With the weather going from early spring conditions (I can’t say that we have had a real “winter” this year) to late spring in just a few days, everything is coming out of hibernation: the spring flowers are up, the trees are budding, the rabbits and other small animals are out, the noisy peeper frogs are singing away (earliest date in memory), the mosquitoes are back (ugh) and so are the folks looking to restart their running and cycling for the year. But will they continue or will they burnout and return to the easy chair? We know the rabbits and skunks will continue, they have no choice, they are driven by instinct. But what about us? It seems that our instincts drive us to conserve energy, not go out there and run a few miles or do a few pushups and crunches everyday or every other day. Truth is our subconscious is programmed to avoid stress, pain, and exhaustion, all or some of which is included to some level in any exercise program. Motivation is the key. Planning and setting appropriate goals is the best way to motivate yourself. Achieving these goals provides rewards to keep us moving forward, even though it is not easy. Unfortunately, most of us get really excited about getting out there again, work too hard, get burned out, and quit in a few weeks or days since our goals are not readily achieved and seem totally unattainable.
But what about those goals? I can say that my dream goal is to win the Cat5 Men’s 55+ race at the Tour of the Battenkill this year. Is that a great goal? It certainly is, but is it realistic? Probably not for several reasons. More importantly, is it motivation enough to keep me working out every day to achieve my best performance? Also, probably not, because I can’t measure it until the end of the race. That makes it hard to keep focused when it is more than 3 months away. So how do we keep motivated for the “Dream Goal” without burn-out. We do that by creating a plan, which will contain intermediate goals, like building strength for climbing, improving pedaling technique, improving speed and endurance, etc. We then go create short-term training goals to meet the intermediate goal plan, each building towards the larger goals. Getting immediate short term goals that are achievable quickly, can keep us motivated to train for the long term goals. For example, with 3-1/2 months to go to the big race, layout the sequence of desired training. First month is base building both on the bike and doing strength work in the gym. The second month might be speed, climbing, and endurance intervals on the trainer and the roads. And the 3rd month is building distance and endurance to meet the rigors of the 62-mile tour race. Finally the last two weeks is polishing the skills and tapering the workouts down before the big race.
So the first week of my training plan might be do 5 days of 45 minute rides at a easy pace. The second week would then add short intervals at 80% HR on one or two days, and so forth, each building on the prior week. These are attainable goals, and allow me to realize that I am making progress towards the long term dream goal. As I always say, the hardest part of working out is getting started, so reward yourself for getting out there. You can even set goals during a workout…. instead of looking at the total workout goal of 5 sets of 5 minute intervals at 85% heart rate, you just focus on completing the interval you are on. Completing the task at hand, then when that is done you rest, pat yourself on the back for a getting it done as planned and then start the next one. Before you know it, ol’ Jed’s a millionaire, and you have completed the last interval and the days workout goal. Now you are feeling great that you got through them all as planned. That’s the way you do it, you can only eat that elephant one bite at a time.
So you say you are not a athlete that has been competing and training for many years and thus don’t have a clue about creating training goals and plans. That’s no problem, you can still set goals and a plan to achieve your goals. There are many websites and books devoted to training, but developing a relationship with a mentor or coach can improve the process greatly. The plan needs to be tailored to you specifically, that’s why a coach who talks with you for the first time, and hopefully many times during your relationship, will assess your goals, desires, current fitness, level of activity, recent performance and all parameters that affect your ability to achieve your fitness goals. Only then can they create a plan that will get you on the path to the goals. But that’s not the end there, the athlete and the coach have to work together on the plan and the implementation of it. No plans are set in stone, injuries, personal time commitments, illness, and a host of other things can affect the plan. The idea is to make it a fluid plan the develops as you do. A framework for achieving your goals.
So I recommend that anyone who is resuming or starting new on a fitness program find a coach or mentor that can work with them, help them set realistic, attainable goals and create a plan for success. Something reasonable and achievable without the burnout that results from over-training or the frustration from making no progress. We all can do it, we just need a plan.
Here’s to your fitness journey! Enjoy it!