Workout Plans: How to Create Fitness Goals

Becoming active comes with many benefits. Here’s a plan to help make it happen.

All around the country, people are taking steps to get more active. Still, a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 60% of Americans are not meeting recommended levels of physical activity, and 25% of us get no activity at all. If you’re in either of these camps, it could be time to make some changes.

Always be sure to check with your health care provider before beginning any activity plan or increasing your activity.

Before you create your workout plan, it always helps to ask:

  • What activities are right for me?
  • How much should I do each day?
  • How many days a week?

It's also important to ask him or her what your target heart rate is to help determine what exercise intensity is appropriate for you.

Benefits of creating a workout plan

According to the Surgeon General's Office, becoming just a little more active can help you lower your risk of:

What’s more, increasing your activity also can help you battle symptoms of depression and strengthen your muscles and bones.

Determine your fitness goals

Before figuring out your fitness goal, it’s helpful to figure out where you are. Take a minute to do this with How Active Are You?. This simple tool will make it easier to assess how much activity you have in your life now, in order to create the best workout plan with fitness goals you can achieve.

Create SMART fitness goals

Now for fitness goal setting. It’s helpful to first ask yourself: "Am I happy with my current level of activity? Where do I want to be? What is motivating me? Am I trying to lose a little weight? To become more fit? To start walking?" All are worthy goals, and there are many more besides. To help you pick your fitness goal, follow the SMART method described just below.

For example, let’s say your goal is "I want to be able to walk for 20 minutes continuously by the end of 4 weeks." This is a SMART goal, because it is:

  • Specific: 20 minutes of walking in 4 weeks. This provides better focus, which is especially helpful when it comes to making a plan.
  • Measurable: No problem here. You can easily measure 20 minutes of walking.
  • Attainable: Is 20 minutes of walking in 4 weeks realistic for you? The idea is to choose a goal within your reach, but challenging enough to motivate you.
  • Recorded: Keep track of your progress by writing it down each week. Use a calendar if that helps.
  • Time-frame specific: Specifying 4 weeks gives you a definite period of time.

Determine the workout activities you like

There’s more than one way to become active. Choices are all around you. You don’t have to become a runner or cyclist. You simply need to pick an activity or activities that work for you and that you enjoy.

To help you choose activities, think about these points:

  • Pick something you enjoy. Gardening? Tennis? Hiking? Or is there something else you enjoyed in the past and want to take up again?
  • Make it accessible. You want to spend time doing the activity, not getting to the activity.
  • Inside or outside? It might be best to cover both bases, so you’ll have a go-to option in bad weather or after dark.
  • What about intensity? It’s easy to understand intensity levels. If you haven’t been active, start with light-intensity activities such as easy walking.
  • Alone or with a partner? Planning for both helps. It’s good to have company to look forward to when possible so you can motivate each other.
  • At the gym or at home? Both can work, so you have a choice. You can’t beat the convenience of a home-based activity, but heading to a gym once or twice a week provides focus.
  • A schedule to follow. Consider your typical week. Are some days busier than others? Or ask yourself when you have the most time and energy during the day. Plan around what works best for you.

Now finalize your workout plan

To help you achieve your fitness goals using the activities you’ve chosen, experts from the American Heart Association and the Mayo Clinic recommend these guidelines:

  • Aim for a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity 5 days a week or 25 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity 3 days a week. Examples include walking and swimming.
  • Adults should also do strength training 2 days a week. Examples include lifting weights or doing calisthenics such as push-ups or sit-ups.
  • Adults should stretch before and after exercising. If they aren't planning on exercising, stretching should be done at least 3 days a week. An example would be yoga.
  • Finally, older adults who are prone to falling should do balance exercises. An example would be standing on one leg.
  • Work up to these recommended levels gradually. For example, with aerobic activity, you might start with 5 to 10 minutes a day the first week, and build up from there to the second week, and so on.
  • These are general recommendations for healthy individuals. If you have a specific health condition, the recommendations for you may differ. Always check with your health care provider before starting or increasing activity.
  • Those with chronic conditions need to be especially careful about increasing their activity level. On this Web site you’ll find safety information for those with diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, and for those who are trying to reach a healthy weight.

To help you create a simple weekly schedule that incorporates your goal(s), activities, and day-to-day priorities, check out My 4-Week Activity Planner. You can print it out and fill it in with your details, then post it somewhere visible to help you stay on track.

How do you keep a good thing going?

See if you can turn it into a habit. Research has shown that people are more likely to maintain a good physical-activity routine if they:

  • Ask for support: Let your health care provider, family, and friends know about your plans.
  • Feel in control: It’s important that you pick your goals and activities, not someone else.
  • Write down a plan: Try using My 4-Week Activity Planner to help you stay focused.
  • Keep it safe: Always check with your health care provider. Be sure you do not do anything that increases your injury risk.
  • Get regular (positive) feedback: You especially need feedback from your health care provider, but also from family and friends.
  • Include rewards: Reward yourself often. It’s great for motivation.

Now you have a plan of action—which is more than half the battle. Start slowly, stay positive, and stick with it.

Fitting Activity Into Everyday Life

Some people do better with physical activity when they make it part of their everyday life. To do this, consider these 8 tips:

  • At work, take frequent activity breaks. Get up, stretch, walk around the building once or twice.
  • Instead of eating that extra snack, take a quick stroll around the neighborhood, or run an errand on foot.
  • Do housework, gardening, or yard work at a more vigorous pace than usual once or twice a week.
  • Make a habit of parking farther away from the office or mall and walk the distance instead.
  • Use the stairs whenever possible, not the escalator or elevator.
  • Get in the habit of taking family walks in the evening after work.
  • Keep moving while you watch TV. Pedal a stationary bike or keep dumbbells handy and use them during commercials.
  • When you travel, walk around the bus station, train station, or airport instead of sitting and waiting.

Check with your health care provider before starting an activity plan. He or she can advise you about safety concerns to be aware of, as well as which activities are best for you.

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