By Tom Holland
January, February and March are typically the biggest months for new membership sales at health clubs. In fact, the first three months of the calendar account for nearly one-third (31 percent) of all new memberships in a year, according to the International Health, Racquet & Sports Club Association.
These aren’t surprising figures—many of the sales come from New Year’s resolution people clamoring into their local health club on January 4 (most are still too hung over to start on January 2, then decide to give themselves one more day of sinful eating on January 3).
Here’s another little fact to chew on; according to American Business Information, Inc., the number of health clubs in the United States grew from 5,211 in 1982 to over 23,500 in 2005. In roughly the same time frame, the number of overweight and obese adults approximately doubled. That’s almost five times as many health clubs, twice as many overweight and/or obese people.
What that tells me is that we’re doing something wrong. While this epidemic is certainly complex and a result of a combination of factors, I also believe that the problem relates to the way we set goals.
Most people set some type of fitness goal for themselves, but many times these goals are faulty, setting the person up for failure from the beginning. The model for goal attainment is a simple one: success lies in first creating the correct goal-setting framework and then implementing the component parts consistently.
Here’s how to set the right goals this year.
Resolution #1: Pick several short-term concrete goals
Not “I am going to be healthier this year,” or “I will go to the gym more this year.” Not “I want to look better in three months,” or “I am going to run on the treadmill much more this year.” Come up with concrete goals, such as, “I will go to the gym four days a week,” or, “I will decrease my body fat by four percent in three months.” Choose several definitive, measurable goals and set specific dates for achieving them. It sounds simple, but you would be amazed at how many people set vague goals and have no true way of quantifying them. “I want to look great naked,” will not work. No one thinks they look good naked—OK, maybe those guys on the beach sporting Speedos, whom we wish would refrain from the egregious fashion faux pas, but they are the exception.
Resolution #2: Stay off of the scale
If losing weight is your goal, and it is for most people, getting on the scale every day will only serve to depress or mislead you. Remember that a pound equals 3,500 calories. Do you think you really gained or lost three pounds overnight? No, so there’s no need to check the scale daily. Instead, pick an article of clothing that you can no longer fit into (not a dress or pair of pants that you wore in fourth grade, either, something that recently became unwearable) and use getting back into it as a short-term goal. This is a much better determinant of your progress than gross body weight. Psychology has so much to do with sticking to a fitness plan and the scale won’t help in maintaining a positive and accurate sight on your goals. Yes, you should weigh in periodically, but I recommend doing it weekly.
Resolution #3: Pick an event as your long-term goal
Choose something that is challenging to you, maybe even a little frightening. A sprint triathlon, a bike ride, an adventure race, a 5K walk, a marathon, etc. Pay the entrance fee and then tell 10 friends so that the guilt will be high if you decide to bail out. I have found great success in using this simple strategy to get people invested in a structured cardiovascular and resistance training plan. It is so more difficult to skip those gym workouts when you have an event looming in the future. You should also consider working with a coach or personal trainer to further invest yourself in the process.
So set some great fitness goals in 2009. Make them concrete, measurable and set dates for achieving them. Don’t become what I call a “Valentine’s Day Victim,” one whose New Year’s fitness goals don’t last even until that February holiday rolls around. It’s too easy to find yourself stuffing those cheeks with gobs of chocolate and saying, “Next year …”