Where to start – my S.W.A.G. guide to reaching your fitness goals.


I heard a number of people say recently that by this time, 60% of all New Year’s Resolutions are broken.  I tried searching and could only find the anecdote, and not any hard evidence, but certainly I’ve done it, and I think each of us do.  There is probably solid reasoning for it:

  • we make them quickly, often on New Year’s Eve, so there is little invested in them
  • we know that we won’t be alone if we break them
  • there is no penalty for breaking them – most people will just laugh about how quickly they were broken

I never thought of mine as resolutions, really, and I think that is the critical difference – your mindset. There are so many things about our mindset that affect how successful you will be, and I will tell you that my mindset was a huge part of why I had any success at all in achieving my lifestyle change.  It is the single biggest factor when it comes to whether you will in fact become the change you want to see (to very loosely paraphrase Ghandi).

Here, then, is where I would start – my SWAG (Stupid Wild-Assed Guess) Guide to reaching your fitness goals.  I should start by saying that I’m not an expert and I’m not going to profess to be.  I have no formal training in fitness coaching, exercise training, kinesiology, or anything else.  The closest I get is that when I was a teen, I played competitive badminton at what can best be called a decent level – but that required a lot

of training ever week, on top of tournament play.  So we exercised a lot, but probably nowhere near the level of exercise I do now.  Everything I have learned I have taught myself in the last year, whether through reading, sweat, or reflection.  Everything I have learned in the last year you can teach to yourself – but I can give you the six things you can do right now that will help to start to frame your actions for the next year.

1.  Don’t wait – act now for best results!

Too many people wait.  They wait for things, they wait for events, they wait for people.  Quit it.  Start now.  I did start down my road on January 1, 2010, which was an event – but I had already committed to being in a contest with that as the start date.  And I had already started to make changes – to read about how I eat, to start eating better, and to start focusing.  I made my plan for exercise, and I was ready to go on January 1.  I had nothing to wait for at that point, and was off and running (if you will pardon the pun).

You too can start right now.  Use the tools you have at hand.  Get moving, and have a sense of urgency.  Don’t wait for anything:

  • Don’t wait for Suzie Q. to decide to work out with you.  Put your headphones on and go.
  • Don’t wait for this piece of equipment to come in, or to be able to afford that treadmill.  Yes it is winter, but if you are going to run, go ahead, go outside.  You know you see people running outside no matter where you live (I certainly did at -40 in Edmonton…), so I’m just curious – what is stopping you?  Put on your layers.  Get out there.
  • Don’t wait for a magic day.  Your birthday, the vernal equinox, the Moon being in the House of Jupiter.  So what if your birthday is coming up.  You can allow yourself the cake, just be careful about everything else, and have someone take the leftovers with them.  Make your choices.  But choose to start now, because you have no real excuses.  It’s 30 minutes a day.

2.  Do it on the cheap.

I hate gyms – I’ve spent many months paying for the privilege of never setting foot in their door, as most people have.  The gym industry is a multi-billion dollar industry that has its biggest month in (you guessed it) January.  There are never any deals to sign up month-to-month in January – you want to join, here is a 3 year contract, oh and please purchase 10 training sessions while you are at it.  Suffice it to say, for most people gyms are a waste of money in my opinion.

My plan was to try to do things with the equipment that I had.  In that case, I had running shoes and some old badminton equipment.  Off I went – total cost was about $150 to join my badminton club, which I walk to, and at which I have played three times per week, like clockwork, since.  I did this as inexpensively as I could – and you should try to do so as well.  The thought of it costing money to get fit is counter-intuitive, when you think about it.  Just get out and go. Want a spin class?  Go take your mountain bike to, you know, a hilly trail this spring and summer.  Repeat three times a week for 60 kms.  Be outside in the fresh air and listen to the birds, not some instructor yelling at you.  Be your own coach.  Go challenge yourself!

3.  The internet and your local library is your fitness coach and your dietician.

Everything I learned this year I learned from the internet, and some “For Dummies” books I borrowed from the local library (I am shocked to learn that they actually have “Wii Fitness for Dummies“).  There are links on the side that go to the resources I used.  Seriously, I just ran and did some general fitness like crunches and push-ups.  That is all it took.  No intensive interval weight / cardio mix cross-training.  No hot yoga.  No exercise-ball-spin classes.  All of these are invented to be the next big trend in fitness, for those that have become bored with the last big trend in fitness.  Make no mistake – the one thing all these trends have in common is the ability to have you part with your money!  The exercises were simple and freely available.  A friend of mine says: “more is good, free is better”.  In this case he’s correct.  Don’t get me wrong, if those trends are the things you love to do, well then go for it.  I would much rather work out outside than in a “state of the art facility” (they all are, and fitness equipment is hardly “art”) that still smells of stale sweat and mildew.

