Ashwajeet Singh, the co-founder of Sleepy Owl Coffee, wants to be able to do muscle-ups in the coming year. UpGrad co-founder and managing director Mayank Kumar’s goal is to run three to four half marathons in under 2 hours. Vineeta Singh, the co-founder and CEO of SUGAR cosmetics wants to run a marathon and challenge herself. Shailja Singh, who is recovering from a life-threatening illness, wants to run the London Marathon. Varun Alagh, the co-founder of MamaEarth, has set himself the challenge of gaining four pack abs. As you can tell, we are clearly at the start of a new year, and people are setting fitness goals.
“If there are no goals there is no vision and planning. Everyone should set a specific goal before starting a training plan,” says Gagan Arora, celebrity trainer and founder of Delhi’s Kosmic Fitness. In order to set your health and fitness goals, you need to keep a couple of things in mind, says Shannon Beer, a health coach and nutritionist. Instead of setting yourself outcome-based goals, set process-oriented goals, advises Beer. “Setting yourself a goal of losing a certain amount of weight doesn’t actually tell you how you are going to achieve it. However, have a ‘process’ goal, like eating more vegetables and eating one piece of fruit every day. This is an action you can more easily engage in and more measurable compared to an outcome goal like losing weight,” says Beer. Arora agrees that the real magic lies in the process of reaching your goal.
The best way to set health and fitness goals is to begin by assessing where you currently stand. Once that’s done, set a benchmark as to where you’d like to be after 3 months, or 6 and 12 months, says A.K. Abhinav, coach and founder of Namma Crossfit in Bengaluru. Shailja Singh seems to be paying heed to Abhinav’s advice. Though she wants to run a full marathon in 2023, the immediate thing that Singh wants to do is start running smaller distances in January. “Setting goals helps you stay on track with optimising your fitness and, in turn, your health,” says Abhinav.
He emphasises that you need to distinguish between “goals you want” as opposed to “goals you need.” The latter include optimum health parameters like normal blood pressure, a resting heart-rate of around 55-60 BPM, all blood and urine test markers within normal range, normal ECG and more muscle and less fat. “These are non-negotiable. To achieve these you need a consistent training programme of 4-5 workouts per week, with 80% anaerobic activity and 20% aerobic activity,” he says.
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Examples of “goals you want” could be those related to performance or skill. These could be doing a muscle-up, or running a half marathon within a set time, or performing a pull-up or a handstand. “These are goals that you need to try and achieve, and these should be built on a solid training programme. You will notice that even if you do not achieve these goals, your basic health and fitness parameters will not suffer. If anything, it will only augment it further,” says Abhinav.
Both Arora and Abhinav counsel their clients to set long term goals and then break them up into smaller, time-bound goals. Vineeta Singh, who is all set to run the Tata Mumbai Marathon in January, has set herself mini goals for her training. This includes being able to do long runs of up to 35km. Arora feels there is a set pattern when it comes to setting health and fitness goals. “SMART goals, as we say. S stands for specific, M stands for measurable, A stands for achievable, R stands for realistic and T stands for time-bound,” he says, adding, “There is rule for training the human body known as SAID principle—Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands (SAID). It states that your body will adapt only to the training you are exposed to. Therefore, if someone says they are fit, I just smile and nod my head. There is no specific definition of fitness. One can be really good at running but terrible at flexibility. One can have a buffed body or six-pack abs yet go breathless after climbing a flight of stairs. You need to add strength, flexibility and cardiovascular training in different proportions as per your goal to be really fit.”
Setting goals helps you stay on track. Abhinav says he has noticed that setting the “goals you need” is a continuous process. Doing so ensures that you stay on track, and this is extremely important for recreational athletes. “I have had people coming in to do pull-ups, muscle-ups, the clean and jerk etc… but what they have actually achieved is consistency in training. The ones who have put in extra time to practice certain skills have definitely advanced themselves and got their pull-ups and muscle-ups. But the common factor is optimum health parameters and physical capacity,” he says.
When you are setting goals, make sure that they are measurable ones. Timely tests and assessment are very important to analyse whether your training plan I working or if it needs some amendments, says Arora. “Life is dynamic inside and outside the human body. Everything changes rapidly so there is a continuous need of fine tuning your programme and keeping you on the track. Otherwise, you risk getting bored or stepping back from what you thought will be easy to achieve at the beginning of the year,” he adds.
It is common to err while setting goals. For example, do not set body image goals, because then you are setting yourself up for disappointment. While achieving body image goals might be within one’s capabilities, it is a lot more difficult to maintain the physical shape once it has been achieved. According to Beer, two of the biggest errors people make is trying to take on too much at once, and not making the goals specific enough.
“We tend to try to overhaul our lifestyles. We promise that we will get eight hours of sleep per night, start training five days a week, cut out all of our favourite foods, stop drinking, start yoga...We might be able to keep this up for a couple of days before we slip back into old habits. It can be far more effective to focus on small changes at a time,” she says. After all, you don't need to change everything in order to see results, just a few things.
Set your goals correctly
-Make sure your goal is something you want to do, rather than something you want avoid.
-Think about the likely obstacles and come up with ways to overcome them.
-Remember that setbacks are likely to happen. It's okay.
-Write your goals down and tell someone about it. This will help you stay focused. Keep track of your progress.
-Review your goals and learn how to pick yourself up when things don't go to plan.
-The assessments you need: Musculo-skeletal assessment, physical capacity tests, blood and urine tests and a body composition analysis.
Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.