Sunday, October 28, 2007

The A to Your Q

Larissa asks:

Any tips for those of us who aren't necessarily training towards something, but simply trying to grow in general healthiness and discipline with good eating and exercise habits?

Yes! I do have advice! I think the best advice I can give you is to train towards something :smile:

I'm only half kidding; although I've seen (both in my own life and in others') that nothing motivates change like having an event you love to train for, I think you might be able to achieve the same affect by good goal setting. And while I think that "general healthiness and discipline with good eating and exercise habits" is a great goal, it'll probably be easier to stick to if you have a more concrete, specific goal. This could be something as definite as a 10 K, or as laid-back as weight maintenance. But here's the thing with "just working out": Do it long enough, and you're probably going to plateau. Now as long as you plateau at a healthy level, there's probably nothing wrong with that (besides the fact that it's boring). But if you have definite goals that you're targeting, you'll only get so far without goals and a definite plan as to how to achieve them. For example, if you're trying to lose weight but you're working out at the same intensity and eating the same amount of calories every day, then even if your caloric intake is initially enough to stimulate weight loss, eventually your body is going to adapt to that stimulus and it will begin to maintain instead of lose weight. Same thing with fitness gains. If you're trying to strengthen muscles or get your heart more fit, you have to keep varying the training stimuli in order to keep seeing improvement. Plus, setting and reaching periodic goals gives you a feeling of empowerment and achievement that keeps you engaged with your working out (which means you're less likely to burn out and turn into a couch potato). So even though it sounds uncharacteristically Type A of me, I am a big proponent of setting goals and making plans to reach them (gag, planning, I know).

Here are some tips for good goal-setting:
- Set goals that are measurable, achievable, and consistent with each other
- Have an overall, long-term goal and some small, checkpoint goals
- Your long-term goal should be meaningful for you. Because if you believe in what you're doing, you're going to be more likely to continue pursuing it no matter what happens. So, for example, if you really believe in taking care of your body because it's a gift from God, then that should be part of your goal.
- Your short-term goals are little steps that keep you engaged. They should be challenging enough that you're going to have to work hard for them. Here's what my text book says: "A challenging [short-term] goal is one that has about a 50% chance of success. Thus a well-constructed short-term goal represents a compromise between guaranteeing success, as in the case of a goal that is too easy, and requiring too much effort. Short-term goals are meaningless if they are not reasonably difficult; they will lead to going through the motions as opposed to investing real effort." Perhaps a bit dry, but concise and clear, no?
- There are three types of goals: Process goals (refers to the process, or the actual working out), outcome goals (where you're looking for a certain outcome that's somewhat out of your control), and performance goals (tied directly to your personal, subjective performance). You can have a high degree over performance goals, like if you set a goal to have a positive attitude when working out, or to practice good exercise technique; if you work hard enough and concentrate, you're going to be able to meet that goal almost every time. Outcome goals are all about social comparison, and as a result you have less control over achieving them. Like if you want to be the fastest runner in your family, you're only going to go so far by working hard, and after that, you're relying on everyone else in your family not working as hard (and not being genetically superior to you). And performance goals are harder to define . . . an example would be an interval goal, in which you want to reach a certain performance standard by a certain point, for example being able to increase your bench press a given amount over a given period.
- Set a time period of accomplishment for your short-term goals. If you don't achieve your goal, re-evaluate and adjust it.
- Establish rewards and consequences for yourself. If you meet your goal, reward yourself (for example, when I break a 3-hour olympic time, I fully intend to buy a new bike). And if you fail to meet your goal . . . well, I personally don't use negative reinforcement to achieve my goals, but if your personality works well with punishment-type scenarios, then it might be helpful to take away something you enjoy if you don't meet a goal. For example, if you miss a bunch of workouts one week, maybe the next week you sacrifice your favorite TV show.

I'll put up some more posts in the future about how to work exercise into a busy schedule, as well as tips on eating healthy, but I hope this helps to get you started.


  1. Thanks, J! That is SUPER helpful. Steve and I are both trying to figure out some good goals for ourselves, so your breakdown of goal types will come in handy. I look forward to more advice :)

  2. Very helpful. Thank you! I run a rock climbing guide training program in NC, and I am considering making some of what you talk about part of the supplemental training and instruction of the program.