Tips to Help You Set and Meet Goals

At a time when it’s much more difficult, if not impossible, to get to the gym, you might be tempted to blow off your New Year’s resolution to get in shape. “This is a tough time as many of us are managing telework, virtual school, and general stress about the pandemic,” says Atlanta’s Lauren Korzan, a certified exercise physiologist and regional program manager with Aquila. But exercise can actually be a great way to manage the stress we’re all feeling.

Then there are the added benefits of reduced anxiety and depression and improved sleep, physical function, and quality of life that are associated with getting regular physical activity. Chris Gagliardi, scientific education content manager for the American Council on Exercise (ACE) and a health coach and personal trainer, says all these things can have a direct impact on your life, especially in a pandemic. Plus, adding even small amounts of physical activity into your daily routine can lead to health benefits.

Whether you decide to get a membership to your local gym or start exercising at home, it’s always a good time to set fitness goals for yourself (yes, even during a pandemic).

Overcome Obstacles

Even if you’re ready to start a fitness plan, actually going through with it can be a struggle, especially if your gym is closed or there’s three feet of snow outside. You can get around these obstacles by thinking about what kind of exercise you enjoy and finding a way to make it possible, says Susan Dawson-Cook, a personal trainer in San Carlos, Mexico, and author of Fitter Than Ever at 40 and Beyond.

Dawson-Cook’s suggestions: Weather permitting, head outside to work up a sweat. For at-home workouts, purchase a treadmill, stationary bike, or elliptical (check out Craigslist for cheap finds) or order dumbbells, resistance bands, or a TRX trainer for strength training. If you enjoy swimming, try bungee swimming in an above-ground pool in your yard. Check out fitness classes available via conferencing software (Zoom, Skype, etc.) or on YouTube or Vimeo. Consider hiring a personal trainer to keep yourself accountable.


Set Realistic Goals

When it comes to goal setting, all three experts agree that coming up with small goals that will get you to your big goal is key. “Aim for goals that excite you, and make sure they’re YOUR goals,” Dawson-Cook says. “You need to be excited about them to commit to the hard work necessary to get there.”

“Schedule your exercise session into your day just like you would a meeting,” Korzan advises. Dawson-Cook recommends putting your workout sessions in your calendar at the beginning of each week because she’s found that saying, “I’ll exercise sometime today” pretty much guarantees you won’t.

The experts all say that every goal you set, big or small, should be a SMART goal:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-based

Not sure what that means? Gagliardi gives this example. Say your goal is to exercise more. While that’s a great intention, it’s too vague. You need to turn it into a SMART goal.

You could instead set a specific, measurable goal like: “I will be able to run a 5K.” Make sure this goal isn’t too difficult and you have time to do it (achievable), it’s important to you (relevant), and that you have an end date in sight (time-based).

So your end goal could be “I will be able to run a 5K in 3 months.” Then you can come up with smaller, action-oriented SMART goals to get you to the large goal, such as “I will run for X minutes, X times per week, for X weeks, and increase X amount each week.”

“Goals that are vague don’t inspire change,” Dawson-Cook says. How will you know if you’re achieving your goal?

It’s also important to have realistic expectations, Gagliardi says. For example, if you’re a menopausal woman, you’re shouldn’t expect to lose weight as quickly as you did when you were in your 20s, Dawson-Cook says. Consider your health status, ability, scheduling, family concerns, etc. “If you see that any of these will be a barrier to your goals, simply adjust the goal to make it more reasonable and realistic,” Korzan says.



Reward Your Success

Good news: Rewards can be helpful, as long as you stick to ones that don’t hinder your progress. For instance, don’t give yourself a long break from exercise after working hard for several months. This just sets you back, Gagliardi says.

Instead, choose rewards like buying a new outfit, treating yourself to a new book or a massage, taking an activity-oriented trip, buying that fitness tracker you’ve been eying, or giving yourself an afternoon to relax or nap. Whatever you choose, “the reward should be personally meaningful and serve as a source of motivation,” Gagliardi says.

How to Handle Backslides

Any time you make a behavior change, you can pretty much guarantee you’ll lapse back into your old behaviors at some point. With this in mind, Gagliardi says one of the best things you can do is have a plan before a backslide occurs. Think about what might derail your fitness goals (work stress, holidays, house guests, illness, etc.) and make a game plan for what you’ll do to get back on track when these things happen.

If you do backslide, “Give yourself some grace and get back to your goals as soon as you can,” Korzan says. It’s easy to feel guilty and continue backsliding, but just because you missed a day (or three) of exercise doesn’t mean you should give up. Any amount of physical activity is beneficial, so keep at it.

And the sooner you get back to it, the better. The longer you stop exercising, “the more difficult it will be to regain your fitness level and get inspired to get moving again,” Dawson-Cook says. You may also want to consider breaking your goals up into smaller goals to prevent another backslide, Korzan adds.

Reevaluate Your Goals

Every month or two, Dawson-Cook says you should take time to reevaluate your goals. Are they still relevant? Do they still inspire you?

Don’t be afraid to adjust them as needed. Build on your success as you achieve your initial goals and take the time to set more goals to keep you moving forward. “Everyone is on a different journey when it comes to fitness, and it’s important to set goals that are personally meaningful to you,” Gagliardi says.

WebMD Feature


Lauren Korzan, regional program manager, Aquila, Atlanta, GA.

Chris Gagliardi, American Council on Exercise, medical exercise specialist, El Cajon, CA.

Susan Dawson-Cook, personal trainer; author, Fitter Than Ever at 40 and Beyond,

San Carlos, Mexico.

American Council on Exercise (ACE): “A Guide for S.M.A.R.T. Goal Setting.”

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