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I'm thinking of starting a fitness program; what's the first thing I need to do?
SET SMART GOALS!
What do you hope to accomplish with your workouts in the next 6 months? Have you just enrolled in a basic climbing class? Is this the year you are finally going to lose ten pounds? Is it time to dust off the home exercise equipment and put it to use? Has a friend dared you to join her in a triathlon? Will this be the year you'll find a trainer you trust who can help you? Wouldn't now be a great time to finally determine what's most important to you and put a plan into action to accomplish certain desirable goals?
BE SMART ABOUT SETTING GOALS
The example given below is designed to make you think more seriously about setting your own goals. In order to reach any goal, whether related to business, family, health, fitness, education, or the like, you need to make sure you do five things. First, make your goals as SPECIFIC as possible. Make sure the goals are MEASURABLE, so you know when you have reached them and can move on to others. Keep them ACTION-ORIENTED, so you have a plan of attack to make each goal become reality. Keep them REALISTIC, so you don't get discouraged and lose your motivation. Finally, make them TIME-STAMPED so that you commit to action and follow through.
If your top goal is to lose 10 pounds, great. That's a SPECIFIC and MEASURABLE goal. But let's look at why that is your goal. Is someone else telling you that you need to lose that weight? Have you determined that because the number on the scale isn't where it was in college? Or does some chart tell you that at 5'5" as a female, you need to weigh 125# or you are obese? What if, instead, you were to gain 10 pounds of muscle mass and lose 10 pounds of fat, thereby significantly reducing your body fat percent to 18% but NOT LOSING A SINGLE POUND? If you had more energy, more stamina, felt and looked better in your clothes, and could wear that strapless number for reunion that you've been dying to wear, would THAT be more appealing to you than "losing 10 pounds?" In other words, what we're trying to determine is the ULTIMATE goal, as well as the reasons behind it. Perhaps it's not so much the number, but the energy and good feeling that would come from what you'd need to do to lose 10 pounds. You might find that the goal itself is now completely different from what it started out to be!
If your goal is to be healthy, it will be difficult to assess when you have actually reached that goal. Your concept of health probably differs greatly from everyone else's. If "health" means not having the sniffles, eating a few oranges or kiwis a day might do the trick. If "health" means being able to climb a 5.11a without shoulder injury and enjoy your summer of climbing without having the lower back flare up, that's going to take a lot more effort. Someone whose goal is to compete in a first triathlon this summer will have a very different training program from someone who wants to do the Ironman in under 8 hours. The point of setting "measurable" goals is making sure that you can tell, weekly or monthly, whether you are making progress or whether you need to adjust what you are doing.
A goal of reaching 15% bodyfat by losing a pound a week and gaining 1 pound of muscle a month is specific, and measurable, but HOW are you going to reach it? That's where you sit down and plan your ACTIONS-- what sort of cardiovascular workout do you need to do? How often? What changes do you need to make in your diet? What sort of strength training program would help with the muscle gain? Often times, in this step, you will find it helpful to enlist the help of an expert--a fitness consultant, doctor, nutritionist, close friend--who can provide you with suggestions and advice that will motivate and educate you.
Keep your goals within the realm of possible, or you will get discouraged. Climbing a 5.11 after only training for a year is not very realistic. Redpointing 5.10a IS. Losing 10 pounds in a month is not only not realistic, but could potentially be dangerous, as you'd lose primarily water weight and lean muscle mass (remember, that's the stuff you want to KEEP, so that you keep your metabolic rate up.)
And finally, put some sort of deadline to your goals. Write them down on paper. Put them on your calendar and remind yourself daily of your commitment, your goals, and your actions. Without this last piece, your goals will only be daydreams, "some-day" wishes. Don't just dream it, LIVE IT! Commit to making SMART goals and start working toward them today.