How to make fitness goals that you will actually stick to in 2021

The new year is all about setting your intentions, and when it comes to fitness, January is a great opportunity to reset your goals.

But new year’s resolutions are notoriously hard to stick to, and with so much disruption to our fitness regimes this year, and with gyms likely to be affected by lockdowns even in to 2021, it’s harder than ever to set goals you can actually stick to.

If you give up on your new fitness plan after about a week every January, you’re not alone. But there are ways you can help maintain focus and motivation well into the new year.

It’s all about how you set your goals, and how you implement these lifestyle changes. We have asked a number of fitness experts to provide their top tips for setting effective fitness goals in 2021. So start making notes.

Be realistic

‘A new year is seen by many as a new start and people often go all in making lots of big changes at once; a new diet, dry January, aiming to train five times a week,’ says Ceri Clarke, personal trainer at SIX3NINE.

‘Although intentions are good, there is no point going balls-to-the-wall in January, if after a few weeks you realise you have set your expectations too high and are unable to keep it up.

‘The best exercise routine is one that is sustainable throughout the year. Start with tackling one change at a time and not to overwhelm yourself with too many things at once.’

‘If you’re a beginner, don’t put too much pressure on yourself,’ adds  Bulk Powders ambassador and PT, Sophie Aris.

‘Get yourself some weights and start with some gentle workouts, focusing on your arms one day, legs the next, and find some exercises that you enjoy doing.

‘If you’re more advanced, and a regular gym-goer, again, be realistic. Push yourself hard enough so you feel satisfied with your workout, and make sure you’re aiming to progress, whether it’s an extra workout in the week, an extra 10 seconds with your plank, or running up a steeper hill on your next jog.’ 

Be specific

When setting goals, Ceri says it’s important to think about what you are looking to achieve.

‘Even if the answer is general fitness, try giving yourself little challenges to work towards,’ she suggests. ‘For example: nailing your first pull up, running a 5k, swimming 20 lengths without a break in your local pool, deadlifting your own bodyweight or simply hitting your 10,000-step goal every day for a month.

‘Having a specific goal to work towards will help shape the direction of your training plan and can also help with your motivation as you work towards completing your desired achievements.’

Ask for help

If you are unsure where to start, Ceri suggests that you seek some advice, hire a trainer or find a workout buddy.

‘If stepping into a large open space full of heavy machinery which you have no idea how to work, it can be extremely intimidating,’ she says.

‘Getting some help from a fitness professional (even through your first few workouts) can be really useful to help combat any gymtimidation. If exercising from home, there are plenty of online trainers, classes and workshops to help you discover just how effective (and hard) home workouts can be.’

Set different time frames

Long, medium and short-term goals can help you stay on track, says Anthony Myatt, personal trainer and owner of Breathe Fitness.

‘Long term goals could be your ultimate goals for the year,’ says Anthony.

‘Medium goals could be monthly, and short-term could be as low as daily or weekly. Not all goals need to just mean your end goal.

‘They can be tiny improvements and they always keep people motivated longer to continue and make it a lifestyle change.’

Figure out your ‘why?’

‘So, you want to gain muscle? Or cut excess fat? Or maybe you want to be able to run 10k without stopping? These are all great goals –  “why” you want to be able to achieve any of these is your motivator,’ says Lisa Fiitt, personal trainer and founcer of fitness app Strong & Sxy.

‘Think about it really carefully. Why is it important to you to achieve, and importantly – how will it feel when you do achieve it?

‘On the days when you’re tired and you’re just not feeling a workout, remembering your “why” and how that feels, that will get you moving again.’

Be kind to yourself

‘The last year has been a pretty hectic one with uncertain times ahead. Try not to put too much pressure on yourself,’ says Ceri.

‘Exercise is such an amazing tool and I feel it should be a celebration of the great things your body is able to achieve rather than seen as a punishment or a way of “repenting your sins”. ‘

Ceri adds that exercise is great for the body and the mind.

‘As well as having been shown to decrease all cause mortality, exercise can also decrease levels of anxiety and even help to reduce depression,’ she explains.

Make it fun

‘This is a big one for me,’ says Ceri. ‘Finding motivation to get out of bed in the morning or exercising after a long day at work is a lot easier if you are actually going to enjoy it.

