Exercise goals that aren't about weight loss
November 2, 2011 7:53 AM   Subscribe

What are some exercise goals that AREN'T about weight loss or running races?

I'm having a lot of trouble motivating myself to exercise. I want to exercise, and I know all the good and rational reasons to do so, but that doesn't get me off the sofa. I'd like to devise a plan and I know I'm more likely to stick with it when I have specific goals.

However, 99.9% of exercise plan advice out there is geared towards losing weight, and I don't want to do that (BMI is 19.7). Likewise, I'm not really looking to compete in running races (I completed a marathon a few years ago and it was great, but it hurt my knees and I haven't really run since). But, I also know I'm not 'healthy' healthy - I have recurring lower back problems and I've tested a little high on HDL cholesterol (suspect too much dairy). I realize I go in cycles of exercising (the marathon, before a 10-day hike when I knew I didn't want to get left at the back, college crew team) but I'd like to make it more sustained and holistic.

I (finally) found this previous question but what I'd like advice on is any metrics I could keep logs on as 'healthy goals'? Resting heart rate? Number of push ups in a minute? What should I be able to do as a 28/f?

I really welcome any personal anecdotes on this kind of 'general' exercise plan, along with any websites/books/other media recommendations.
posted by atlantica to Health & Fitness (26 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Like you, I have to have particular goals for exercise. My last few were to complete (in a reasonable time) a cycling century. I did that twice and got into pretty good shape as a result. My current goal is to finish rowing 1M meters on the indoor erg, after which I'll get a t-shirt from Concept2. I have my eye next on swimming a mile, which should be fun, because I have absolutely no sort of swimming stroke beyond 'flail in the water'. Variety seems to work best for me, as I tend to get bored and burnt out. The rowing actually started as off-season cycle cross-training.
posted by jquinby at 8:02 AM on November 2, 2011

Strength training. The whole point is to get measurably stronger over time. Look into the "starting strength" book that's so highly recommended here on MeFi. Clear path to progress, and after a realatively short time you'll be able throw around a stack of iron much heavier than you ever thought you'd be able to.
posted by cosmicbandito at 8:03 AM on November 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

If goals motivate you, there is no shortage of them at Crossfit. First you learn the moves, then you work to get proper form, then you try to keep up with the daily workouts.
posted by anti social order at 8:04 AM on November 2, 2011

I enjoy activities like: running in one direction for an hour and see where I end up, or I'm going to put on my favorite album and walk for the entire duration.
posted by mrmarley at 8:10 AM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think the U.S. Army's fitness requirements are a reasonable general guide -- here are the charts for a 28 year old female.
posted by susanvance at 8:11 AM on November 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

Increased flexibility, ability to hold (or get into) certain yoga poses.
posted by sulaine at 8:22 AM on November 2, 2011

Lifting heavy things is one goal that I have worked toward in the past. You could also set a goal of a certain number of situps, pullups, or pushups in a minute.

Could you join a sports team? Ultimate frisbee is pretty open to newbies and has a long but gentle learning curve where you could work on endurance, sprinting, jumping and agility, plus the people tend to be nice, if a little weird.
posted by Aizkolari at 8:23 AM on November 2, 2011

My mother is 71, my father just turned 75.

My mother has never liked to exercise, is a lifelong smoker, and has at various periods had a bit of a drinking problem. My father is a lifelong runner and hiker, who also had always made a point of doing fairly strenuous home tasks on his own (pruning trees, etc.). Both, by the way, are quite healthy eaters.

My mother has severe osteoporosis -- she is about 6 inches shorter than she used to be, and can barely walk and can no longer drive. She weighs maybe 80 pounds (when healthy, she probably weighed 130 or so.) She was just successfully treated for stage 1 lung cancer. She is having some weird vocal cord issue. It's just thing piled on thing piled on thing -- none of it is killing her, exactly, but her quality of life is not good. She is only seventy-fucking-one.

My father, on the other hand, still does 3-5 mile trail runs several times a week. He does a lot of volunteer outdoor work (removing invasive vegetation on local trails, helping to keep a local small museum's yard OK). He was still going on multi-day backpacking treks with my brother until it became too tricky for him to leave mom alone.

