A trainer lets you in on the ones you should be working toward instead.
As a personal trainer and strength coach who’s worked with hundreds of women over the past seven years, I get it: Getting fit can initially (and after the fourth or fifth attempt) seem really, really hard. You end up joining a gym with the best intentions to really “stick with it this time,” but inevitably your motivation fizzles and your goal of hitting the gym every day whittles down to three days a week, then once a week, and eventually you’re lucky if you get there once a month. Or year.
Like I said, I get it. In every initial consultation, I’ll hear various reasons why a woman decided to walk through the doors of the gym.
“I want to lose weight for my high school reunion.”
“I want to have a lean physique like Cameron Diaz.”
“I want to get ready for bikini season.”
Inspiration-based goals like these may get you to walk through the doors of a gym, but in the long run, likely won’t keep you there, because: (1) They don’t lead to a specific action, and (2) they aren’t any fun! Goals that are based on comparing yourself to someone else or that are rooted in self-loathing lack direction and are, inevitably, self-defeating. (Pssst: If you want to look like Cameron Diaz, you’ll have to be born as Cameron Diaz.)
If you’re tired of experiencing the workout-related frustrations that inevitably follow goals like these, consider changing what I call “inspiration goals” to what I like to think of as “action goals.” Because getting fit is a lot more fun and a lot easier to stick with when you’re working toward something that gets you amped to beat your own personal bests
Inspiration goal: You want to fit into your high school jeans again.
Try this action goal instead: Perform a deadlift with weights that are 1.5 times as heavy as your bodyweight.
Deadlifts are movements that require you to hinge at the hips to bend over and pick a weight up off the floor. Because you can power this move with some seriously heavy weight, it packs a major punch for your strength and your physique.
Deadlifts target your entire posterior chain—your upper back, spinal erectors, glutes, hamstrings, and calves. Taking the time to develop a strong deadlift—and practicing all of its many variations with different numbers of sets and reps—will, over time, change the shape of your body. An unforeseen consequence, however, is that you’ll likely end up caring less about getting thinner and more about adding weight to the bar.
Pro-tip: Find a coach or trainer who can help you fine-tune your deadlift technique and show you how to safely progress to other variations. You’ll end up with a lift (and a strong, powerful bod) that will turn heads.
Inspiration goal: You want to score arms like Michelle Obama.
Try this action goal instead: Perform a full range of motion pushup.
To get a shapely upper body (and a solid core workout to boot), focus on pushups. This bodyweight exercise targets your pecs, anterior deltoids, and triceps—and because they require no equipment, they can be done anywhere.
If you’re not yet able to do regular pushups with your hands on the ground, don’t lower your knees. Elevate your hands to a bench, box, or even the wall instead to take some of the heat off of your upper body without eliminating the core component of the exercise. Brace your abs, and lower your chest, not your chin. As you get stronger, work your way down to the floor.
Inspiration goal: You want a butt like an Instagram fitness queen's.
Try this action goal instead: Perform a back squat as heavy as your bodyweight.
While there are many different exercises that target your caboose in the gym, one of the best ones to get shapely glutes (and increase your badass quotient) is the barbell backsquat.
The barbell back squat is an exercise where you bend at the knees and squat down toward the floor while holding a barbell across your upper back. This lift hits your inner and outer thighs and your posterior, and like the barbell deadlift, is a movement you can load with a stare-worthy amount of plates once you’ve learned the proper technique.
Pro tip: If you’re not able to squat to the point where the tops of your thighs are parallel to the floor with good form just yet, squat down to a point high enough that allows you to load a bar on your back and maintain stability in the movement. Keep your back flat and upright, and make sure your knees track in line with your toes on the way down and the way back up.
Inspiration goal: You want a six-pack.
Try this action goal instead: Perform a strict bodyweight pullup.
While I’m firmly in the “if you want a bikini body, put a bikini on your body and there you go” camp, I also understand the desire for shapely muscles (whether you want to show them off in a bikini or not). The best way to go about getting those muscles? Lifting weights using multi-joint, compound movements, like squats, deadlifts, pullups, and pushups. Sound familiar?
If you’re looking to change your body composition (or you don’t care so much about that but you want to do some really cool things), take your goal, turn it into something that's more about cool things you can do in the gym than how you look there, and then get moving. This is a scenario I’ve seen repeated over and over: Once a woman gets a sense of her potential, her focus shifts from aesthetic-based to performance-based.
The takeaway is this: Action-based goals are both physically and mentally rewarding. Learning new skills will lead to a strong sense of empowerment and self-efficacy. Change your language from “I wish” to “I can,” and see what happens. If you believe you can do more, you can do more—and that’s worth so much more than being able to squeeze back into your high school jeans.