January is typically the time for new starts, whether its in work life, home life, or in health. It’s not unusual for gyms bootcamps and trainers up and down the country to see enquiries treble during January.
What is so special about 01/01 for wanting to get fitter or healthier?
For one it’s a specific date – mentally people can attribute a start date to a new plan, make preparations – buy in all the healthy food, take out the gym subscription, kit themselves out in a new pair of kicks – all ready of the big day… there is a lot of sense in this – having a definite start date is a non negotiable. 1st Jan is 1st Jan for all of us – so it’s a line in the sand for making changes. However, talk to any trainer or gym owner and they’ll tell you that come the end of February a significant number of these new super keen fitness buffs have already fallen off the wagon.
What makes people quit?
Making drastic and wholesale changes to exercise or eating habits really is quite unrealistic to maintain all year around. If you’re relatively inactive – committing to a 6 day a week intensive PT program is not really sustainable. Similarly if you’ve grown up on three square meals a day – switching that for 6 meals that you carry around with you in little Tupperware boxes is probably not going to last either! The same can be said for eliminating entire food groups (we used to blame all evil on fats, then it was carbs, currently its meat).
The major problem with such severe and drastic changes is that when you slip up (and I say when because none of us are infallible) that the perception is that the ‘plan’ has failed and so you scrap the entire project.
I am often asked the question ‘whats the best training prpgram for….x, y, z’ no matter what the goal, the real answer to that question is the one that you’ll stick with consistently!
Unless we’re dealing with the best of the best in elite sport – where tiny margins and percentages separate the winners from the also rans – the biggest limiting factor to a training program is adherence. Small and sustainable changes to diet and lifestyle will triumph over sweeping wholesale changes that are ditched after 6 weeks. This applies to the Olympian as much as it does to the weekend warrior – consistency is key.
How should we set goals?
Like all good things in sport, health and fitness – goal setting has its very own acronym to help us get it right. So when figuring out your Januray lifestyle makeover we should ask ourselves the question – is this goal SMART. Namely:
Specific – “be more healthy’ is quite a vague target. Join a netball team, complete a 10k, or even drop a dress size lends some specificity to the goal. Humans are task driven animals and we need to know what we are striving for
Measurable – Very neatly tying in with the above. Goals must be measurable or else how to we ever know when its achieved? ‘Looking better ‘– is not really a quantifiable goal – but ‘add 5kgs to my benchpress’ or ‘perform 10 pullups’ definitely is.
Attainable – Time to be honest with ourselves for this part. I’m afraid that at 38 years old I’m unlikely ever to play centre forward for Newcastle United. But a realistic goal for me currently is to improve my hip mobility whilst maintaining deadlift and squat strength.
Relevant – probably less of a concern considering the focus is on improving our health and fitness. Bit suffice to say the goal we set should have some bearing on the outcome we desire. If we want to achieve our first marathon – then goal setting improving jump shot accuracy will have minimal impact…
Timed – Really simple this one – unless we put a timeline on things we can simply keep kicking things into the long grass and delaying. Setting a time limit to a goal keeps things on track.
Just Don’t Quit
We can see that performance related goals will much better fit this paradigm than simply ‘I need to shape up after Christmas’.
Re-framing ‘I want to be in shape for my beach holiday’ to become ‘I want to increase my pull ups from 10 reps to 15 reps by the beginning of June’ is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timed. And will also require adherence to a strength program that will see the aesthetic benefits happen along the way.
Biggest tip I can give anyone starting out on January health kick is to remember you will slip up, you will miss a workout, order a take away, have the impromptu night out. But as long as you’re not too hard on yourself, accept that’s part of life and just get back on track as soon as possible you’ll be more consistent for most of the time, and far more likely to hit your SMART fitness goal. Just. Don’t. Quit.