Have you ever watched someone perform an impressive athletic endeavor, such as finishing a 100-mile trail race, running hurdles down a track without falling or completing 10 pull-ups in a row and think, “I can totally do that.”? No?
Don’t worry – most of us don’t either. That level of confidence is rare; but that doesn’t mean we can’t set and meet our own fitness goals.
When we compare ourselves to others we consider fitter, stronger and more skilled than we are, we’re much more likely to dismiss the possibility that we could achieve what they have. Especially when we feel so far off in terms of physical ability. But although genetics does play a part in athletic ability, much of it can be learned and trained. You might not be the next Michael Jordan or Serena Williams in terms of talent and skill, but you can certainly learn to play the sports they play.
Growing up, I was an active kid, but I found team sports intimidating, and running felt like torture. But when I got to college and started attending all those first-year parties and late-night snack sessions, I knew it was time to start working out. I decided to try running because I wanted to look like all those neon-clad joggers I saw out on the street in the early morning hours when I was coming home from a house party. They were fit. They looked driven, capable and confident. They cared about their well-being enough to get up at an ungodly hour, don spandex and put physical stress on their bodies instead of dozing for an extra hour in their warm, cozy beds. And I wanted to be one of them.
Our bodies are impressive machines, made to run, climb, lift, carry, pull, push, jump and kick.
It wasn’t easy at first. I’m not a natural runner and those first few runs were incredibly tough. My breathing felt constricted and laborious, and my legs felt like two dead slugs shoved into a shiny new pair of $150 running shoes. But I kept at it, adding more miles each week and feeling more and more determined to one day call myself a real runner. Of course, looking back now I know I was a real runner then. We all are, if we run. But it wasn’t until I completed my first race, a half marathon, that I felt I had truly joined the neon-clad early morning runner club.
The bottom line is this: Our bodies are impressive machines, made to run, climb, lift, carry, pull, push, jump and kick. Unless you have a physical aliment or musculoskeletal mobility issue, we can all pretty much do the same things. It just takes time, tenacity and the right training program to help you achieve your fitness goals. Trust your body’s abilities and stick with your plan.
Have a fitness goal in mind you want to achieve? Here are four steps to take to make it happen:
1. Pick an athletic goal you’ve always wanted to achieve.
Although we might not all become all-star tennis players, we can certainly set a goal to improve our backhand. If you never learned to swim but want to do a triathlon one day, it’s never too late to learn (I signed up for a triathlon before I learned how to swim – it took me eight months). If you’re sedentary and overweight right now but really want to run a marathon one day, know that it’s completely achievable. You can reach your goal eventually, but you must start by identifying it.
2. Find a training program that works for you.
This is probably the most important step in achieving your health and fitness goals. No matter how much you trust yourself to get there, failing to use an appropriate training plan can be a major roadblock on your path to fitness success. Understanding your habits, your schedule and what will fit best with your current routine is key. Trying to exercise five days a week for an hour at a time won’t work (and isn’t necessary in most cases) if you already have a fairly full schedule. If you know you have trouble getting up early in the morning, do your workouts after work. If you don’t have time to get to the gym, buy a set of dumbbells and work out at home. Finding a good coach or training program can help immensely with this step if you’re struggling to make it work on your own.
3. Trust your body.
When you are pursuing your fitness goal, pay close attention to your body. Push yourself as far as you are comfortable, but no farther. Only you know what your body feels like. Slow progress is still progress, so set the pace that works for you. If something hurts too much, don’t do it. Remember, when it comes to your own body, you are the expert.
4. Adopt a can-do attitude.
Have you ever heard of the Pygmalion effect? It’s a psychological concept that asserts that if you believe something is true of yourself, eventually it will be. Although I never imagined I’d actually qualify to run the Boston Marathon when I first started running, I was determined to at least become a runner. I had a goal (be a runner), found a training program that worked around my schedule, bought the same reflective neon gear that “real runners” wore, and visualized myself running down the street in my neighborhood at an ungodly hour, looking fit, driven, capable and confident. Eventually, as my body adapted and I became more efficient at running, I decided I wanted to become a half marathoner. Then a marathoner. Then a Boston qualifier. And it worked. If you think you can do something, you will soon discover you are right.