You are here because you are motivated to make a change in your lifestyle. However, before diving headfirst into taking action or trying various activities, you'll want to define your health goals.
Research shows goal setting is an effective behavioral changing technique. These same studies also suggest goal setting should be a foundational piece in making any permanent lifestyle change.
When creating your health goals, experts emphasize making them SMART goals. The SMART acronym stands for Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. SMART goals give you a plan and a way to achieve your goals. It simplifies the process. It further helps you know when you've accomplished your goals.
Most people, especially beginners, have one of the five following health and fitness goals. This article explores these common goals, their benefits, types of training that help you achieve these goals, and how to set a SMART goal to accomplish them.
Goal #1: Weight or Fat Loss
Surprisingly, losing weight and losing fat are not the same thing. Losing weight refers to the number on the scale. When you lose weight, it could mean you're losing muscle, fat, water, or a combination of them.
In contrast, losing fat may not involve losing weight. Fat loss may involve decreasing one's body fat percentage to a lower and more desirable level. At the same time, this may also include putting on muscle, which adds or maintains an individual's weight.
Whether your goal is weight loss or fat loss, your ultimate goal here should be achieving a healthy body weight and composition. According to the CDC, about 70% of adults aged 20 and over are overweight or obese in the United States.
Being overweight or obese comes with an array of health risks, including:
- Increased risk of diabetes.
- Increased inflammation.
- Metabolic issues.
- Increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Increased risk of stroke.
- Decreased quality of life.
- Increased risk of depression.
- Increased risk of respiratory illnesses and disease.
Being obese or overweight may also lead to joint pain, increased injury, and decreased mortality. On the other hand, achieving and maintaining a healthy weight reduces your risk for all these factors.
The Best Types of Training for Weight and Fat Loss:
- High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) - This is an effective way to burn fat and torch calories. It involves a period of intense work followed by a brief period of active recovery. You alternate between the two. The entire workout typically lasts 20-40 minutes.
- Boxing or Kickboxing - These two are another fat burning and calorie-torching activity. Many gyms offer only kickboxing or boxing classes.
- Walking - If you've got a lot of weight or fat to lose, walking is a natural activity for anyone. It's convenient and perfect for the beginner. Other aerobic activities that may also be helpful for this goal include cycling, running, and swimming.
- Strength Training - Strength training is excellent for burning fat and calories at rest. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn at rest. It further can help you tone up and maintain the fat or weight loss.
Setting Your SMART Goal:
When setting your SMART goal for losing weight or losing fat, use the following guide:
- Specific - How much weight do you want to lose? 5 lbs, 10 lbs, or 20 lbs?
- Measurable - How will you measure that goal? How often will you weigh in?
- Attainable - Can you reach this goal? hat are you going to do to get there? Make plans and set mini-SMART goals to get there. For example, you could plan to go to an interval class 3 times a week at your gym. You could expect to eliminate processed and pre-packaged foods within the next four weeks.
- Realistic - Is it practical? Usually, healthy weight loss involves losing about 1-2 lbs per week. Keep this in mind when setting your goal.
- Timely - When do you intend to reach your goal? If you want to lose 10 lbs and plan to lose 1 pound per week, your goal should be achieved after 10 weeks. Plan it out and write it down.
Goal #2: Gain Muscle or Tone Your Body
When it comes to health goals, gaining muscle and toning up is a popular one. Inevitably, you need increased muscle to look toned.
Having more muscle on your body improves your metabolism and your overall health. It also makes maintaining a healthy weight easier, since muscle burns more calories than fat at rest.
More muscle also contributes to decreased chronic pain later in life. After the age of 30, your body naturally loses muscle mass. By increasing or working to maintain muscle, you counteract these negative effects. Consequently, you have better balance, functionality, and improved quality of life.
The Best Types of Training for Muscle Gain:
- Strength Training - Strength training takes the cake when it comes to muscle gain and tone. Lifting heavy weights is the ultimate way to get the most toned and gain the most muscle. However, for beginners, you may want to start with something more light, such as simple bodyweight exercises or the use of resistance bands. Eventually, you can progress to a powerlifting or bodybuilding routine.
