Written By: Austin Colish
In three phrases or less, how would you describe the process of “becoming fit”?
A reasonable response would be: “proper nutrition, adequate sleep, and consistent exercise.” Without a doubt, these components are crucial to leading a healthier life. We commonly hear people say “Oh, I need to get into shape,” or “Wow, that person is really fit!” These statements often have an underlying associative feeling of guilt, stress, or even self-defeat. As a current fitness professional and future healthcare provider, I’d like to break down as many of these barriers to success as possible. Modern media, social pressures and general lack of knowledge provide an unnecessary stigma around beginning the process of “getting into shape.” In my experience, the process of “becoming fit” can be encapsulated in two words: lifestyle change.
Fitness is all about lifestyle change. There are three main components of this process:
Early Success is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a philosophy utilized by all types of coaches, teachers and therapists. Early Success is based on the idea that both performance and adherence is increased when beginners find success at whatever task they are attempting. This is a topic that has been researched by motor learning specialists, and has shown to aid in adapting the properties of neuroplasticity in our brains. Basically, the more we practice something, the better we get at it. When we start a task and succeed early on, we become more motivated to try and keep practicing. For example: when you play a game, how likely are you to keep playing that game if you lose every single time? (Probably not very.) The same goes for lifestyle change.
How do we implement Early Success into our daily lives?
Set S.M.A.R.T. goals.
SMART goals are: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely. By setting goals that fall within the SMART criteria, you are more likely to achieve Early Success. For example, if you have never run a mile in your life, do not set a goal to run three miles a week to “get into shape.” Instead, start by walking for 40 minutes a day, four days a week, outside, for two weeks. Comparing these goals: one has specific parameters within a set time frame, the other is generalized and arguably less likely to be successful with a beginner.
Failing to plan, is planning to fail.
Setting realistic goals is such a crucial part of developing any kind of fitness plan. By utilizing the SMART methodology, you can achieve any goal you have in an approachable manner. Common fitness goals are “to lose X amount of pounds.” Try breaking down the steps required into bite-sized solutions. Instead of committing to “eat healthier and exercise,” commit to “substituting Greek yogurt for ice cream, start a walking program three days a week and going to the gym two days a week.” You can then build off those three goals and make them even more specific. What kind of Greek yogurt? Where will you be taking your walks? What will you be doing at the gym? Making little changes early in this process that you can easily accomplish promotes long term development.
In healthcare and in fitness professional settings, there is a technique called the Motivational Interview. Essentially, this tool helps coaches and clinicians gauge their clients’ interest level and measure their ability to open up to change. Ultimately, “becoming fit” is just about making small lifestyle changes. In this interview, the interviewee is placed into a “stage of change” that predisposes the treatment approach the clinician or coach needs to take. Similarly, individuals can begin this process by self assessing and adapting to their own needs. Now that you have a plan, with SMART goals, you need to create an environment that helps facilitate this change (regardless of your current willingness to accept it).
Motivation is either intrinsic or extrinsic. If you are intrinsically motivated, there is a high chance you don’t need to read this post. However, if you are motivated extrinsically (I fall into this group), you have to modify your environment. In order for you to attain success early on and allow growth to be consistent, you have to change your environment as your lifestyle changes. This can take many shapes and forms — so be creative! Examples include: throwing out junk food in your house, setting a budget for how much alcohol you consume on a weekly basis, setting reminders to go to sleep on time, and surrounding yourself with a supportive gym community like we have here at King. Self reflect. Think about how you can modify your environment to meet your goals. If you have difficulty doing this, ask your coach!
Having established goals, reinvented your environment to encourage success and officially begun your own fitness journey, the last piece is to build in time to self reflect. This can come in many forms: journaling, meditating or having a weekly progress discussion with your coach. By self reflecting, this allows room for self evaluation. By reviewing your progress, challenges/barriers to success, you can self correct. Having a reference point based on your goals and identifying how your environment hurts or helps those goals, leads to self correction. Making SMART changes to your current situation can help. Part of the Motivational Mindset is committing to your goals, and finding success by the means necessary to make your goals reachable. When you are able to independently self evaluate and self correct, you can self regulate. The ultimate goal is to self regulate; making changes in the direction of your goals independently in order to be successful.
Fitness is a journey for everyone: the single mother of three, the businessman who works 60-hours/week, the professional athlete of 20 years, the sedentary teen with aspirations of running a marathon. Everyone has their own challenges, and no one is more important than the other.
Fitness does not have a gold standard. Fitness is not defined by athletic accomplishment. Fitness is not defined by physical appearance. Fitness is a culmination of trials, changes, failures and successes. By setting SMART goals, finding Early Success, maintaining a Motivational Mindset and Self Regulating, we can all become more “fit.” Whether you’re a gym veteran or someone who stumbled upon this post who has never worked out a day in their life, I encourage you to spend a few minutes today and reflect.
Where are you now and where do you want to be?
Use these tools and develop the next step in your fitness plan. Perhaps your goal is to deadlift 600lbs. Maybe your goal is to walk up two flights of stairs independently. Either way, your goals are relative to you and should be flexible enough to change or adapt over time. Seek help and advice from your coach or physical therapist. Understand that every day doesn’t need to be a victory, and that always, consistency is King.