Are My Health Goals Realistic?

Setting realistic goals is extremely important in order to progress in any health and fitness regime. In this blog post I will explain why this is important and provide some tips on setting realistic goals and managing your self-expectation along the way. (5 min read)

The Outset

You may be thinking that all you want to do is lose a couple of kilos, so why bother taking the time to write formal goals? Well, by having a goal clearly set for want to achieve and when you want to achieve it by, you will know that hard work and persistence will yield results. Not having a goal to work towards is one of the biggest reasons I see why clients (and me) don’t adhere to their health and fitness programme and achieve sub-optimal results.

The question is, can we create goals that are challenging enough to evoke positive change but also achievable, so that we don’t lose interest and give up on them?

You may have heard of the SMART criteria for goal setting, whereby goals must be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. In this case I just want to focus on the Achievable and Time-bound criteria as I believe these are the most important, yet also the most difficult part of goal setting.

Setting Achievable, Time-bound Goals

The majority of clients we work with are looking for one of three things:

  1. Fat loss
  2. Increased muscle mass
  3. Increased aerobic fitness ( i.e. a faster 10km run time)

So in order to achieve one of these, what are realistic goals to set and how long should it take?

Fat Loss

Theoretically, the time needed for this is easy to calculate. 1 pound of fat is equal to 3500 calories, so in order to lose 1 pound of fat it’s necessary to consume 3500 less calories than your body needs to function over a given time.

For example, a person may require 2500 calories in order to maintain their weight and regular function. If they were to reduce their calorie intake to 2000 calories-per-day, they would be in a deficit of 500 calories-per-day, or 3500 calories-per-week, which would result in the loss of 1 pound of fat for that week. Scaled up to a 12 week period, this person could lose 12 pounds.

Factoring in the calories burned during 3-4 hours of exercise each week, you can expect to lose 1-2 pounds (half a kilo to one kilo) of body fat each week. There will of course be exceptions to this rule, but it’s the best place to start when creating a time bound, achievable weight loss goal.

Muscle Mass

This is a more complex goal, requiring a long commitment to resistance training as well as nutrition. There are no hard rules to how much muscle can be gained within a certain time as it depends on a wide range of factors, such as age and base physiology. Generally though, people can expect to build around a quarter kilo to 1 kilo of muscle per month with the right workouts and nutrition.

For muscle building to be an achievable goal, you must have enough time to ensure muscles are being appropriately stimulated in the gym and suitably fed with a high protein, nutrient-dense diet. If you are able to commit the hours to training and eating correctly over an extended period (ideally more than 6 months), then increased muscle mass is achievable.

Aerobic Fitness

This also requires dedicated time if you’re looking to achieve the right results. For example, someone looking to improve their 10km run time should expect to dedicate around 3 hours a week solely to running. However, it’s important to take potential injuries into account, identifying any that could get in the way of you meeting your goal – for example, planning to reduce your 5km run time by 5 minutes in 6 weeks isn’t going to end in success if you know you have a history of knee pain!

Closing Thoughts

It’s important to understand that our body’s initial adaptation to stimuli will generally be greater than a few months down the line. For example, when we initially reduce our calories and start losing half a kilogram every week, this doesn’t mean we will continue to lose weight at this rate for the next 6 months. This is because as we lose body mass, the total number of calories our body needs to function is reduced. Where initially we might have a weekly deficit of 3500 calories, after the body loses mass and becomes more efficient, this deficit will be reduced and the amount of fat lost each week will fall. The same goes for muscle gain, strength and aerobic fitness goals – the initial phase of training will normally see the greatest results.

At about halfway through the timeframe towards our goals, a lot of us may become demotivated and start to plateau, lose interest or fall short of targets. Following initial successes it can also be easy to lose focus and perhaps “move the goalposts” to create what we believe is a better target, or give ourselves less time to reach unrealistic goals. Unfortunately, this is often simply a recipe for failure.

If any of this ever happens, then that’s the time to take a step back, look at how far you have already progressed and know that by continuing to stick to the plan, you will reap the rewards of reaching your target.

There will always be a bit of guesswork involved in the goals and timeframe you set yourself, but the best thing to do is to always discuss your goals with your personal trainer.

Here’s a quote from The Hip-Hop Preacher Eric Thomas that I remind myself of whenever training gets tough or the end goal seems a long way away:

“You’re already in pain, you’re already hurt – get a reward from it!”

Keep pushing,

Joe Dynes