It doesn’t have to be a New Year for you to start making plans for your health and fitness. Now is as good a time as any to grab your goals and devise a plan to achieve them before they get away from you for another year.
Your first task: re-assess where your health is now and where you want to be.
Generally, people don’t achieve the health goals they set themselves because they don’t put in place a practical plan to achieve them. That’s mistake number one, their resolve is already shaky, then they get distracted by everyday life.
New Year is not a good time for resolutions. Jan and Feb are typically busy, kids are well and truly back at school and it is easy to fall into a routine where you feel you have no time, no energy and the idea of taking steps to improve your health sounds exhausting.
I say time to step up! Everyone is busy. There is never a ‘perfect’ time to start working towards your goal. So dust those motivational mothballs out of your brain and let’s start again with the goal setting.
At 12WBT we always talk about the important of having goals that are S.M.A.R.T:
Not fluffy! Be crystal clear about what you want to achieve. i.e. “I want to be able to run 5km without stopping.”
Get all the cold hard numbers so you can monitor progress. Get on the scales, take measurements, check in with your doctor for blood pressure and cholesterol.
Achievable: Your goal needs to be one that you are capable of achieving given your job and family commitments. If you say “I’m going to lose 8 kilos in the next 12 weeks” that is achievable. If you say “I’m going to lose 15 kilos in three weeks”, that’s not achievable in a safe way.
Realistic: Having a realistic goal is different to having an achievable goal. Realistic goals are sustainable. You might set yourself the achievable goal of losing 8 kilos in 12 weeks, but your methods for reaching that goal might be unrealistic. For example, if your goal was to lose 8 kilos in 12 weeks by just doing yoga twice a week, that’s probably an unrealistic goal.
Be honest with yourself and determine how likely you are to be able to sustain your approach to your goal for your time period. There are 24 hours in a day, so it’s easy to achieve two hours of training in a day if you did nothing else, but is two hours of training a day realistic for you with everything else you have to do?
Time-Based: Once you’ve set your goal need to draw up a day-by-day, week-by-week plan to make it happen.
If your goal for 2013 was something along the lines of “In a year’s time I want to be fitter and healthier than I am now” (a common ambition!) then first you need to consider what that means. You need to begin by measuring what state your health and fitness is now.
I want to help you with measuring progress in your fitness and flexibility over a year so have put together some good benchmark exercises that you can repeat to see month-by-month how you are tracking.
These exercises are reliable, valid and reproducible and are based on 12WBT’s monthly fitness assessments – which we call Mini Milestones. They don’t require too much time or equipment.
All you need to accurately measure and record your performance is a 30cm ruler, a stopwatch (most smartphones have one) and your local running oval. Document your results on a computer, in your phone or somewhere where you can easily dig them out!
To assess strength, do a pushup test – see how many pushups on your knees you can do in 1 minute. This exercise tracks your upper-body strength and must be executed with perfect technique. You need to make sure your abs are pulled in, that you elongate your neck by tucking in your chin, and also that you are looking at the ground as your chest lowers to 10cm off the ground.
Your test results will improve with regular training:
- Beginner: 20 pushups or less
- Intermediate: 21-30 pushups
- Advanced: 31+ pushups
If you can do 31 or more pushups on your knees, you should be doing pushups (and planks) on your toes!
Testing Cardio Fitness
For assessing your cardiovascular fitness, I recommend doing a 1km running trial. You can either do two and a half laps of your typical 400m oval or you can mark our 1km with your car and retrace the route.
Here are some benchmarks for you:
- Beginner: 1km in over 8 minutes
- Intermediate: 1km in 5.5 to 8 minute
- Advanced: 1km in under 5.5 minutes
For flexibility, the universal test is the sit and reach. Sit with your legs extended and see how far you can reach towards your toes or if you can go past them. This exercise accurately assesses lower back and hamstring flexibility. If you rate well on this scale, then chances are you won’t have lower back problems.
12WBT categorises the sit and reach like this:
- Beginner: -5cm or lower
- Intermediate: -4cm to +5cm
- Advanced: +6cm or higher
Once you have your benchmarks and have them written down in a place you can easily refer to them (not a scrap of waste paper!) you need to decide what you want to achieve.
By breaking down the idea of ‘getting fitter’ into three or four measurable achievable goals, your ambitions no longer seems huge and insurmountable. I suggest grabbing a piece of paper and mapping it out.
A good way to set a goal is to aim to do double what you do now, for example, if you can do 15 pushups in a minute aim that after a month or so of training see if you’re able to do 30 or more in a minute.
If you can reach 5cm past your toes, set a goal to make that 10cm. Running times are somewhat different, but if you can do a kilometre in 8 minutes, chopping one minute off that time would be a fantastic achievement.
The less conditioned you are, the more you’re going to improve. So if you’re out of shape, you might see an 800% improvement in three months. If you’re in good shape and you really push it, then chances are you’ll only double or triple your existing benchmarks.
Even the smallest improvement on your strength, flexibility and cardio from this time last year and you’ll already be doing better than half of the population. I know you can achieve more than a small improvement, you just got to get a plan, and if you aren’t good at developing your own then maybe it’s time to try 12WBT.