Why Most Plans Don't Work
I felt starting 2021 with a post about setting and following through on goals was appropriate given the tendency for the vast majority of new years resolutions to remain unresolved. I'm hoping this post will offer some clarity around goal setting for folks looking to workout, as well as coaches who have had clients fall off after a couple months.
All Gas - No Brakes
It's a well known meme at this point - in January everybody rushes to fitness centres to crush the goals they gave up on the summer before. They sign up for a 12 month gym membership, get new shoes and have their protein shake ready. With all their ducks in a row why don't more people succeed at forming habits? After 2 weeks of working out 2x/day they can't get up off the couch and they take one day off...then two...then three... then it's back to 2020 habits.
Attempting to cram a year's worth of effort into a couple weeks will likely lead to a few things:
- Lots of soreness
- A dislike of training
Balls to the wall isn't the answer - sustainability is crucial when setting your goals.
The key to injury free, sustained progress is slowly increasing the volume (total work) or intensity of your training over a long period of time. To be clear - I'm not advocating low effort training. (I had an assault bike at my house for 4 years - I'm more than comfortable puking from training) I'm preaching sensible increases in intensity that will lead to success next week, next month and next year.
A common goal that reeks of injury potential is "I'm going to start running this year". While this seems simple enough, usually when people are getting back into activity they have been inactive for a prolonged period. Inactivity leads to muscle tightness, weakness and muscular imbalances. After a couple weeks of running a few days/week we usually see:
- Shin Splints
- Back Pain
- Plantar Fasciitis
- Hamstring/Groin/Hip Pulls
A great example of a program that does progressive overload well is Couch To 5k. Slowly increasing volume is the way to go! In practice this might look like:
Week 1 - 2 days/week: Jog 30sec + Walk 1min x 15min
Week 2 - 2 days/week: Jog 30sec + Walk 45sec x 15min
Week 3 - 2 days/week: Jog 30sec + Walk 30sec x 15min
Week 4 - 2 days/week: Jog 30sec + Walk 30sec x 18min
Week 5 - 2 days/week: Jog 45sec + Walk 45sec x 21min
Week 6 - 2 days/week: Jog 1min + Walk 1min x 24min
Week 7 - 3 days/week: Jog 1min + Walk 1min x 20min
Week 8 - 3 days/week: Jog 1:30 + Walk 1:30 x 21min
Week 9 - 3 days/week: Jog 1:30 + Walk 1:30 x 24min
Week 10 - 3 days/week: Jog 2:00 + Walk 2:00 x 24min
Week 11 - 3 days/week: Jog 2:00 + Walk 1:30 x 24min
Week 12 - 3 days/week: Jog 2:00 + Walk 1:00 x 24min
Week 13 - 3 days/week: Jog 2:00 + Walk 30sec x 25min
Week 14 - 3 days/week: Jog 25min
Week 15 - 3 days/week: Jog 27min
Week 16 - 3 days/week: Jog 30min
If I was programming for an individual the above running program is not exactly what I would prescribe. However, I think it demonstrates the stepwise progression we could take from running a total of 10min across 2 workouts in week 1 -> 90 minutes over 3 workouts in week 16. No big jumps, just consistent training and in 4 months you're jogging 30min no problem!
Harsh But True
This likely isn't the answer most people are looking for. We live in a society where pain/suffering are always equated with rewards. We are constantly peppered with messages that food = bad, no pain no gain, grind don't stop, #hashtag, etc... It's simple to train until you break then throw your hands up in the air when you get injured and wonder why it's not working this year. It's much more difficult to sustain a reasonable level of training for several months.
The above is a pretty pessimistic view of new years resolutions. Below - I hope to offer some solutions for those of you setting your eyes on fitness goals for 2021!
#1 - Be Honest With Yourself
The most important thing you can do when creating your goals is to be honest with yourself. Why are you doing what you're doing? If you aren't focused on what is driving you, then motivating yourself through the lulls is going to be more difficult. For example: "I want to be healthy" can really mean "I want to rock my bathing suit at the beach this summer". "I want to make fitness apart of my life" can be driven by: "I want to be able to run a 5km race this year with my family".
It's crucial to dig deep and find the "why" that will get you to train.
#2 - Write It Down, Tell Someone/Everyone
When an idea is in your head - it's just that. An idea. Once you put it down on paper it is a concrete, tangible plan. Once you are set on a goal, tell someone. Tell everyone. Find someone who will find you accountable. Sunday night I had a moment where I said "Fuck. Why did I tell everyone I would write a blog every week." I was tired this morning and didn't want to write this article. But here I am doing it! A large part of that is because of the accountability structure I set up for myself. A great way to get going is to find a friend in the same boat and commit to holding each other accountable. Workout together over Zoom, go to the same yoga classes, meal prep together over Zoom on Sunday nights. Do what you can to support each other.
#3 - Create Tangible Habit Based Goals
The classic goal I'll hear in January is: "I want to lose 20lbs". In 2 months if you've dropped 10lbs - is that good? Is that on track? Do you need to ramp up intensity or is that head of schedule?
My suggestion is to focus on mini goals that build to your overarching goal. For example: "I am going to workout 3x/week and eat protein at every meal for 4 weeks." That gives you simple goals to focus on day to day. And after 4 weeks you can re-evaluate. Below are a few metrics that you can decide on to help you direct your training/nutrition habits for this year.
- How many days/week will you be training?
- How long will those workouts be? (is a 20min walk a workout? Do they have to be 60min+?)
- When will you be training? (6am, lunchtime, evening, etc..)
- Where will you be training? (i.e. 2 days in the gym, 1 day running, etc...)
- How many meals/day will you be having?
- How many days per week/month/year will you be consuming alcohol?
#4 Create Personal Reward Systems
Simply put - training can be tough and although the progress is rewarding in itself I recommend creating a reward structure for yourself that doesn't involve a "cheat day" theme. Great examples would be:
- After you've complete 15 workouts, buy yourself a new piece of workout equipment.
- When you're halfway to your weight loss goal purchase a new pair of shoes.
- After 12 weeks of training 3 days/week treat yourself to a massage.
- Get yourself a new piece of lifting gear after you hit a PR.
#5 - Get Help Making A Plan
Obviously - there is a clear bias in me writing this as I make a living creating plans for people and coaching them through it. However, I do think that coaching is one of the best investments you can make. Even if that coaching is simply a conversation pointing you in the right direction.
Help can also come from your friends/family/co-workers and picking their brains for what has worked for them in the past. Doing it on your own will be more labour intensive in terms of the research you'll need to put in and emotionally intensive in working through the low periods alone. There are lots of awesome resources out there, and if you need to be pointed in the right direction my inbox is always open!
Hopefully this has been helpful for you, as mentioned above if you have any questions regarding training, goal setting, or more specific questions feel free to drop me a line. I'm always happy to chat. Best of luck with training in 2021 and I'll see you next Monday!
Mylan Clairmont MSc, CSCS