Small, attainable fitness goals
March 26, 2013 10:01 AM   Subscribe

I need some fitness goals beyond the vague "get in shape" and the too-common "run a marathon". Can you help me come up with small, concrete, achievable goals?

Here are some examples of what I'm looking for:

I want to be able to take the stairs to my 5th floor office and not be winded
I want to be able to touch my toes without bending my knees
I want to be able to do 50 pushups

These are just examples I pulled off of Google. I welcome both traditional and out-of-the-box ideas. What were some goals that motivated you?

Relevant info: 37 y.o. female, 5'2", 118 lbs, looking to gain muscle definition (especially in my arms/shoulders), improve posture, balance and endurance. Have been working out for about 4 months, about 3 times a week, mostly cardio fitness classes.
posted by yawper to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 65 users marked this as a favorite
If you start lifting weights the goals are pretty easy to find. Here are mine from when I first started lifting (I think a woman your size without significant health issues can achieve these within the first year of lifting):

- Bodyweight back squat (that means perform a back squat where the barbell+weight is equal to your bodyweight)
- Bodyweight deadlift; bodyweight * 1.5 deadlift
- Bench press the bar (45 lb); bench press half your bodyweight
- Overhead press the bar; OHP half your bodyweight
- Do an unassisted chin up/pull up
- Perform 50 kettlebell swings with a 35 lb bell with good form without stopping
posted by telegraph at 10:06 AM on March 26, 2013 [7 favorites]

In progressive order: Run for one mile. Run for 30 minutes without stopping (no distance goal). Run a 5K race. Run a 5 K in under 30 minutes.

Depending on your neighborhood: Run to (goal location) without stopping. In my case it's running up a big hill near my apartment that's nearly a mile long without stopping.

Master the third-world squat.
posted by pie ninja at 10:08 AM on March 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

telegraph's list is a really great set of goals if you have access to the required equipment, especially considering that the areas that you want to improve in are all affected positively by an effective strength training program.

For stuff you can do on your own, I would add that the one hundred push-ups, two hundred sit-ups, and two hundred squats are all challenging, progressive, and will add some muscle definition (though not as much as working with a bar or kettlebell will).
posted by Kosh at 10:17 AM on March 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

One for me right now is 25 pull-ups from a dead hang.

Can obviously be modified to something like 1 unassisted pull-up.
posted by zephyr_words at 10:19 AM on March 26, 2013

Running and weight-lifting are both good in that they have very clear quantitative measures and a lot of published training programmes for increasing performance over time.
posted by atrazine at 10:21 AM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Master the basic sun salutation sequences in vinyasa yoga, and learn about and try the traditional sets of following asanas for your balance, posture, concentration, strength, and flexibility. Develop a set sequence and once that is comfortable, change it up. See how deep you can get into the flow and power.

My boyfriend calls this "trying to beat yoga." So yeah, beat yoga! It's challenging and fun, and I love learning about the principles of why the sequence of poses are in the order they are, which helps to set small goals in advancing your practice.
posted by cakebatter at 10:23 AM on March 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

I am actually finishing up the Couch to 5K program this week and it's perfect for this, since it's all about "Run for 30 seconds, then run for a minute, then run for a few minutes" and so on until, 9 weeks later, you're running 5K/30 minutes without stopping. And I can tell you that honestly seemed completely unimaginable back in January when I started.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:32 AM on March 26, 2013 [6 favorites]

You might like browsing the challenges and associated steps on
posted by jacalata at 10:32 AM on March 26, 2013

I've been doing Convict Conditioning (based, I think, on an answer in a previous AskMe) and one of the things that I find really appealing and motivating about it is that each of the six exercise groups is basically a multi-tiered system of interlocking awesome fitness goals, culminating in insane things like lever pushups and one-handed pullups.
posted by saladin at 10:45 AM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Here's one list of Crossfit related skills. You of course need not do all or use their thresholds, but it's a nice list to choose a couple of items from.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 10:50 AM on March 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

Squat your own weight and being able to do pull-ups were my biggest goals when I first started lifting.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:55 AM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

My current goal is to be able to bike commute one day a week this summer. My commute is about 13.5 miles each way, so it's a goal that would have been relatively easy for me a few years ago, but seems a little daunting now that I'm so out of shape.

Is there some lifestyle change that you'd consider being able to make if you had the fitness for it? Not to pick on your height, but maybe your goal is to be able to make a flat footed jump to reach something on a top shelf? Maybe do cartwheels with good form?
posted by sparklemotion at 11:00 AM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you're looking to build your arms/shoulders, pull-ups are a good metric to use.

