Allison Chopra, a fitness expert at Indiana University, encourages her personal training clients to break their more ambiguous goals of say, feeling better or dropping a few dress sizes, into smaller goals that can be achieved in three to four weeks. She discourages weight-oriented goals because weight loss is a long-term process and everyone loses weight at different rates. Instead, she wants to know how her clients feel.
"I ask them, are you feeling better? How's your confidence, your energy level? Are you feeling better about yourself?" said Chopra, the personal training coordinator for IU Bloomington's Division of Campus Recreational Sports. "But these are harder to track."
Chopra offers the following tips concerning goal-setting, encouraging people to be SMART about their goals. The industry catch-phrase SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Reward (as in, give yourself one when you've achieved a goal) and Time (set a time for reaching the goal):
- Wellness goals should not be underestimated. People can feel a lot of satisfaction in meeting them, building momentum for other goals. "One goal I set for some of my clients is to get eight hours of sleep each night for a week," Chopra said.
- Goals need to be attainable and realistic. Challenging yourself to eat no fat for a week could be setting yourself up for failure. Chopra encourages some of her clients to eat breakfast every morning, or at least do so for a week.
- Be specific. A goal of "eating better," is an example of a worthwhile but ambiguous goal. A more effective or specific goal might be to limit sweets to one a day for the next week or to limit cookies to the weekend.
- Exercising too much could be counter-productive. Adequate rest can result in better workouts, Chopra said. "I tell people, more than you'd think, not to exercise as much," Chopra said. "Our muscles need time to rest and repair themselves. For a normal exerciser, not an athlete, three to five days a week is good. When people start missing days, they can become disappointed and start missing more."
- Keep track. Write down your goals and progress, noting it in a journal, notebook or other medium. Put goals in a visible spot. Fitness goals could include performing some form of physical activity for a certain number of days each week or a certain number of minutes. Energy (how do you feel?) can be measured on a scale of one to 10 each day. Pedometers can be used to count steps, increasing the number over time.
Chopra is a big fan of small steps and a forgiving temperament. If a goal is not met, she said, it should be reassessed to make sure it's reasonable and then sought after again -- after a brief break.
"Getting fit or feeling well is a long process," she said. "It doesn't happen overnight."
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