Everyone’s fitness journey is personal.
For some, it’s a lifelong passion, forged by kickabouts in the park and cemented by school sports teams, competitions and camaraderie.
For others, the lasting memories of fat shaming in PE classes, being forced to exercise in ways you hate and never finding a form of movement that sparks joy in your life linger well into adulthood.
I’m more of the latter kind of person.
While I’m a firm believer that there is a style of fitness out there for everyone, it can be hard to even have the motivation to try and find it. Particularly if, like me, the legacy of being a chubby teenager being fat-shamed, assaulted and ridiculed throughout secondary school PE lessons has left a lasting impression of how fitness and sports treat people of our body type.
While I dabbled in going to the gym, it always felt uncomfortable, like I had a thousand eyes on me wondering why someone of my size would even step foot in such a place.
So, I tried working out at home. I fell in love with strength training for a while, but I was always lacking my ‘why’.
I quickly learned I needed a goal to motivate me, but I didn’t know what I was aiming for – or how to get there.
At some point in our lives, everyone has said to themselves “I really wish I was fitter”, or “I really need to exercise more”. God knows I have.
What many of us fail to do, though, is to understand our motivations behind that idea. We throw ourselves into the idea of becoming fitter, stronger and faster without understanding why we even want to train in the first place.
Here are 10 things I wish I knew about setting, training towards and achieving my fitness goals when I got started.
1. Your goals are malleable.
When I started my fitness journey, my original goal was to lose weight. I didn’t know how I wanted to do that, or how much I wanted to lose, just that I did.
I started tracking it using the scales, then a TDEE tracker I found on Reddit, until eventually I started using a body fat percentage calculator.
While I had some goals about what I wanted to lift, these didn’t matter to me at the time – I only cared about shifting the excess fat from my body.
It took a long time to realise that having my goals involve constant measurement of my body was becoming an obsession.
As soon as I had a bad session, or found that my weight or body fat percentage had gone up, I slipped into a depressive episode. Losing weight became everything to me.
There were pre-medication episodes, too, where my partner had to encourage me to eat because I didn’t feel like I deserved it.
My goal became a hindrance, rather than motivation.
When I went on medication, I discovered the body positive community and began to work up the courage to find a form of exercise that I liked – not to lose weight, but to build strength, find confidence and learn to love what I could do.
This, inevitably, led me to taking my first pole dance class.
In the end, I put back on what I lost, but I’m much happier now than I was back then.
Moral of the story?
Just because you set a goal for yourself doesn’t mean that goal is permanent.
You are under no obligation to maintain goals that do you harm, and you are definitely not expected to achieve goals that no longer suit your body.
Being responsible humans means that we are supposed to grow, learn and evolve.
Which includes learning what is best for your body, mind and soul.
2. Your goals do not have to involve weight loss.
When I started working out originally, and definitely during my strength training period, I thought that using my weight and body fat was a great trackable goal for measuring my progression.
This is only half true.
While I’m very much anti-diet culture, I’m not shaming anyone if they want to lose weight – as long as they are doing it responsibly, in a healthy way and don’t assume their decisions should apply to everyone.
So, there’s nothing wrong with your goals involving weight loss.
I do, however, draw the line at the assumption that fitness is only for people who want to lose weight.
I see this a lot in women’s fitness circles.
It’s super hypocritical, really. On one hand, you have society telling you to go and work out if you dare to eat *gasp* a DOUGHNUT but, as soon as you step foot in a fitness space as a fat person, you get the feeling that people look at you as if you have two heads.
Here’s the thing:
Your goal can be to bench press your body weight.
Your goal can be to run a 5k without stopping.
Your goal can be to do the splits.
None of those goals directly relate to losing weight.
Chances are, as you work towards these goals, your body composition will change. You may lose fat and gain muscle. This is just what happens when you exercise and put your body under the kind of stress it needs to grow and progress.
You can track this if you want to, as I totally understand it can be a useful metric depending on what your goal is.
But you don’t have to – and shouldn’t be expected to.
3. Your goals work at your pace.
The biggest mistake anyone can make when starting out on their fitness journey is doing too much, too fast.
