December 14, 2009

Setting Fitness Goals: Tips for Slackers

If you spend much time reading health, fitness, or weight loss blogs, you may notice that lots of folks are setting impressive goals for themselves--and more often than not, they meet or exceed them!

For example, Sagan at Living Healthy in the Real World is doing her 200 Reps challenge and Merry is working on the Couch to 5K and Big Girl Bombshell is getting set to work up Pre-New Year's Goals.

And what about Crabby? What does she aspire to accomplish? How come she never posts any creative, challenging goals and then triumphantly reports how she kicked ass despite many daunting obstacles?

Well, as it happens, I do occasionally set goals, and sometimes I even achieve them. Most times not, but whatever. I just don't tend to announce them publicly in case they turn out to be too hard or I get bored and change my mind.

So I wouldn't dare to presume to advise all the Super Fitness Achievers out there on how to set meaningful and motivational fitness goals.

Hey Crabby, it's Dara Again.
Could You Give Me Some More Advice?

Instead, the following Goal Setting Tips are not for the Super Achievers, but are specially designed for other slackers like myself, who would like to get maybe slightly less slacky. (You know who you are).

Crabby's Top Five Fitness Goal Setting Tips:

1. Don't Be a Sheep

After discovering that someone you admire is trying to accomplish a difficult goal--say run a marathon, or climb a mountain, or swim from Key West to Nova Scotia towing a raft of rabid Siberian tigers--it may be very tempting to say: hey me too! I'm gonna shoot for that goal, that sounds awesome!

However, picking a goal is a very personal thing. You need to take into account your own interests, abilities, injuries, and general "screw it it's too hard" threshold.

Upon hearing someone announce a goal that sounds tempting, you might want to ask yourself, what part sounds tempting? Being able to say you did it? Or all the possibly tedious, miserable and brutal steps it would take to get there?

2. Go Ahead, Dream Big--But Break it Down.

I never attempt overly ambitious goals myself, but I know a lot of people have great success by pledging to do something that seems improbable. There are too many people who have dreamed of losing half their body weight or going from couch-potatohood to ultra-marathons who have actually succeeded for me to dismiss this approach entirely.

However, I think what the successful folks do is break it down into smaller goals that are short term enough not to be totally discouraging.

For example, as I've lately been dealing with a foot problem due to (I think) plantar fasciitis, I've been trying to apply my newly invented motivational cross-training system. It's called "Cognitive Restructuring, Accentuating Positivity®!

Anyway, I've been attempting to start biking more often, to replace my regular running routine which I much prefer, and I thought, "wouldn't it be cool to bike up the hill to Skyline Blvd without stopping or walking?" It's not very far, geographically, but for a beginning bicyclist like me it's kinda steep.

But in the meantime, I set a more obtainable goal: To bike up to Skyline with as many rest stops as necessary. (But no walking the bike because skipping the steep parts would be cheating).

See? It's not the most elegant sounding goal.

But let me just proudly announce that the other morning I did indeed bike up to Skyline Blvd! Stopping four times, but who's counting. (Well, I'm counting, obviously. My next goal is 3 stops.)

Last time, I got could only get as far as Uranus. It wasn't pretty.

(Yes, I am still 12 years old. As long as my route requires passing Uranus Ave, I'm gonna keep mentioning it.)

3. Don't Give Up On Your Goal The First Time it Gets Really Hard.

At least wait until the Second Time.

Seriously, we slackers have a tendency to give up easily. We're all enthusiastic when we're making progress, but sometimes you can be doing all the right things... and you get worse, not better! Sadly, in most fitness endeavors, there really isn't a straight line effort-to-accomplishment relationship. Sometimes it's all f#cking effort and no f#cking accomplishment.

The cool thing is though, if you can wait out the sucky unrewarding times, sometimes all of a sudden you make progress when you don't expect or deserve to! So even if you're beginning to suspect you picked a dumb-ass impossible goal, give it at least a little while before you chuck it out the window.

4. But Sometimes, You Just Gotta Stop Banging Your Head Against the Wall.

If you are a lifelong slacker, you may notice that motivation and enthusiasm are not just laying around in unlimited quantities, waiting for you to scoop them up and use them to achieve all your cherished goals. All those type-A, cheerful, dedicated, hard-working super-achievers somehow keep hogging it all.

