • Set Specific Targets:
    • Define specific goals, like running a certain distance or lifting a particular weight. This adds clarity to your training.
  • Incorporate Strength Training:
    • Include strength training exercises to improve muscle tone and overall strength. If you have a specific goal to participate in a half marathon or triathlon, research exercises to complement these goals.
  • Consider Skill Development:
    • Learn new skills or try advanced workout routines to keep things interesting and challenging. Personally, one of the more challenging routines I have added is Pilates. It challenges your core in ways other exercises do not.

Advanced Level:

  • Optimize Performance:
    • Focus on optimizing your performance. This may involve refining techniques, increasing weights, or improving your running pace.
  • Set Performance-Based Goals:
    • Set goals related to performance metrics, such as achieving a specific time in a race or mastering a challenging exercise.
  • Periodization:
    • Implement periodization in your training – cycling through different phases to prevent plateaus and reduce the risk of overtraining. This means changing the weight, number of sets or repetitions to keep your body guessing. In cardio, it can be changing the length of intervals in a single workout – going from a 30 second sprint to a full minute sprint to a gradual increase of speed over 90 seconds.
  • Listen to Your Body:
    • Pay attention to your body’s signals. Adjust your goals based on how your body responds to training.

General Tips for All Levels:

  • Consult with a Professional:
    • If you’re unsure, consult with a fitness professional to help tailor goals to your individual needs.
  • Note: Always speak with your doctor before starting or increasing your exercise regime.
  • Prioritize Recovery:
    • Include rest and recovery in your plan. It’s crucial for avoiding burnout and reducing the risk of injuries.
    • If you are the type of person who can’t sit still, consider active recovery. A leisurely walk, gardening, yoga, or general household chores.
  • Adjust Goals as Needed:
    • Be flexible with your goals. Life circumstances and fitness levels can change, so adjust your goals accordingly.
  • Celebrate Milestones:
    • Celebrate both small and big milestones. Recognizing your achievements can boost motivation.

Remember, the key to setting realistic exercise goals is to challenge yourself while ensuring they are attainable. Adjust your goals over time as you progress and always prioritize your overall well-being. It is important to understand & respect your body; treat it like you would your best friend and allow your body to rest when needed. Realistically, some discomfort means progress; your body is being challenged in new ways and there may be some soreness. However, where there is pain, there is no gain. Pain signals injury and if that happens, Dr. Sean McMillan and his associates at Virtua Orthopedics are prepared to help you get back in the game and hit your fitness goals.

Written by Kelly Reising who is passionate about nutrition, fitness, and health. Dr. McMillan is a Board-Certified orthopedic sports medicine surgeon practicing in the Virtua Health System of south Jersey. For more information please visit or follow us on twitter @sportsdrsean.

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