I think it’s something every one of us has done at some point in our lives.
Perhaps, like me, the planning for your goals runs away from you until you’ve mapped out an exercise class for every day of the week.
If you’re new to the world of fitness and you’re not too sure where to start, the best place to start is small.
It’s easy enough to get carried away with the idea of achieving your goals that you commit to more than your body can handle.
When I started pole dance, I committed to one one-hour a class a week.
At the time, I was always exhausted afterwards, would ache the next day, but it was enough to see solid progress towards my goals.
As my energy levels increased, I upped the amount of time I spent exercising one hour at a time.
Within a few weeks I was doing two one-hour classes a week, and as I was putting more strain on my body, I ended up exhausted and achy once again.
You need to give your body time to adjust to new levels and intensities of activity.
If you’re going from doing nothing to having the goal of being able to run on the treadmill for 15 minutes straight, you’re going to have a bad time if you throw yourself straight into running on the treadmill for as long as you can every day.
Within long you’ll burn out as the motivation you had for your goal wears away and you run out of energy to keep up with your training.
It doesn’t matter how fast you go, as long as you don’t stop. Consistency is king.
You need to listen to your body. If you can only do one day of exercise a week now, well – it’s better than nothing.
One day a week will get you closer to your goals than doing nothing at all.
4. Find a way of journalling that works for you.
Tracking your goals are the best way of achieving them.
I know journalling isn’t for everyone, and there’s definitely the perception that to journal ‘properly’, you have to have Insta-perfect spreads, beautiful stationery and amazing calligraphy skills.
Bullet journalling is, in itself, a hobby, and can be quite fun if you’re into being creative, designing your own planners and have the time to commit to it.
Time isn’t something everyone has.
I bought a planner recently that’s pre-printed and undated, so I can track my days, weeks and months with minimal effort. This works great for me as it forces me to write down my goals and track my progress towards them.
My partner, meanwhile, uses OneNote for ten minutes at the end of every day to write down how he worked towards his goals, what went well, and what he wants to get better at.
Both of us also have specific training journals, in which we log the day, what we trained, how we felt during training, what we learned, and what we want to improve on.
This helps us keep track of our goals and our progression towards achieving them.
Whether you go full bullet journal (or do already, and kudos to you!) or keep a notebook in your gym bag just to note what you did, writing down your goals and how you’re working towards them is an awesome way of keeping motivated.
5. Focus on the trend.
It’s a Friday night. You’ve had a crap week at work. Maybe your boss has given you nothing but grief, your work best friend wasn’t there, or the office day felt more like a week.
Instead of going to your regular class, you say “fuck it”, eat an entire pizza to yourself, drink a whole bottle of wine and binge Netflix in your PJs.
The next morning, you feel awful. You told yourself you would go to class, eat leftover stir fry, and make this your third week with no alcohol.
What if I told you that you don’t need to feel guilty about this?
You might feel like you’ve ‘fallen off the wagon’, and you might as well get back to things on Monday because your entire plan is ‘ruined’.
Get out of here with that bullshit.
When we feel guilty, part of our internal monologue can often be “But I was doing so well!”, “I was so close to my goal” or even “Well, back to square one I guess”.
This isn’t Snakes and Ladders. One day away from your goals doesn’t take you back to the start.
The next time you feel like you’ve slipped up, try to use it as a mindfulness exercise. Yep, I’m about to get you to do some cognitive behavioural therapy.
Catch that thought and analyze it. If it helps, draw yourself up two columns – one for evidence that supports that thought, and one that goes against it. Write down everything that comes to mind.
This will force you to focus on the trend.
Through doing this you may come to the conclusion that actually, this was your first takeout for two weeks, whereas before you were ordering two or three a week.
You may realise that being so focused on your goals was having more of an effect on your mental health than you realised, so having time to yourself has actually helped you.
Or, you may realise that nights like this happen too often for it to help your goals, and come up with a strategy to make working towards your goals easier than bailing on them. Even if, like me, that might involve promising yourself takeout and wine so long as you go to your class.