- High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) - HIIT isn't just great for burning calories. It's also great for toning up your entire body, especially if you're new to working out.
- Calisthenics - Calisthenics involves various bodyweight movements. It tones, conditions, and increases balance, agility, coordination, and strength. It frequently involves movements including the squat, pull-ups, and push-ups.
- Barre - Barre looks easy. But everything isn't as it appears. Essentially, Barre is a mix of ballet, Pilates, and yoga. The primary aspect that sets it apart is the use of the ballet barre for exercising. And it's tough! It's further a low-impact option to tone up and increase muscle.
- Pilates - Pilates is another long-impact option. It specifically focuses on the core and your posture. If you're not ready to dive into anything too intense, Pilates offers an excellent starting point. Plus, most cities and towns have a Pilates studio (or a few!).
Setting Your SMART Goal:
Use the following outline to help guide you when creating your SMART goal for gaining muscle and toning up:
- Specific - What is your goal? Do you want to gain 5 lbs of muscle or do you want to achieve a 6-pack (note: a 6-pack is often not a realistic goal)?
- Measurable - How will you measure that goal? Will you do check-ins regarding your body composition (many gyms offer this)?
- Attainable - Can you reach this goal? Are you able to gain 5 lbs of muscle? How? This is, again, where you're going to want to set mini-SMART goals to achieve your bigger SMART goal. For instance, your goal could be to squat your body weight by a particular date. If you're unsure where to start with this, you can also always work with personal training to determine if your goals are realistic and attainable. If not, a personal trainer can also help you adjust your goals accordingly.
- Realistic - Is your goal realistic? If you're looking to gain 5 lbs of muscle mass in 2 weeks, you may want to rethink it. If you want to lift your body weight in a month, again, it may depend on where you're starting. As aforementioned, a personal trainer or coach can help you out here.
- Timely - What's your timeline? Set a date. This is the time in which you want to achieve your goal.
Goal #3: Gain Weight
Gaining weight may be beneficial for individuals who have recently been sick or for those that suffer from low energy or unstable energy. It can also help you sleep better and improve metabolic function.
When it comes to gaining weight, ideally, you want a daily caloric surplus. However, you won't want to be packing on the pounds with fat. As such, you'll want to focus on different types of training that utilize that energy and turn it into muscle mass (at least for the most part).
The Best Types of Training for Weight Gain:
- Weight Training - Weight training (powerlifting, bodybuilding, and isometric-focused training) is excellent for gaining weight. It helps you put on muscle, as opposed to burning through it like you would with aerobic or endurance exercise.
- Calisthenics - Calisthenics is a type of strength training where mostly bodyweight exercises are used. This is also a useful way to increase muscle mass, and thus, gain weight.
- High Volume Training - High volume training is a form of weight training or calisthenic training. You only focus on one set of muscle groups per week. This overloads the muscles and also increases muscular endurance - without sacrificing weight.
Setting Your SMART Goal:
Let's set your SMART goals! What should you know?
- Specific - What is your goal? Do you want to gain 5 lbs, 10 lbs, or 20 lbs? Be very specific.
- Measurable - How will you measure this goal? Will you use a weight scale and when?
- Attainable - Is this goal possible? How will you reach it? As mentioned before, don't forget to make mini-SMART goals to work toward your bigger goal. This may include eating 200-500 calories more per day and training (such as strength training) 3 times a week.
- Realistic - Is it practical? Is it healthy? Gaining weight is similar to weight loss. About 1-2 lbs gained per week is considered healthy.
- Timely - When will you achieve this goal? Select a date by working backward. If you want to gain 20 lbs and intend to gain 1 pound per week, this will take 20 weeks to accomplish.
Goal #4: Build Your Endurance
Want to run that next marathon, half-marathon, or 10 km race? You'll need to work on building up your endurance.
According to the American Heart Association, endurance activities keep your heart, lungs, and circulatory system in tip-top shape. It further lowers your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.
The Best Types of Training for Building Endurance:
There are so many types of endurance activities. It all comes down to finding one you like. However, if you're training for a run, you will have to put some running hours in.