Now, to my mother's great amusement ("I look great on paper!"), her cholesterol is waaay better than my father's. Obviously, a lot of this stuff is genetic, and not really under our control.

But you know what? At 70+, I'd rather be in my dad's shoes. And I will do what I can to make that happen.

Maybe this isn't really the answer you wanted. It's not "metrics" about how many pushups you can do in a minute. But it's what keeps ME running, and going to the gym. I'm no great athlete. I have period where I just jog a few miles a couple times a week, and times when I'm trying to build up to something better. But I always try to maintain some basic level of fitness that I can ramp up as I want. Not because I want to lose weight or win a race, but because I want to have as many years of functional, FUN life as I can.
posted by kestrel251 at 8:26 AM on November 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

You could try any number of N $EXERCISE in N days challenges, such as the 100 day burpee challenge.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 8:30 AM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Can you do an unassisted chin-up? That should be on every otherwise-able-bodied person's fitness goals list. Once you can do one, adjust your goal upward. By the time you can do 10 chin-ups, you're doing awesome.
posted by saladin at 8:31 AM on November 2, 2011

I first learned about Walk to Rivendell back when the Lord of the Rings movies were in theaters, but even if you're not an LOTR fan I think it can be fun to do that kind of long-term walking/running/biking/rowing/etc. thing with imaginary tourism (what can I see here, what can I eat here).
posted by Jeanne at 8:32 AM on November 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

There are some strength training benchmarks that most people recognize as impressive, such as being able to bench press your own weight. It's a bit harder for a woman than a man, but all the more impressive for it. Similarly: being able to do a chin-up and inverted crunches without straining.

For sheer flashiness, not much can beat a kip-up, particularly the hands free version.

For flexibility, the full lotus is a good, recognizable benchmark, but it might not be a good idea to attempt if you've had a knee injury.
posted by jedicus at 8:38 AM on November 2, 2011

This previous question is quite similar to yours.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:43 AM on November 2, 2011

I've always been pretty klutzy, and Pilates really helped with my balance. I did lose some weight there, but mostly I went for balance/flexibility. I also feel more emotionally sturdy when I get regular exercise.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 8:47 AM on November 2, 2011

My husband started (and has dropped out of due to grad school pressures) a regime to get to 100 pushups. Apparently there's an app for that too.
posted by immlass at 8:56 AM on November 2, 2011

Exercise is useful for better sleep, reduced stress, mood elevation. To track these metrics, you could record daily bed time, wake up time, and mood level as charted on a mood chart (google for examples).
posted by crazycanuck at 8:59 AM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

posted by unixrat at 9:07 AM on November 2, 2011

These standards float around the Crossfit community regularly. It's a fairly well-rounded list of skills that are achievable for most people, particularly at level 1.

Based on those standards, this guy has put together Skill Guidelines for Building Strong, Useful, Adaptable Athletes. It has the disclaimer that it's for 18-35 men. However, as a early 30s female who has been doing intense cardio/strength work for a year, I am somewhere between level 1 and level 2 on pretty much all of these things (as I am on the Crossfit standards as well, and as I should be based on time training). Some of the more advanced upper body and gymnastic goals are probably not realistic for women, as women have approximately 60% of the upper body strength of men.

I like these standards because they emphasize just how many things exist to be good at, and also because they are truly achievable. A year ago, I would probably not have believed that would ever be able to do a rope climb or a handstand, and lists like these help me push myself to learn things like that. Also, I feel about the healthiest that I ever have in my life, for what it's worth.
posted by pekala at 9:18 AM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Escaping from zombies.
posted by zamboni at 9:19 AM on November 2, 2011

Start bicycling. Find a nice bike-path (paved or offroad, as per preference) and see how fast you can run the whole thing, or a reasonable sub-section of it if it's tremendously long.