Progress isn’t linear, particularly not lifestyle changes. But as long as the trend is upwards, you’re doing an amazing job.
6. Rest days are vital to achieving your goals.
Yep, you heard me right!
Your body needs time to rest and repair, otherwise you can be at risk of serious injury.
You don’t get better during workouts – you get better between them.
When you exercise, you’re putting your body under stress to encourage it to grow. If you’re putting your muscles under stress, particularly if you do body weight workouts or strength training, you actually cause micro-tears in the muscle fibres.
You know how you ache after workouts, particularly if you’ve not trained in a while, are training new things, or have just upped the amount of time you exercise in a week?
Yep, that’s our old friend DOMS – and DOMS is just the body repairing those micro-tears.
When our body repairs those micro-tears, it actually makes the muscles stronger, and more able to deal with the strain.
This is why you might ache like hell after your first pole dance class, but you may not get the same level of DOMS again unless you have a particularly trick-heavy lesson.
Overtraining can also seriously mess with your body.
Training more than your body can handle can lead to issues with your menstrual cycle, issues sleeping, can cause mood swings and make you more susceptible to illness – all of which can lead you to resent your goals, your training and your new lifestyle.
Rest days are just as vital in your schedule as your workouts.
7. Make your goals achievable.
I’m sure all of us have aspirations for what fitness goals we want to eventually achieve.
My current big goal is to invert consistently, but I have multiple small goals as stepping stones towards that.
There’s nothing wrong with having the goal of, one day, running a marathon.
But you’ll fail to reach your goal if that’s your ONLY goal.
For goals to actually provide motivation, they need to be achievable and realistic. What that means is up to you, but once I’ve figured out my main goal, each step underneath that goal should:
- Be solid progression towards my main goal,
- Be challenging enough that I feel like I’ve achieved something when I reach my goal,
- Not be too challenging that I won’t achieve it in the space of a year.
So, if we take the example of my big goal to invert consistently, underneath that goal I have:
- Do a pole-assisted forearm stand,
- Be able to do 10 pole tucks on each side,
- Be able to do 5 pole straddles on each side,
- Be able to do 5 pole pikes on each side,
- Be able to invert with a spotter,
- Be able to invert consistently.
As you can see, I’ve given myself small goals I can measure that all progress towards my main goal of inverting consistently.
It’s the draw of achieving that goal that brings motivation.
If all I was focused on was the end goal, not only would I be unstructured with my training, but I’d end up constantly frustrated, even if I’d achieved things like a pole-assisted forearm stand – as it wouldn’t be my end goal.
If you keep your goals achievable, you’ll be able to not only mark your progress, but see how your body is growing and changing.
8. Do what you love, not what the internet says.
The internet is full of people who like to think they’re experts.
Whatever kind of fitness advice you’re after, you’ll always find things like ‘The BEST Workout To Reach Your Running Goals’, ‘The BEST HIIT Circuits For #abgainz’ or, even worse ‘The BEST Fat-Burning Yoga Moves To Melt Away Belly Fat’.
Every fitness website is crying out for your attention by promising that they have the secret to reaching your goals efficiently.
The only way you’re going to reach your goals is if you don’t just love the destination – you love the journey.
Sure, HIIT may be one of the most efficient exercises out there for calories burned per hour, but if you don’t enjoy it, what’s the point?
Life is far too short for boring workouts.
It is an irrefutable fact of fitness that the most efficient, effective and all-around best form of exercise is exercise that you love.
If you love your training, it enriches your life and leaves you feeling energised and motivated to keep going, then that’s the most effective form of exercise for you.
Loving your training is the key to achieving your goals.
After all, you’re far less likely to give up on a class if you look forward to going to it, as opposed to feeling like you’re having to drag yourself there every time.
9. Engineer your environment.
A common misconception about willpower is that it is an infinite well.
We all know that to achieve our goals, we have to have the willpower to stick to our plan, even on the bad days. And when we don’t achieve our goals, it’s just because we didn’t have the willpower to do so, right?
Willpower is a finite resource.
At heart, we are all creatures of habit, laziness, and taking the easy route.
