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The Goal-Setting Mistakes Every Personal Trainer Hates

Lifting weights is a must for achieving your goals.

If your New Year's resolutions included losing weight or living a healthier lifestyle, you aren't alone: Both consistently rank among the top goals that people make. But while almost 50 percent of Americans make a resolution, only about 8 percent say they're successful at achieving it. As a trainer who helps people achieve these goals year round, I see a few reasons for this:

  1. Setting vague goals with no way of tracking progress.

Let's say you want to lose weight. Awesome. But what does that mean to you exactly? Your New Year's goals should be SMART goals—Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound. A SMART version of "I want to lose weight" would be "I want to lose 10 pounds of body fat in 6 weeks. " This workout mistake can be easily fixed. Make a plan of how you will track your goal. In this case, a good option would be to have a certified fitness professional do a body composition test every week with calipers.

  1. Setting unrealistic goals.

I can't tell you how many times I've heard, "I want to lose 20 pounds by the end of the month." The real world isn't The Biggest Loser. You aren't going to lose weight as rapidly as someone who is more than 150 pounds overweight, being pushed 6+ hours a day by a massive training staff, and fed minimal calories. When you set yourself up with unrealistic goals, you will ultimately get discouraged and fail. Instead, set realistic goals and small milestones along the way to celebrate your accomplishments. Say your goal is to lose 20 pounds. An average person can expect to lose 1–2 pounds of fat per week. So, a more realistic goal would be to lose 20 pounds in 10 weeks. Celebrate every 5 to 10 pounds with a fun active activity (that won't cause you to regain the weight)!

  1. Lack of planning.

So, you've committed to going to the gym three days a week—that's great! But then your boss inevitably calls you into a late meeting on Monday, the next day you go to happy hour "just this once," on Wednesday you can't miss your favorite show, and then all of a sudden it's Friday and those gym sessions haven't happened yet. It's time to get real with yourself. If you tend to work late on Monday, schedule a workout for the morning instead of the evening. If you're not a morning person, don't expect to start waking up at 5 a.m. to go to the gym just because it's a new year. If you have only worked out once a week during the last year, don't expect yourself to do six times a week. Gradually build up your sessions. Mark your calendar for realistic workout times and don't let anyone or any excuse touch them!

  1. Not eating enough calories.

Many of my clients are surprised to hear this: You need to eat to lose weight. Women, The Devil Wears Prada Diet (aka eating a piece of cheese whenever you feel like you're so hungry you'll pass out) will not make you thin. If you're eating below your basal metabolic rate (BMR)—the number of calories your body needs just to perform basic functions to survive—you are slowing down your metabolism and putting your body into starvation mode. Try consulting a licensed sports nutritionist to find out the right number of calories for your activity level.

  1. Neglecting balance.

Reaching realistic fitness goals takes more than hitting the gym hard. There are other lifestyle factors that are critical to your success: getting eight hours of sleep a night, managing stress, and eating a balanced diet. If you're chowing down on pizza and getting four hours of sleep a night, you're probably not going to reach your goals.

  1. Skipping strength training.

This is the biggest—but least-discussed—mistake I see, year after year: around New Year's, I see a lot of people sweating it out in the cardio department. That's okay, but if it's the only thing you're doing you're missing an important part of success. Strength training helps to build lean muscle mass. The more lean muscle mass you have, the more calories you burn at rest and the faster your metabolism becomes. If you only do cardio, you'll likely cannibalize some of your muscle tissue and make it more difficult to lose fat in the process.