When it comes to your food choices, remember that the best choices you can make are simple things.  Take your lunch to work every day.  Think about changing to whole wheat bread, pasta and brown rice.  Eat a lot of fruit and veggies.  Don’t believe ANY diet that tells you not to eat one type of food – how many people talk about the Atkins diet now?  Learn a lot about food, and learn to read labels.  Make careful, considered choices.  Try not to eat anything that primarily comes from a box (breakfast cereal excluded, but choose the right ones).  And do yourself a few favours – avoid deep-fried foods, order salad as the side with your meal, and get the dressing on the side.  Be vigilant.  And my biggest advice is the one everyone hates: no cheat days.  This isn’t a diet.  This is not a magic bullet that will help.  This is a lifestyle change.  Choose carefully, as this is how you should eat the rest of your life, and it is WONDERFUL.

4.  Have a frigging plan.  Set your goals, and make them realistic.  Review them often.

Our culture routinely expects failure on New Year’s Resolutions. I encourage you to think of them as something much different: LIFESTYLE GOALS.  No matter if they are personal or professional, people who have clear goals are more successful at whatever they chose to do than those who haven’t set any.  Folks with goals have essentially programmed their internal GPS for a destination, and those without are just driving.  Aimless driving is nice, occasionally – it can lead you to new discovery and new levels of creativity, but starting out with a destination always makes reaching it that much sweeter, no matter the traffic, chatter, self-doubt and route changes you have to undertake.

This is one of the greatest times to use the internet.  If you have never really ever done any goal setting, there isn’t anything mystical about it.  I’ve always thought that it should be harder than it actually is.  Go to Google and search for SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-focused) goals.  Then get a sheet of paper and write them down.  Turn on some music.  Use a really great pen.  Use a napkin, a post-it and the stub of a pencil.  WHO CARES.  Write them down.

Make a date with yourself to review them at least monthly.  Set yourself a reminder, set some software to send you an e-mail, whatever.  You will remember if you stick to it anyway, as you will start to see the results before the first month is out.

5.  Do two things, but ensure one of them is a ton of fun.

I started running to improve my fitness, but I wanted that improved fitness to let me get better at something I love to do.  What is it you love to do.  What was your childhood sport?  Think running 5 kms three times per week won’t help you play better hockey?  Think it won’t improve your tennis or squash game?  Just the excess weight alone that you don’t have to carry around will make that worthwhile.  Whatever your favourite thing to do is, pick it.  Get back to it.  You can do it, who cares that it will take you a while to pick the skills back up.  You will have fun, and you will be amazed at how your fitness level increases.  If you don’t have something, then pick something you always wanted to do.

The other thing you need to do is cardio.  I can’t recommend running enough.  It’s cheap – it was a pair of shoes, the same pair I have now, and they were only $30 to begin with.  If it is riding a stationary bike or a rowing machine, cool.  Go do something three times a week for 30 minutes that will really burn the fat.  But that is tough for most people, as there is no base to start from.   That is why I recommend the C25K so much.  It is the perfect way to lead yourself into running.  And my shin splints never flared up once.

6.  Make the time.

Everyone complains that they don’t have enough time to exercise.  There is a famous quote attributed to Hannibal: “We will either find a way, or make one.” I’ll suggest two things:

  1. If you exercise in the morning, the chances of you sticking with the program are much higher.  I didn’t do this, but I know it is always easier to make excuses about how tired you are at the end of the day, rather than just getting up in the morning and doing it.  If the worst thing you have to do every day is eat a live frog, the do it first.  Soon it will be better.
  2. Give up half an hour of TV every night.  If you tell me you don’t have time, I’ll ask what you watch on TV.  If you watch more than three shows religiously every week, I’ll tell you that you have time.  And that doesn’t even begin to touch all the Seinfeld, Friends, and Everyone Loves Raymond episodes you watch each week, and many of those you have seen already.  So, pick a time, and go do it.

If you have decided that this is what you are going to do, and you have made the goal of what you want to look like one year from now, you have to figure out when you are going to do this, and what you are going to give up.  My schedule will look totally different from yours – but I still had to make the time.

If you follow these tips, will it guarantee that you are there?  No, this is kind of the planning phase.  You will next need to work your plan, but that gets easier.  So, go be enthused.  Set your plan and then lace up your shoes.  The single best time to start your program is right now.

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One thought on “Where to start – my S.W.A.G. guide to reaching your fitness goals.

  1. Pingback: A beginners guide to jogging and running « Big Man – Big Loser

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