If you can't tackle the whole thing, keep track of how far you got, and how long it took. Do the math to figure out your average speed. Have fun watching yourself become faster and stronger each time you tackle it.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:24 AM on November 2, 2011

I carry a Fitbit every day. It's a pedometer that also tracks your sleep habits. I set my goal on Health Month to be 10,000 steps per day, five days per week. I get hard data from my Fitbit that allows me to track trends and progress, and the sleep data was (pardon the pun) eye-opening.
posted by workerant at 9:35 AM on November 2, 2011

Nthing susanvance's recommendation of the US Army fitness standards; I aim for the Marine fitness standards and that seems to motivate me fairly well. Not to bring up gender-related controversy, but I find it more motivating to aim for the standards for a 23 y/o male instead of female (especially vis a vis pull-ups rather than chin-hangs).

For even more structure with metrics, have you tried 100 pushups, 200 sit-ups, 150 dips, and 200 squats? The sites let you keep track of how close you are to your goals. One account and password for all of them, which is key to me actually following through.
posted by brackish.line at 9:54 AM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

So I had a similar problem when I graduated college. I was a crew athlete and all my workouts were geared towards rowing really fast 2000m races, and since I'm no fitness expert I just kept doing the same exercises after I stopped crew... until I realized I had no fitness goal and got bored. Then I got out of shape. I picked up running, but I'm 6'2" and it didn't make my kness feel awesome, and I was losing too much weight, and in the wrong placed (goodbye shoulders, oh sticking around belly? drats).

I needed a new goal, and like you I had trouble finding one that would motivate me. The only thing I could think of was exercising with the goal of "looking good naked." The weird things though, as superficial as it is, that's the goal that's actually motivating me right now. I'm on the lookout for a new outdoors hobby that I may train for in the future, but until I pick up kayaking or whatever, looking good naked is what actually motivates me.

So I picked up a book by a personal trainer focused on my goal, a regimen based on building lean muscle, and am following that and trying to be competitive with myself. I also do yoga. I think in your mid to late 20's... when you're not competing in some organized athletic endeavor, there's less use in metrics and more to be had with just be competitive with yourself.

"I have recurring lower back problems... "

So I want to second weight training, with an emphasis on core muscles. I actually would recommend against "Starting Strength" for your particular situation. I bought it on MeFi's recommendation but it's aimed at dramatically increasing strength quickly in you largest muscle groups... which is great for a budding power lifter or athlete looking to increase overall size and strength, but there are more... reasonable?... guides. But if you REALLY want to know how to squat properly, give it a try. Yoga REALLY helped my joint issues, but ymmv.

"...and I've tested a little high on HDL cholesterol."

Oh, and your HDL is supposed to be high. A level over 44 is found to be protective of you cardiovascular system. If you meant to say your HDL is "low," then there's not much you can do about it. Vigorous exercise raises it a little bit, but if you're already running marathons, then its probably close to peak. If you meant your "LDL" is high, exercise and building muscle mass helps a little bit, but diet is the main way to change that. Low fat milk and whole grains, yea buddy.

"I realize I go in cycles of exercising (the marathon, before a 10-day hike when I knew I didn't want to get left at the back, college crew team) but I'd like to make it more sustained and holistic."

I think crazzycanuck had the best recommendations for metrics with these goals in mind. When your light (BMI of 19, yeah, you're light) getting to 100 pushups or whatever actually isn't TOO hard, and it certainly isn't holistic. Paying attention to mood and sleep REQUIRES regular, sustained effort, thus that may be the best metric. Again I would focus recommend some class (yoga or pilates or crossfit whatevs) that you can look forward to and can't put off.
posted by midmarch snowman at 10:55 AM on November 2, 2011

Gamification can provide some metrics that are a little fuzzier:


Not for everyone, but can introduce some fun into the process.
posted by imabanana at 12:36 PM on November 2, 2011

Response by poster: Fantastic suggestions everyone. And varied. Thank you! Going to be trying some of these out for sure.
posted by atlantica at 3:07 PM on November 2, 2011

Your balance and flexibility are worth improving. You'll get old and frail eventually (unless you die first) and you'll end up hoping you can just stay up on your feet and not break a hip.

Do tai chi. It will improve your balance and, unlike a lot of exercises, tai chi is as satisfying mentally as it is physically.
posted by pracowity at 2:10 AM on November 3, 2011

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