Saturday, January 2, 2010

Resolution Time

For a lot of people, the new year is a time to pledge change. Some people try to break old habits and some try to create new (healthier) habits. One of the most common resolutions is to get in better shape, whether that means losing weight, exercising more, or both. Maybe you've made that resolution in the past. Maybe you made it this year.

It should come as no surprise then, that January is the busiest month of the year at gyms and health clubs. (Second is September- when kids go back to school and routines that petered out over the summer start anew.) I've watched each January as the gym fills with "New Year's Resolution People" who are gone by the time Valentine's Day rolls around. And you should know, that we as instructors and trainers, are talking about you. We love to see new faces in class, really we do. But when you start out during the month of January, we are skeptical. And truthfully, though I can't speak for all instructors, there are some of us guilty of complaining about our gym regulars getting shut out of classes by overexuberant newbies during the month of January. Sorry.

Here is where I have seen a lot of people go wrong. Let's take a hypothetical woman named Jane. Jane has made a resolution to lose weight through diet and exercise. So on January 2, she signs up at the gym and vows to go every day. I would bet my last dollar that Jane will fail.


Well, for a couple of reasons. First, Jane is likely to burn herself out quickly. I see this more with men, but women do it too. Jane literally hits the ground running, going 4, 5, 6 days in a row to the gym and pushing herself hard. And then she is overtaken by fatigue and muscle soreness... And then she thinks, "Ugh, this is why working out sucks. It makes me tired and sore." And pretty soon that gym membership is nothing more than an automatic monthly charge on her credit card. Second, Jane set herself up for failure before she even began by setting a vague goal of "losing weight" through diet and exercise.

But Jane doesn't have to be one of the New Year's Resolution People that instructors and trainers sigh about. She can do one simple thing to help herself succeed. She can set a SMART goal. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound.

Specific- "Losing weight" or "getting in shape" are not specific goals. Losing 20 lbs. or being able to run for 30 minutes without stopping is specific.
Measurable- There should be no doubt about whether a goal has been achieved. Progress towards a goal can be measured- losing 5 lbs. out of 20, or running 10 out of 30 minutes without stopping.
Attainable- Losing 20 lbs. or training for a marathon in 2 weeks is not attainable (and even if it were, it certainly wouldn't be healthy). Be realistic when setting a goal.
Relevant- It may seem obvious, but it doesn't make sense to train for a 5k run by riding a bike. And "training" for a competitive eating event is probably not a good method of weight loss. (That's a joke people!)
Time-bound- Assigning a deadline keeps goals on track. Set both short-term or interim goals to mark progress towards a long-term goal.

For Jane, a SMART goal might be: Fit into her size 6 jeans (specific) by losing 20 lbs. (measurable) in the next 4 months (time-bound). To do this she will count calories and go to the gym 3 days a week (attainable and relevant).

Finally, my personal opinion for people who haven't been working out regularly is to start off slow. Yes, we should all work out about 5 days a week, but for those just starting out, 2-3 days a week is enough. Carve out that time and cement it into a weekly schedule, the same way meetings or appointments are scheduled. Once those couple of days become a habit, add another day, and eventually another. Trying to do it all at once can be too overwhelming and discouraging, and I think that's why a lot of people can't stick with a routine for more than a few weeks.

Have you made a resolution to get in better shape in the past? How did it work out for you? Are you resolving that this is the year you'll get fit?

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