So if you use up all your energy on something hard that isn't even fun anymore, just because you said some goal out loud and other people heard it, then you may be totally wasting precious motivation on something unworthy. Maybe it's time to say: screw it, I give up! Find a goal that's more fun and if anyone calls you on your earlier goal, just tell 'em that World Famous Motivational Coach Crabby McSlacker said your new goal is way better. I'll back you up.

5. Remember Your Ultimate Fitness Goal

Whether you want to set short-term easy goals, or long term impossible goals, you probably have a "bottom line" fitness goal. Something along the lines of: stay active for the rest of your life!

Don't let the failure to achieve an arbitrary fitness goal mess with your ultimate fitness goal.

Photo: WiredRyo

It's really easy to get discouraged if you set a a goal, sincerely try to achieve it, and just can't do it. It's tempting then, for many people, to slink off and give up on fitness entirely. It's the kind of all-or-nothing perfectionism that dooms many get-in-shape efforts.

Don't be like that!

Doing anything is better than doing nothing. Forget about "goals" if they're not helping you and you can't find one easy enough to meet. Just do something to be active. Motivation ebbs and flows, and you will get more of it, eventually. And give yourself massive credit for hanging in there. You'll be far better off in 10, 20, or 50 years if you just keep putting one foot in front of the other, even if it's only to take seemingly lame little baby steps. Don't focus too hard on arbitrary short term goals if they're going to scare you away from a lifetime of physical fitness.

What about you guys? Do you set particular fitness goals or just generally try to stay active?


  1. My main goal is to break a sweat for at least 30 minutes a day. I always feel much better after.
    Then I kill my clients after for an hour! :)

  2. Thanks for the shout out, Crabby!

    You're so right that picking a goal is super personal. What works for one person is NOT necessarily going to work for another person, and we have to figure out what works for US.

  3. Nice photo of former Gator swimmer, Dara Torres! With these folks in my neighborhood, is it any wonder that I am inspired to stay fit?

    ..and yes, Sagan is a one in a million!

  4. I got mentioned on Cranky Fitness! I'm famous!
    Please, no autograph requests...

    I'm a sheep. I confess it.
    I go for pre-set goals and schedules because it saves me from having to decide for myself what I should do today. If I leave those kind of decisions to me, I usually end up on the coach researching reality shows and taste-testing pretzels.

  5. And congratulations on biking up to Skyline! That is awesome :)

  6. I've decided that my newest running goal is to run all the way around Arthur's Seat here in Edinburgh. It's only about 3.2 miles, but it involves long, long inclines, a.k.a. hills. Normally, I can run 3+ miles with no problem, but throw in a hill, and I nearly die.

    Ok, a bit of an exaggeration, but definitely way too much walking. I hate running up hills! But I'm also tired of letting them beat me. I will conquer you hills!

  7. I completely agree with you about not always making goals a public thing because then the expectation on the individual can be too much.

  8. Breaking down the goal is a great approach. Each achievement should be celebrated.

  9. Thanks for the tips. Why is it that when my goal was to get into a bikini I was able to get to the gym 5 days a week; now that summer is over and my goal is to lose 5 pounds I can't seem to get there more than once a week? My priorities are all screwy.

  10. LOVED this post, Crabby. Totally what I needed to hear after a shit week last week.

    The goal was to get back into working out. To work out 4 times a week, for starters.

    Well, last week was weird. I only worked out twice and then cleaned my WHOLE house on Friday, which should count as a workout.

    Anyway - I beat myself up for a bit after not working out 4 times last week. Because I didn't meet my goal.

    But the point isn't working out a certain number of days. It's not that at all. It's to get active again, which I am doing.

    So, back to what I was originally saying - thank you :)

  11. Well, if I'm not supposed to give up when it gets hard, when am I SUPPOSED to give up?

  12. Occasionally I will set goals that are fitness related but only when I feel like I need a boost in the motivation department. Otherwise I'm just aiming for my overall fitness goal of being active most days of the week.

  13. Oh crabby you make me laugh!
    I set fitness goals that scare me, then break them down into bite-size pieces. Because one thing I learned about myself in my 40-some years on this planet is that I under-promise and over-deliver. So if I commit to something I'm more than almost there.

