– JENNIFER SAVIN
Fitness can be a right old journey, can’t it? And one way to ensure you keep yourself motivated and moving is to continuously set yourself realistic goals. At times it can feel as though there’s a lot of pressure to look a certain way (check out these incredible women who are fully on board with turning that idea on its head), so it could be easy to focus your fitness attentions solely on losing weight or fitting into a certain dress size.
However, as we all know, that’s not always the greatest reason to keep going with your workouts: many women expect to magically feel more confident the moment they zip up a new pair of jeans in their “dream size” only to realise, nothing much has changed. Apart from the fact they’ve bought new clothes. Striving to achieve goals that challenge you mentally and leave you feeling like you’ve properly achieved something will have long-lasting benefits, in all aspects of your health – and tbh, that sounds a lot more appealing to us.
Here, seven top trainers share motivating fitness goals that have absolutely nothing to do with the way you look and everything to do with how you feel. Happy sweating!
Work on building strength
The beauty of strength training? Not only does strong come in all shapes and sizes, but it can be a game-changer mentally, as well as physically. “Nothing else matters when you’re lifting a weight as all your attention is on that, so it’s a great way to escape from stress,” agrees Yanar Alkayat, a Level 3 PT who is now a dab hand with the weights. “It’s also incredibly empowering, you feel on top of the world after lifting something you previously thought you couldn’t.”
The benefits go deeper than that too – you’ll also improve your posture, future-proof your body, strengthen your bones, mentally boost your confidence and have more energy, Yanar adds. Unsure how to take the first step? She advises contacting a PT, coach or lifting club, as it’s important to ensure you’re lifting safely and have the correct form, so as to avoid injury.
Suggested goal: Learn how to deadlift, squat and bench press. “These three compound moves (meaning they work multiple muscle groups at once) are the bedrock to strength and a great place to start,” Yanar explains. “Always work with a professional, as technique and form are key, and add weight gradually over time.” If you enjoy the process you’ll be deadlifting your bodyweight (and more) before you know it. Yes, really.
Fall in love with exercise
“I ask my clients to move away from weight loss goals and focus on developing a positive relationship with exercise instead,” explains Hollie Grant, known as The Pilates PT and founder of The Pilates PT Method. “This can be quite challenging at first as they’re so used to having numbers to hit, and something physical to work towards.” What Hollie is really asking for them to do, she says, is make it more about the emotional side of exercise, as so many of us exercise to lose weight, punish ourselves for overeating or as a control method, whereas exercise has a much greater purpose.
“Ask yourself if you enjoy the fitness classes you attend, or whether you’re just attending them for the ‘results’ that have been promised – if you don’t enjoy your classes, why on earth are you attending them?” Hollie believes that just as the saying goes ‘there’s someone for everyone’, there’s an exercise or sport for everyone too, you just have to search for it.
Suggested goal: Try a new type of exercise each week, until you find The One. “If you hate running, stop running. Find the exercise regime that gets you excited,” she adds. “You might have to think outside of the box – for me I love bouldering! It challenges my mind as much as my body, it’s sociable and welcomes bodies of all shapes and sizes. I crave going bouldering, and therefore I know it’s right for me.”
Nail a specific move
“Aiming to master, or expand upon, a specific move is a great way of setting both long and short term goals,” says George Palmer, a personal trainer and fitness instructor. However, it’s important to make these goals realistic and take time to work your way up to the final result, he adds.
Suggested goal: develop your press-up technique. “If you’re a complete beginner, start with an easier variation of the move, known as the ‘box press up’ [come down on all fours, with your knees resting below your hips, rather than holding your body in a plank position like you would in a standard press up],” says George. “From there, you can set yourself the goal of moving your knees further back (see below picture) each session, aiming for 10 to 12 reps at a time.” If you already find press-ups easy, he suggests trying a spicier variation of the move known as a ‘double clap press up’ – an explosive press up with two claps before getting your hands back to the ground.