Work towards one chin-up (palms towards you), then two, then three, etc., then try for a pull-up (palms away). If you can't do one to start, do a flexed-arm hang for 10 seconds, 15 seconds, etc. until you can.

If you do it a couple of times a day you can see significant improvement in a few weeks.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:32 AM on March 26, 2013

Are there practical things you'd like to do that you can't quite do? Once upon a time, I set a fitness goal to carry a 20lb bag of cat litter all by myself. It's true.

Move heavy furniture alone.
Do all yard work / log cutting / hauling alone.
Be ready to run X distance or for X minutes.
Be able to punch, kick, hit or tackle someone bigger.
posted by mibo at 11:35 AM on March 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Can you run a mile continuously? How fast? Your goal should be to run a 5K at that pace (eventually).
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 11:44 AM on March 26, 2013

My parks & rec dept rents out ball machines with their tennis courts. They're very satisfying! I'm working on the following progression:

* hit each ball pitched
* hit each ball over the net
* hit each ball into legal bounds of the opposite court
* hit each ball into a specific quadrant of the court
posted by homodachi at 11:50 AM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

My first goal was very small, coming from a position of being an overweight, sedentary person aged closer to 50 than to 40:
* Be able to walk around a museum for a couple of hours without foot and back pain

I accomplished that a few months ago and my new goals are still small but slightly more ambitious:
* Do one pushup from the knee position
* Walk up the stairs to my office on the 4th floor without getting winded

My point is that you don't have to be intimidated by things like "run a 5K" or "do 100 pushups" if you're not there yet. Pace your goals to something that would be a stretch but still achievable.
posted by matildaben at 11:50 AM on March 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Oh, on the weights side, I'm using the bear scale as motivation for my lifts.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 11:54 AM on March 26, 2013 [9 favorites]

I'm doing yoga pretty seriously and my goal used to be to do a handstand. Which I can do now! My other, unattained, goals are to do the wheel (back flexibility), the standing splits (balance and flexibility), the normal splits (flexibility), king pigeon (balance) and balance on one leg while holding the other straight out (balance and flexibility).

I went climbing for the first time in years and my very sad goal is to be able to do a V0 route (stupid male route designers). Then I'll just work my way up the ratings scale.

My friend wants to go on a very long hike (Mt. Katahdin) for her birthday so now I have a new goal ('don't embarrass yourself in front of your very in shape friends'). I'll end up setting goals to complete shorter hikes so that I can work my way up.
posted by hydrobatidae at 12:49 PM on March 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

If you want to increase muscle tone in your arms/shoulders, i'd set a push up goal. Its probably the best all-round do-anywhere exercise for that part of your body.

(ie. I can do 25 knee push-ups or about 5 or 6 full push-ups, so my first goal is to do 30 knee pushups, and my next goal is to work towards 15 full push ups. I want to reach my first goal by the middle of april, and my second goal by the middle of may.)
posted by Kololo at 1:19 PM on March 26, 2013

I've been working with the U.S. Army Physical Fitness Test, because it's easy to set a concrete score goal. They test you on pushups, situps, and time for a 2 mile run. There are charts for your score in each category, based on your age and gender. My first goal is just to get a passing score, which is 60+ in all three events (minimum total score 180). But the army also gives out some kind of award for anyone who scores >270 overall, so if passing is easy you could aim for a higher score.
posted by vytae at 3:17 PM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Regularly taking a power/vinyasa yoga class has given me innumerable goals (many postures require a lot of strength and flexibility simultaneously, which takes time and patience to work up to), including:

-sustained side plank
-sustained side plank with leg lifted
-side crow
-figure 4 arm balance
-forearm stand

I find incredible satisfaction as I make my way (slooowly and with great dedication) through these goals, and whenever I achieve one, there is always another crazy hard pose to master.

Other fitness goals I have enjoyed:

-swim a mile non-stop in freestyle
-swim a mile non-stop butterfly

-run 10 miles

-assisted chin up/unassisted chin up from standing/unassisted chin up from dead hang/unassisted one-arm chin up (other arm holds the wrist of the arm that is holding the bar)
-all of the above, but with a pull up instead
posted by corn_bread at 7:00 PM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Walk on your hands across the room every day.

This would demonstrate (and help to maintain) good upper body strength relative to your weight, good balance, and probably improved posture and endurance.
posted by pracowity at 4:50 AM on March 27, 2013

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