Fitness Goal Tips to Inspire You

Fitness Goal Series Part 3: Strategy

You’ve identified your goal(s) in part one, shared tips for finding and maintaining motivation in part two, now it’s time to consider strategy. Here are some strategy tips to help you achieve your fitness goal:


1) Win the “Mental” Days
“Mental” days are easy to identify. These are NOT the days when our bodies are so tired they cry out for a break (which we should give them). Mental days are the days in which we don’t feel like exercising and our reasons for not wanting to aren’t good enough. Work was exhausting, there’s psuedo-pressing tasks to get done, it’s windy outside, the gym is far away, my throat has a tickle… Win these days, the majority of the time. A mental day is worth more than a good day and can be conjured up like super powers when the need arises down the road.

Mental days are the days in which we don’t feel like exercising and our reasons for not wanting to aren’t good enough.

Heading into your goal event you will know in your mind and muscles if you won the mental days, this will result in a loss of or boost in confidence. Heading into the homestretch of your goal, when fatigue pulls like a heavy, wet coat you will remember your mental day wins and power through to success.

For a fascinating look into the mind and physical achievement, listen to NPR’s interview with Diane Van Deren. She’s one of the best ultra-runners in the world, and it all started with a seizure.

2) Believe You Can Do It
Pick a realistic, challenging goal. Create a plan to achieve this goal. Engage a community support system. Believe you can do it. You are strong enough. You are worth it. Forget the past, it’s gone and the future isn’t here. Make your future. You can meet your fitness goal.

3) Consistency is Key
A wise friend once told me, “more days with less miles is better than less days with more miles.” The secret to fitness is consistency and reaps similar benefits to winning the mental days. The consistent exerciser is confident going into a challenge. Which leads to…

4) Easy Effort Still Counts
Every day does not need to be a study in suffering.

Despising easy effort undermined my fitness goals for years because I was constantly comparing my suffering levels to those I experienced in high school sports. Since I didn’t have a coach screaming at me and driving me to the realms of vomiting, personal workouts were invalid and worthless. This lie, and learning not to live in the past, blinded me to the benefits of consistency.

Consistency builds a solid base, mental fortitude, discipline and many other attributes including good health. Boiled down, for me, the point of having any exercise goal is to be healthy. If you are wired like I was, do yourself a favor and swear off the tyranny of no pain, no gain.

5) Create Fun Benchmarks

Benchmarks and mini-goals are a great way to stay motivated and to break a large fitness goal down into manageable chunks.

One of the most incentivizing benchmarks I’ve set (with permission from my wife!) was to earn a GPS running watch.  If I adhered to my first marathon training program for a couple of months, thus proving my commitment, she would allow me to buy a fancy Garmin running watch.  Being a fan of gizmos, this benchmark was highly motivating and I’ve enjoyed the watch for many years now.

Possible benchmarks will vary from person to person, but a few ideas include:

    • Special Treats (junk food!)
    • Clothing
    • Trips
    • Fun races/events (i.e.: use some 5K/10K/ and half marathon races as benchmarks on your way to a marathon)
    • Gadgets
    • Eating out

6) Compete Against Yourself (From the Present)

You and I are who we are presently. I’m not me from high school and you aren’t you five years into the future. Past and future may give us some goals to aim for, but the only person we can compete against currently is “I” from the present. As each of us trains, we become tuned in to current fitness capabilities.  Going into an event, estimating a finishing time should, typically, be an exercise in accuracy. Training has revealed good approximations of what the body can do.

When our events come around, thanks to training, we can set a personal goal and spend the duration of the event performing in such a way as to achieve that goal. What other competitors do is largely irrelevant.

You and I are who we are presently. I’m not me from high school and you aren’t you five years into the future. Past and future may give us some goals to aim for, but the only person we can compete against currently is “I” from the present.

7) Be Content to Walk/Take Breaks
Incorporating rest as part of your training/race strategy is a good idea. Often, the time spent taking a walking break is easily made up on the form of rejuvenated energy. Highly successful ultramarathon runner Geoff Roes took a significant walking break during the 2010 Western States and was rewarded with one of the greatest finishes and wins in ultra history.

Geoff Roes leads Anton Krupicka at Western States

Geoff Roes leads Anton Krupicka at Western States (Photo Luis Escobar)

Famous runner and coach Hal Higdon’s training materials highly encourage this strategy and many have used it to great effect. Hal mentions encouraging runners to stop each time they see a “bubbler” (drinking fountain) along urban trails for a drink and brief rest. In a race environment, walking through aid stations is a good way to incorporate this strategy.

Personally, as a trail runner, I enjoy taking breaks simply to enjoy some serenity.

8) Commit to a 1 Month Effort

Here are two surefire ways to make achieving your fitness goal more difficult: setting an extremely high bar for commitment and setting no bar for commitment. A good way to avoid these pitfalls and early burnout is to commit to 1 month minimum of training.

Whether or not habits form in three weeks is debatable, but one month of commitment should provide enough time to get your fitness level up to the point where you can perform your activity with improved proficiency. In other words, you might be sucking wind on week one but week four will most likely see you beyond the initial suffering of week one and enjoying some of the fruits of your labor. A week four person will be in a better position than a week one person, especially to make sound judgement calls.

9) Identify the Purpose of Each Workout
Coach Greg McMillan mentions the value of assigning purpose to each workout: Each and every run must have a purpose and you should know it! This isn’t meant to take the fun out of your training but more to help you decide what is most appropriate for each workout so that you have more fun, reach your potential and race your fastest.

Setting your purpose and expectation before you begin each workout helps settle mental battles before they start and produces great results.


Check back soon for part four: Engaging Community, and consider Subscribing via RSS so you never miss another Ruin Your Knees update.

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About The Author

Brian Erickson
The only noteworthy facts about RYK's founder, Brian, are his height (6'7"), and his fortunate status as a cancer survivor. Otherwise, he is an average guy who works hard, enjoys adventures (trail running, backpacking, biking, hoops), and makes his living as a graphic and web designer. Brian is heading towards his 10 year wedding anniversary with his high school sweetheart. Connect with Brian on Instagram, Twitter, or Google+