Play with your your run times
“For me, non-aesthetic goals have the potential to be more rewarding and longer lasting than purely aesthetic focused ones,” says Hannah Lewin, a female-focussed personal trainer and founder of Mind+Motion. “To decrease your 5km and 10km run times, running the distance once a week or so will help your body adapt to the mileage and build up your endurance levels.” If you’re a total newbie, don’t focus on the speed initially, just get the hang of breathing (in through the nose, out the mouth) and keeping your shoulders back and down.
When you’re ready to move on, adding in speed work such as run-walk-run intervals, or run-sprint-run intervals will also help with developing pace. “A structured interval session could start with easy jogging for 5 minutes as a warm up, before running at a quicker pace for 30-45 seconds for beginners, 60-90 seconds for intermediates, before returning to your easy pace for 2 minutes for beginners, and 1 minute for intermediate runners.” Repeat this cycle anywhere between 4-8 times depending on your ability and available workout time.
Suggested goal: see if you can aim to beat your 5k time every 5 to 6 weeks, by 20 to 40 seconds per go, says Hannah. “Whilst it may not seem a lot, 40 seconds off a best effort run is a great achievement!” If focussing in on the timing feels like too much pressure – or even just plain dull – you could also experiment with pushing out of your comfort zone by running a longer distance each time. Even if it’s just upping from 1 mile to 1.25 miles, it’ll feel mighty fine.
Move your body every day
While it’s important not to overdo it and risk injury (e.g. by undertaking a daily hardcore HIIT session), aiming to do some physical activity every day will boost not only your general fitness levels, but likely your mood too. “Use a health app, such as Strava, Apple Health or MyFitnessPal, to track your daily movement and exercise to become accountable for yourself,” suggests James Stark, a personal trainer and co-founder of Starks Fitness gyms.
Suggested goal: don’t be a total coach potato on your rest days. “Reduce the ‘lull days’ where you don’t move at all by setting a notification to get you up and moving,” says James. “Move your body daily, don’t neglect it!” Going for a short walk, having a dance around your bedroom or taking a bike ride all count.
Improve your flexibility and mobility
“It’s something we tend to neglect, but improving your mobility is one of the most important areas of fitness to help prevent injuries and optimise your training,” says Anna Smith, of Anna’s Barbelles, a fitness, nutrition and mindset coach. “Plus, stretching is a great stress-reliever.” Flexibility and mobility are two different things: the former allows you to lengthen a muscle (think trying to touch your toes), while the latter is what allows you to move in different ways (think your squat depth).
Suggested goal: do some 10 minutes of basic stretching before you work out. “It doesn’t have to be a full-on yoga routine, but make sure to include movements like shoulder rolls, lying back twists and deep squats and lunges,” says Anna. The key thing thing to remember? Move slowly and with control, sink into those stretches and enjoy them. “Aim to gradually increase your range of movement as well as the time you spend practising mobility and stretching, to really get the most out of it.”
Take care of your heart health
Fitness is all about a balance, meaning ideally – sorry – there will be some heart-happy cardio involved at some point during your weekly workout schedule. “Cardiovascular training is a great way to improve your level of fitness and achieve a feel-good endorphin high,” says Kyle Edwards, Personal Trainer at JOHN REED Fitness. “You should be taking part in moderate exercise for at least 30 minutes at a time, 5 days per week – or vigorous exercise 2 to 3 times per week.”
He adds that from a physiological standpoint, you can measure your resting heart rate and heart rate during different intensities of training, and that the fitter you are, the lower your heart rate will be at rest. “The same goes for during exercise,” Kyle notes. “The fitter you become, the lower your heart rate will be during intense activities as your heart muscle strengthens through exercise.”
Suggested goal: aim to lower your heart rate, while chilling and working out. “There are so many workouts you can do to improve your cardiovascular fitness, all sustained physical activity can count,” says Kyle. “At JOHN REED, our group training session Athlete is a fun tag team workout which has a weights, bodyweight or cardio equipment challenge at each station. You can also try rowing, running, skipping or boxing, all of which are great for this style of training and easily accessible.”