Goooooooaaaaaaaaalllllllls: there’s a reason we need them

I’m struggling to find motivation and I’m thinking I’ve discovered why people sign-up to do things like 5ks, Color Runs, Tough Mudders, triathalons… It’s because without setting specific goals, it is tough to drag yourself to the gym day after day to work on….whatever it is we are working on when we work without a specific goal in mind.

I took away some abstract goals from my fitness and body composition analyses, but without a deadline and an actual concrete thing to work for, I’m doing a little flailing. I’m not yet at the point where I think I might actually sign up for a fun run (for several reasons, the most important being that, while I am much better(stronger, faster, less-winded) at running, I still don’t really like it), but I admit that I’m beginning to see the appeal.

The few tangible goals that I do have in mind came to me via the analyses, and they are to become stronger (specifically in the areas of squats and pull-ups), to get better control over my nutrition, and to make sure I’m working out with good form. On my first Fitness Test visit, it was recommended that I take a break from the cardio-heavy circuit training for a month-ish and work on improving my strength. I took that advice and have been very happy with the results.

Over the last month, I’ve had a few weightlifting personal bests- most notably squatting 100 lbs and finally breaking into the 30 lb range for some arm exercises. I was surprised at how much weight I could squat when I took things a little slower and, instead of focusing on doing as many squats as possible as fast as I could, did fewer repetitions and more sets at a heavier weight and really pushing myself to go until I couldn’t. I found I could do much more (heavier, higher number of total squats) without the added complication of also stressing my cardio-vascular system like I had been during the circuit training.

Pull-ups have been getting easier too. I’m still not able to do more than one without assistance, but I’ve managed to reduce the amount of assistance the machine gives me to 25 lbs (maybe I’ll go down to 15 this week, we’ll see), and I’m trying to progress to doing the pull-ups with a wider wingspan- relying more on my back muscles and less on my glorious biceps. This exercise is really hard for me (and I think most women) because my upper body is still not nearly as strong as it could be, but I’ve come a long way from having 100 lbs of assistance on the machine!

Now that the 5 weeks of focusing primarily on building strength are over and I’ve gone back to mixing in some circuits, I can feel the difference; it takes me longer to get tired and I’m able to maintain my form more easily. Unfortunately my schedule is pretty tight these days, so the circuits are a necessary evil when I want to fit in an acceptable workout and only have an hour to spend, but, now that I see how critical the strength training still is, I am going to try to find a better balance between the circuits and cardio work and the strength training. They really do have a symbiotic relationship!

As far as my nutrition goals go, I realize it will be something that needs “constant vigilance!” (to quote Madeye Moody from Harry Potter). I keep waiting for the day when I wake up and no longer have a taste for anything fatty, sugary, or all-around bad for me, but it never seems to come. I’ve heard you can “train” yourself to think that salads are as sweet as candy, but I think that involves eating more salads (not a problem, I do love salad) and less candy (big problem; I also love candy).

Hard to resist... is there a support group for candy corn addicts?
Hard to resist… is there a support group for candy corn addicts?

My most recent step to getting better control over my nutrition has been to sign up for Fitness Coaching. It is apparently a new thing where a fitness expert plays more the role of a coach and less the role of an expert. Instead of looking at my data and lifestyle and telling me what she thinks I should do, my fitness coach, Kim, asks me what my goals are and helps me come up with ways that I can better achieve them. This scenario will take a little getting used to; when Kim asked what small goals I wanted to start working on, my first instinct was to ask her what SHE thought my goals should be.

In our first meeting, Kim helped me to decide to take the very small (small but crucial!) step of being better about meal planning. This seems like a no-brainer, but it is sometimes hard to dedicate the 20-30 minutes it takes to plan on a Sunday afternoon when I feel like those minutes are best dedicated to starting an episode of Orange is the New Black. This is very important for me though because my biggest nutritional self-sabotage comes from those ten or so minutes when I get home from work and try to figure out what to make for dinner.

Sometimes I can’t find all of the ingredients I need, sometimes I don’t have enough of something, sometimes something has gone bad, and all the while I’m taking inventory and trying to design a healthy and satisfying meal, my hand is in a bag of chips, or a box of crackers, or unwrapping pieces of cheese and stuffing them into my mouth. Then, dinner is finally served but I’m not all that hungry because I snacked my way to full and yet I still eat dinner because a). I took the time to make it, so it needs to be eaten, and b). the snacks I ate weren’t healthy so I’m FULL but not FULFILLED because I still need the nutrients in the dinner that I made.

Having a plan will help. This week, we are having pasta with kale, an Autumn salad, homemade pizza with veggies, and roasted vegetables with couscous. I report back to Kim on Friday, and I’ll be pleased to tell her that I’ve managed to squeeze in meal planning. I think my next mini-goal will be to set better rules for myself about snacking. When I’m trying to make dinner but feeling ravenously hungry and like I can’t wait a nanosecond longer to eat something (hey, it happens! Just because I’ve made a meal plan doesn’t mean it is ready to be served the minute I walk through the door!), maybe I’ll allow myself to snack on baby carrots only and not Tostitos with guac and handfuls of candy corn. My Granny used to tell my brother and I when we were little and were begging for Oreos as a mid-morning snack but turning our noses up at the apples she offered instead that “if we weren’t hungry enough to eat a piece of fruit, we weren’t all that hungry.”

Having these small goals in mind is making it easier for me to think about going to the gym today. It is very easy to rationalize sitting on the couch with my cat and dog and a mug of tea on this rainy Fall morning, but now that I’ve reminded myself of my fitness goals, I’m also reminded of the importance of exercise and the role it plays in helping me toward those goals. Anyone out there have some good motivational tips?

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