  14. Well yeah... I have a lot of goals! Probably too many as I tend to use them to drive myself crazy with. But hey, what am I without my crazies?

    Love the "stop banging your head against teh wall" tip - I so need to do that!

  15. I tend to set goals...and keep them to myself. Because I back out of them just as quickly. But it's not a bad thing, really! I use the "set a goal" process to get my @$$ up and moving. Usually once I get started in the process, I find some other goal or reward that's more enticing than what I started with. So I toss out the old and start anew.

  16. GREAT POST!!! I love how you worked in Uranus in there gain!! I am with you there!

    I think all your points are perfect. It covers the gamut! We all have to find what works for us both food & exercise wise! And just keeping moving is key!

    I have definitely set goals more in my later years than younger years. I am like you in a way about worrying I will not meet them but now I at least try more. Being older gives me an excuse just in case I don't meet it! :-)

    I absolutely agree with breaking it down into smaller steps so a person does not get overwhelmed!

    One thing I will say, sometimes it is good to walk out of the comfort zone & set a goal even if you are not a goal setter. It is amazing how much you learn from it & just maybe you will like it!

    I have always been scared shi*less of getting up in front of people but when I do it, I get great grades! The whole bodybuilding I did. I never in my life thought I would get in front of people in a bikini & I did yet scared to death the whole time BUT I proved I could do it.

    Same with this boxing thing. If this opportunity had not come along, as much as I wanted to do kickboxing, I may never had done it. So, now I will find out.

    But, as you said, whatever you do, just keep keeping on & moving!

  17. "Dream Big--But Break it Down."

    This was the key to me getting somewhere. If I looked at it all it was too much...but little goals, a bit at a time and I felt like I could really do it. And the more I did, the more I wanted to do. Plus it personalises it for me...

  18. I LOVE #3 - "don't give up the first time it gets really hard". They're all great, but OMG #3 is the make it or break it one for me!!

  19. I'm just not a goal person. Especially not well-defined ones. Vague blobs of possibility, that's what I've got. "It might be nice to [something]" I'll think, and maybe I'll wander over toward [something], or maybe I'll stumble across [something else] on the way.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  20. OH CRABBY, you made my day. After a long day at work, its nice to come home and see my blog name in lights!!On Cranky Fitness, no less.

    The key as many mentioned is to have the goal and then break it down into small action steps. Make them small and achievable and usually you will go beyond.

    Thanks again for the shout out!

  21. Dara Torres, Wow!

    These days I just try to do something every day... It might change again in a few months time, but for now I'm happy.

  22. What a great blog! – Thanks.

    As getting older is something I have done a considerable amount of, my goals now are rather centred around easy fitness – trying not to look too decrepit for as long as possible. So, rather narcissistically, I train with shape in mind and hope that the fitness goes along with it.

    Just doing something every day and mixing it up between running, walking and some muscle work and stretching is good enough for me. Maybe now I have read your blog, I will put a little more structure into my goal setting. How’s that for a sheep!

  23. my only goal is consistency.
    move every day.
    for years.


  24. I've learned it the hard way that being a sheep is not a good plan for me!
    And, I've made many a goals public and then felt pressure to live up to them...which didn't work. I think private goals are in order! I agree with you there.

  25. It is funny - giving up is never an option when I'm pushing myself. It crosses my mind then something out of my control takes over and bring me to finish line. If I could figure out what "it" is I might be rich :-)

  26. I am far too lazy to set any goals. I figure if I've made it this far, my goal is to live to the end of the day.

  27. I heart Dara! I may have a little girl crush on her...of course after my girl crush on Jillian Michaels.

  28. First common goal is losing fat Loss occurs when you burn more calories than you eat. If you burn an extra 500 calories per day, you would lose about a pound a week. You can't choose where you lose fat--Spot training doesn't work.

  29. Nice list. Definitely very doable. The thing I tend to do the most is to beat myself up over not exercising more often. I just can't keep the motivated and high-energy attitude for more than 3 months at a time.


  30. Great stuff. Perfect photo for my exercise room and best 10 quotes for my weight loss exercise routine.

  31. I think cycling is more effective way to be stronger. Nice photo of former swimmer. Thanks for sharing this post.


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