- Speed Walking - This requires almost no equipment, besides proper footwear, and enough space. Take yourself out for a brisk walk around the block.
- Running - Running is another popular choice. It's great for getting your heart working and your blood pumping. It is also easy and convenient for most individuals.
- Swimming - Check out your local gyms and find out when their lap times are so you can build your endurance through swimming.
- Dancing - Many local gyms offer Zumba classes. However, there are also a ton of other options here, such as ballet, salsa, tango, and more!
- Biking - If you have accessible biking lanes or trails, this type of endurance and aerobic activity might call to you. Biking is low-impact and easy on the joints, making it great for those with knee or back issues.
- Team sports - There are a variety of recreational leagues for sports such as tennis, soccer, hockey, and basketball.
Setting Your SMART Goal:
How should you set your SMART goals to build your endurance? Let's take a look.
- Specific - If you're running, setting a particular distance, and measuring your heart rate is a great place to start. Make it very specific. How far do you want to go without stopping? What heart rate range do you want to aim for?
- Measurable - Measure your heart rate. Ultimately, your VO2 max is the best measurement, but not everyone has access to a VO2 max machine.
- Attainable - Can you reach this goal? Endurance takes time to build, and it's quick to lose. You'll need to put in the time to amp it up. Do you have the time to do this? Further, make sure you make those mini-SMART goals, such as going for a run at a distance of 10 km twice a week and going for a 5 km run once a week.
- Realistic - Can you realistically achieve this goal? Again, make sure you have the time.
- Timely - When do you intend to achieve this goal? Remember, these SMART aspects all relate to each other. Your timeline should be realistic. For instance, if you're training for a 10 km race, it takes about 8-10 weeks when you're starting from nothing. Keep these things in mind when writing down your goals and planning them.
Goal #5: Improve Your Balance and Flexibility
Improving your balance and flexibility contributes to overall improved wellbeing and health. You'll frequently experience fewer injuries, less pain, as well as be able to increase your strength faster and more efficiently.
Further, balance and flexibility become even more critical with age. As we age, we tend to lose muscle mass, and our balance tends to decline. Further, our flexibility and mobility also take a hit. By actively working on these aspects, you can improve your future and your quality of life.
The Best Types of Training for Improving Balance and Flexibility:
- Yoga - Yoga isn't trending for no reason. It's great when it comes to improving your balance and flexibility. It further supports proper posture and also contributes to better mental wellbeing due to its meditative aspect.
- Pilates - Pilates works to elongate the muscles and strengthen them - all in one. This means it's a highly sought-after exercise regime when it comes to improving flexibility, mobility, and balance. Many Pilates classes also focus on the core, which contributes to better overall stability.
- Barre - Barre is considered the 'ballet' workout. It steals some moves from Pilates and yoga, but also has a twist. As such, it's an excellent option for improving flexibility and balance.
Setting Your SMART Goal:
How should you create your SMART goal?
- Specific - What do you want to accomplish? Do you want to be able to touch your toes? Do you want to be able to do the splits or balance on one leg for a minute?
- Measurable - How will you measure your goal? If it's standing on one leg for a set duration, you can easily time and track that. If it's the ability to do the splits, progress pictures might be best. If your goal is to touch your toes, you could have someone measure the distance you are away from your toes and continually measure at set intervals.
- Attainable - Is this goal possible for you to reach? If you have hip issues, doing the splits may not be the best for it. You may want to adjust your goals. Further, and as previously described above, you'll want to have mini-SMART goals to support your bigger overall goal. If you're going to perform the splits, what stretches do you need to complete to get there, and how often do you need to perform them? Keep these things in mind.
- Realistic - Is this goal realistic? Can you accomplish it in your set time frame? Will you be able to stick to regular stretching or yoga?
- Timely - Select a time duration and a date you want to achieve your goal.
Always Aim for Wellbeing and Longevity
Through these goals, you will also achieve a heightened sense of wellbeing and improved health. In turn, you'll increase the longevity of your life and improve your quality of life in the long-term. Ultimately, your health goals should help you feel good and aim for optimal health.
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