I’m not saying this in a negative way. I can be lazy as hell. When faced with driving 40 minutes to go to pole class or 15 minutes to a random fitness class at the gym, it is genuinely a hard decision some days.
This is where engineering your environment comes in.
You may have read guides in the past that suggest that, to avoid skipping out on the gym or your morning run, to pre-pack everything you need to get going. That way, you’re ready to step out the door.
This is because you’re engineering your environment to make it easier to stick to your goals.
This principle can be applied to pretty much any goal you want to achieve, whether fitness related or not – you have to make it easy for you to achieve your goals.
Each time you make a decision that requires some level of effort or energy expenditure, you chip away at your willpower. So, you have to make any decisions that work towards your goals use as little willpower as possible.
Want to curb your snacking? Don’t have snacks in the house, or only keep fruit on the kitchen counter. If you want other snacks, you have to leave the house to buy them.
Want to eat less takeout food? Batch cook a load of healthy meals that you can just pull out the fridge, or find easy and healthy recipes to cook. If you want to eat takeout, you’ll have to wait longer to eat.
Want to get into the habit of stretching every day? Leave your yoga mat by the TV, so when you’re watching something it’s an easy decision to roll out your mat and stretch at the same time. If you want to watch something, your yoga mat is watching, waiting…
If you want to make decisions that suit your goals, make it easier to make those decisions.
10. Fitness doesn’t end when you reach your goals.
Another common misconception is that exercise is only needed while you’ve got goals to achieve.
After all, why would you continue to train once you’ve got those washboard abs, you’ve run a marathon or you can deadlift your bodyweight?
Fitness is for life, not just for New Year’s Resolutions.
Once you’ve achieved your goals, you have every reason to celebrate and take a break – you’ve done something amazing, and that needs to be recognised!
But unless you’re never intending to run that marathon again, your training doesn’t stop here.
There’s always higher heights we can reach if we dare to dream.
Of course, your marathon may be more of a bucket list kind of situation, and it may never be something you intend to train again once you’ve hit that goal. That’s 100% your decision. But that doesn’t mean that your entire fitness journey is over.
Maybe you’re a weightlifter, and go back to your normal training routine.
Maybe you realise you really enjoy running, and enter more marathons.
Or maybe, running a marathon was the first taste of having a structured, dedicated training regime, and you recognise all the benefits it’s had on your life. So you find something else, try out new classes, or take a taster session at a new club.
If you don’t train it, you lose it.
While there’s no harm in taking a break, it gets harder to maintain the habit of training the longer you’re away from your routine.
Not only that, but as time goes on, you’ll find you lose some of the wonderful benefits training gives you.
This week was my first week back training, and while I’m not back up to my regular 5-day schedule, this is the first week I’ve had a structured exercise plan for about 5 weeks.
While I haven’t lost much strength, I’ve lost a lot of stamina.
It’s hard to have the motivation to exercise again after a break when you feel like you’ve lost nearly everything you worked so hard for in the first place.
At my first Clubbercise class after 5 weeks off, I was struggling to make it through an entire track, whereas before the only time I’d struggle would be in the last few tracks of the session.
I couldn’t really avoid taking time away from my goals, and sometimes that happens.
The end goal for all of us, regardless of what we train, how often we train or what we want to get out of our training, is to love what we do.
And it’s hard to love what you do when you take time away, only to come back and find that your fitness levels aren’t what they were.
We’ve all been there, and know how disheartening it can be.
So if there’s anything you take from my post, it’s this:
The goal to improve your fitness is lifelong.
he journey into the world of fitness can be maddening. There’s information being bombarded at you left, right and centre. Everyone claims to know the best thing for you and are vying for your attention within their little space of internet real estate.
I hope this post has helped clear up some of your burning questions about how to set your fitness goals, how to go about achieving them, and answer the question of “What now?” once your dreams are realised.
Have any comments, suggestions, or just fancy dropping in your two cents too?
Hey, do you love this post? If you do, please consider buying me a coffee. For every coffee bought for me I’ll do a happy dance in my kitchen to 80’s pop music – guaranteed.