‘There are so many different forms of exercise, you don’t have to join a gym. You could try yoga, rock climbing, dancing, trail running, cycling or swimming. Try something new and see if you find a hobby you enjoy.’

Anthony agrees that enjoyment is the most important element of fitness and goal setting.

‘If you have never run in your life and suddenly in January, in the middle of winter, you are forcing yourself outside for a jog, then it is likely your motivation will go,’ he says.

‘Find an activity you enjoy. Not all goals are achieved in the gym. Use the time to try new things. Maybe there is an online class you’ve always wanted to try, or perhaps a socially distanced run with friends is what you like.

‘The point is, the more you enjoy an activity the more likely you’ll stick to it and help achieve the goals you’ve set yourself.’

Make it easy for yourself

Sophie says the key thing is to make a plan that works for you, not only in terms of exercise, but your lifestyle, too.

‘You might not yet be ready to go to the gym (or they might be closed where you are), so make your life easier by focusing on body weight workouts you can do from home,’ says Sophie.

‘If you know you’re a morning person, get it done before you sit at your desk for the day. If you know you like to be distracted whilst exercising, get a fun playlist ready. If you have a fitness goal you want to nail, putting a plan in place will allow you to do so.’

Make a progressive plan

‘When it comes to actually creating the plan, it is important to make it progressive so you can adjust at the same time you are getting closer to those goals,’ explains Anthony.

What he means by this is that your fitness regime and workout schedule should change and develop as you improve and get stronger and fitter.

‘Once you are fitter, doing the same workouts you did when you started won’t help you as much,’ he adds. ‘Changing the plan with progress is important and this again helps keep you motivated by giving the body different, more challenging things to try.’

Change your perspective

‘There’s no secret ingredient to upping your motivation, but a very simple tip is to stop making your workouts an option,’ says Sophie. ‘Instead, make them part of your daily or weekly routine.

‘Try to replace “am I working out today?” with “what time am I working out today?” or “what do I fancy focusing on today?” 

‘This is a great mindset to have in January, as it will set the precedent for the rest of the year. Whether it’s a longer walk to the supermarket, a yoga session, weight training or a run, getting your body moving in any capacity, doesn’t just contribute towards your fitness levels, but feeds your motivation, too.’

Be patient – learn to rest, not quit

‘You might not want to hear this, but there’s no quick fix for fitness and health,’ says Lisa Fiitt.

‘Crash diets and crash work out plans might appear to work in the short-term, but they don’t create a healthy lifestyle that you can keep maintaining. Any results you achieve albeit quickly, will likely disappear just as fast.

‘Be patient, be consistent and don’t give up when things aren’t happening as fast as you would like.

Forget the scales or the measurements and focus on how you feel instead. When you feel tired and like you need a mental break, take a rest – don’t quit.

Get some sleep, go for a walk and stretch, have an epsom salts bath. Recovery is key – both for your physical and mental health. Especially after what has been a traumatic year for so many in 2020.’

Don’t forget your mental wellbeing

With so much uncertainty, stress and anxiety triggered by living through a pandemic, it’s important to kick off the year knowing you’re looking after your mental wellbeing as well as your physical health.

‘It goes without saying that working out can contribute towards a healthy mindset, but moderation is key,’ says Sophie. ‘So ensure you give yourself plenty of downtime, drink plenty of water, and get lots of sleep. This is especially needed in January, after not just the festive season, but a very strange 2020.’

Anthony says that finding support and taking care of your mental health will be the most important element of goal setting for 2021.

‘We are going through an uncertain time that nobody in our generation has ever faced,’ he says. ‘Mental health is suffering, so supporting one another has never been so important.

‘Fine a friend or family member to work together with on a fitness goal. Regularly talk to each other about progress and help each other through the ups and downs.

‘Having people there on the journey with you will make it feel so much easier and know that there is always a shoulder to cry on or someone there if you need a kick up the bum.

‘Maybe speak to a coach if you still find all this too much and just need some professional guidance to help you along the way. They will be able to make the whole process easier on the brain so all you have to focus on is doing the work set out for you.’

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