A few tips on how make fitness goals for the New Year that won't get tossed aside come February 1st, or earlier:
How much time are you going to devote to working out? Write it down in minutes. How many days a week are you going to do this? If you are moving from a couch potato, it is not reasonable to expect you will be able to do an hour of working out a day. Even walking or easy biking should be approached gently. 10 minutes the first day is plenty. 15 minutes the next day. Then 10 minutes again. Gradually go up, not increasing your speed until you have been doing an hour of exercise for at least a month. Then you can try to get faster, but only if you keep your exercise level at an hour and do not increase it. Make sure you get an OK from your doctor just to be sure you know if there is anything you need to not do. Most doctors will be happy to encourage you because they know that exercise dramatically improves a patient’s health.
Ask someone at the desk for a recommendation. You don’t want to do Bodypump to begin with and many spin classes are for more advanced people, so if you are beginning find the beginner’s class. If you are great at cycling already, look for help in the other two sports.,. You can find sometimes a Master’s swim team for beginners where you will get tips on improving your swimming. There are also great yoga classes and I love Pilates for beginners.
Running is largely solitary, but you can occasionally find runner’s groups on-line in your area. More advanced groups meet at a track regularly to encourage healthy competition. But just finding someone who runs at your pace and is willing to meet at a regular, set time, can be enormously helpful to keep you in the habit. Ask in your neighborhood or watch other runners you see out on the street while driving or running yourself to see if they are the right pace. Don’t do all of your workouts with others, because you need to make sure you are doing what you need to do, but you can do at least half of them in a group.
A trainer is a great person to help you figure out how to use the weight equipment at the gym and what sorts of exercises you should be doing. If you can’t afford a trainer, maybe you can find a friend who would be willing to let you shadow him/her for a few weeks at the gym. Even better, find someone who is just a little better than you are and who would be willing to be your workout buddy. Then you will have someone to help show you the way and someone who can help make it more fun to workout. Weight-lifting is really important, especially as we age, to counteract the tendency to lose muscle mass. Don’t skip on this part of your training plan. Try to get in 2 weight training workouts a week, but start slowly and try to avoid making yourself really sore the next day.
You can reward yourself with money on a regular basis, like $5 for each hour of working out to spend on new clothes. Or, if you workout at home in front of the TV, reward yourself with movies and TV shows you want to see. If you need food rewards, make them small and moderately healthy. Sometimes we think we deserve a piece of cheesecake after a long workout, but it’s rare that you will be burning the 1,000 calories most cheesecake slices have. Think of a yummy fresh mango or berry shake instead.
Make an achievable goal and keep track of your progress toward the goal. There are on-line communities set up to help you do this, some free, some not. But I am sometimes uncomfortable letting other people see my goals, even if I’m doing well. So I just keep a $1 lined paper notebook at my desk and write down a week’s worth of workouts on every page. I write down how long I worked out, at what pace or how many calories I burned, and then I sometimes write notes about how I felt like “crappy,” “sick,” or “great!” I like being able to look back sometimes and see how far I’ve come but I doubt anyone else would be able to figure out what my notebooks means. That’s fine. It’s not for them. It’s for me and I know what it means.
You will need to spend some money to make it interesting and safe to keep working out. You will probably need to purchase a gym membership at the very least. Even if you are planning to walk (which is just fine for my mother and for lots of people), you will want a place you can walk during the winter. Maybe you can go to the local mall. You can do it for a low cost, but you will probably still need some good shoes. If you have higher aspirations for racing, make sure that you budget the cost for the entry fees, travel, and food. At the beginning of every year, I try to set a budget for race fees and remember which ones really matter to me. It’s easy to get sucked into every race that comes along, but it isn’t good for your training to race more than about once a month. We also try to stick to a budget for repairs on bikes and racing food as well as an entertainment budget for going out to eat the night before a race or sometimes for lunch after a race. Don’t bankrupt yourself, however. If all you can afford is an exercise ball and a yoga mat for your weight training, that’s fine. There’s a lot you can do with those simple tools. Make goals that work with the resources you have.
Once you have set a budget, you can go shopping. Don’t spend all of your budget on the first shopping trip. You will discover you need things along the way. But don’t nickel and dime yourself, either. Good running shoes cost money. Don’t buy them at Payless or Walmart. Don’t try to get by with a swimsuit that doesn’t fit you anymore. Don’t wear goggles that leak. You will hate your workouts if you do not have adequate gear and then you will stop doing them.
If you want to do a race, make sure that you set it far enough out that you can train for it. A shorter race takes less time to train for, obviously. And if something happens or you get injured, have a back-up plan for another race that you could do as an alternative at a later date. Make goals that are completely dependent on you and your persistence, not on other people or on wildly optimistic plans of the future. For example, a goal of finishing a race is reasonable. A goal of winning a race is not reasonable because you don’t know who else will be at the race. You can’t determine what other people will do--only what you will do. I often set a best-case scenario goal, a medium goal where things go well but not perfectly, and then a backup goal if everything goes badly but I still want to be proud of myself for trying.
If you don’t see the results you want to see, don’t just assume that the laws of the universe work for everyone else and not you. That’s just silly. We know the principles for improving your fitness and your weight. Stick with them, even when it seems like you’re not seeing results. If you need to get a different scale to help you see that even if you’re not losing weight, you’re changing your body composition, put it into the budget. These scales are surprisingly accurate at showing changes. If you are working out, your fat % will go down even when your weight doesn’t. And if you want to lose weight, then make sure that you are accurately reporting your daily calorie intake and expenditure.
This is true in all areas of life, not just in triathlon training. I am not someone who likes to train with other people. I like solitary contemplation, but everyone needs people who are cheering. If you have someone in your life whose voice is in your mind when you are at your lowest and that voice tells you to quit, that is someone you need out of your life--or you need them to change. By the same token, spend more time with people who encourage you, whose voices you hear when you are at your lowest, telling you to keep going, that they believe in you. If you have people in your life who are accidentally sabotaging you, feel free to tell them honestly and kindly that you need something else. Give them a script with appropriate comments to make, like I did with Matt and the kids on the Ironman. When they do what you need, you will know that they are on your team.