How to set realistic fitness goals for the new year

The grass is always greener before you walk on it. Once you are on the other side of the fence, you realize keeping that grass green takes effort. What no one tells you is that effort never goes away. The real trick in life isn’t achieving your goals, it’s maintaining them. That is why it is crucial to be realistic when making fitness resolutions for the new year.

Judd NeSmith, BestReviews fitness expert, joins Gary Gelfand to talk about strategies and tools needed to not only set but maintain fitness goals throughout the year.

Make fitness a habit

The start of any new endeavor is filled with enthusiasm and promise. However, when you roll up your sleeves and get into it, there’s a chance you come at it too strongly and burn out early. It’s important to remember that there is no end to a healthy lifestyle. It is something you need to do every day. With that in mind, choose a program that you can commit to for at least four to six weeks. Once you do, that routine becomes a habit.

Admittedly, it can be challenging to alter your lifestyle to fit something new in. One of the best ways to achieve change is to make yourself accountable. We recommend writing down not only your goals but your daily achievements in a fitness journal. This way, you have a reason to celebrate when those first 42 days have gone by, and you look in your book and see you’ve done what you set out to do. At that point, you will also be able to look in the mirror to see your results as well. Even better, after a month and a half, fitness will become a habit, something you look forward to doing each and every day. “You can take notes on your workouts, keep track of what you’re doing. It’s going to keep you motivated and help you get over that four- to six-week period,” NeSmith said. “After that, it’s usually downhill. It’s easier to exercise, and you have more motivation.”

Most common fitness goal

The most common fitness goal is something that is easily measured: losing weight. To do that, our fitness expert recommends aiming for only 1 or 2 pounds each week. “Anything more than that is not sustainable, and you’re destined for failure,” NeSmith said. If you deprive your body of needed nutrients by eating too little, you set a pendulum in motion where you drop weight, get hungry, eat more and gain that weight back again. Healthy weight loss is a slow and steady process. 

To know if you are headed in the right direction, however, you need data. The way to get that data is by using an accurate scale that lets you keep track of your progress and be accountable for any missteps along the way.

Running faster

Besides losing weight, another popular fitness goal is running faster. Granted, this goal is for individuals who have already established a baseline fitness level and want to up their game. However, it is still a goal that people set for the new year.

If you want to drop your 5K time, for example, it doesn’t happen simply by running more. First, you need the right equipment. Running shoes are the only thing runners have to protect themselves against injury. Every time your foot pounds against the pavement, it sends a jolt through your body that is felt in your ankles, knees, hips, back and more. Without a shoe that cushions that shockwave and provides support, running could cause more harm than good. 

Not sure what kind of running shoes to buy? NeSmith recommends the Nike Pegasus. “I own these shoes. It’s what we call the workhorse of running shoes. It’s been around for 30 years,” he said. “It provides a lot of comfort. It’s a very durable shoe. Built for high mileage too.”

Second, if you want to get better, you need a coach. A running coach can look at how you move and make adjustments to your body mechanics so you become more efficient. The coach will also customize your training to make you stronger overall.

Building lean muscle

One last common fitness goal that people of all levels have is building more lean muscle. Working cardio may be great for the heart, but the body functions best when it has more lean muscle. Without focusing on strength and conditioning, you will leave yourself vulnerable to health problems down the road. For instance, in the 50-and-up age group, NeSmith notes it is essential to work out with weights at least two times a week, preferably three times. This helps fend off sarcopenia, an age-related condition where individuals lose skeletal muscle mass and strength.

To make sure you are getting the strength training workout you need, our expert recommends getting a quality set of adjustable dumbbells and using them at least two to three times each week.

Shop this segment

Bodyminder Workout and Exercise Journal

This exercise journal has a spiral binding, making it easy to open and write in. There is a brief section on how to best use the book, but the bulk of it gives you ample room to write detailed notes about your workout routine, including a spot for upcoming events and a log of how much time you spend on fitness.

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Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 38 Running Shoe

Nike’s Air Zoom Pegasus 38 is a breathable running shoe with a wider forefoot for extra comfort. The midfoot webbing gives you a snug fit, so you have maximum protection and responsiveness.

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Withings Body+ Smart Wi-Fi Bathroom Scale

This smart scale is the tool you need to achieve your body weight goals. It functions as a body fat analyzer, so you know how much impact your effort is having. The automatic synchronization feature means all your weight data is instantly transferred to your favorite wireless device.

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Bowflex SelectTech 552 Adjustable Dumbbells

You can’t go wrong with this dumbbell set. Each dumbbell has a range of 5 pounds to 52.5 pounds that you can quickly select to customize your workout. It is a space-saving, versatile option that can help you stay on your fitness path.

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Allen Foster writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.