Know Thy Fit Self

If you're working out to achieve someone else's goals, you won't stick with the program for long. If you know what you want, though, and choose exercise programs that support your own personal fitness goals, you'll make exercise part of your life.

How do you establish fitness goals? Ask yourself a few questions:

What's motivating me to start exercising now? Most people start exercising after they've had a health crisis or received doctor's orders to get fit. Or, they can't squeeze into a favorite outfit, have a big event coming up, are bored, stressed out, or simply want to feel better. Maybe they're motivated by guilt that they know they're not taking good care of themselves. Or maybe they're looking for a way to connect with new people. By figuring out why you want to exercise, you'll zero in on how you need to exercise.

  • Health crisis: If your doctor says your blood sugar, blood pressure, or risk for disease is too high, you'll need a program that includes cardiovascular/aerobic exercise to burn calories and give your heart a good workout.
  • Lose weight: Your fitness plan should include plenty of cardiovascular and strength training so you'll burn calories and increase your metabolism by adding muscle mass.
  • Reduce stress: Any exercise plan can help you reduce stress, but yoga, Tai Chi, and Qi Gong are particularly good because they harness the mind and body with breath work, which packs a powerful exercise-meditation punch.
  • Meet people: Group exercise programs like Zumba, running clubs, and dance lessons are great ways to meet people.

What do you like to do? Do you like to run, play tennis or basketball, dance, ride a bike, lift weights, do team sports, or swim? Whatever your passion, if you're doing something you like, you'll work out more often and for longer periods of time. If you're forcing yourself into an activity you hate though, you'll quit. Do what you love and the fitness will follow.

What's your goal?  Whether you're training for a marathon or another sporting event or you're trying to fit into your wedding dress, different goals require different approaches. One of the best ways to achieve any fitness goal is to consult with a fitness expert. For example, if you're training to run the distance, your best ally is a running coach. If you want to lose weight, a personal trainer can design a program to help you burn calories and gain muscle.  If you don't know what you like to do, but want to try new things, taking a physical education class at your local community college might introduce you to enough different types of sports and exercise programs that you'll find one that's right for you.

What am I good at? Are you naturally fast or have great upper body strength? Are you great at teamwork or love to spend time alone? You might be a natural sprinter, weight lifter, swimmer, or gymnast. Choosing a sport or exercise program that highlights your strengths is a great way to jumpstart your exercise program.

What do I need to work on? Do your knees or back hurt? Are you abs flabby? Do you get winded just walking down the driveway? By choosing programs that improve muscle strength in specific areas or build up cardiovascular and respiratory strength, you're not only building up your weak spots, you're adding overall fitness to ward off future injuries and illnesses.

What's my budget? If you have the money to invest in gym memberships, sporting equipment, and team fees—excellent. If you don't, focus on activities that don't require a heavy investment. For example, for the cost of a good pair of shoes, walking and running are almost free. Choose exercise you can afford.