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Why Losing Fat Is Not the Best Goal (Plus 5 Actually Fun Goals)

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I pinched a lot of body fat as a personal trainer. At some point, it became normal to meet a stranger in the gym and, a few minutes later, claw-grab the places where they were most prone to store fat.

This person and I would then sit down and talk in-depth about their personal health challenges. The majority of the time, the prospective client would be aiming for “body-fat loss” and have not much else they wanted to work on.

And that’s when I buckled down and started coaching.

Fitness has much more to offer than less flub between the skin calipers. We are so much greater than these measurements of our triceps, our midsection, and the front of our thigh.

Moreover, thinking about lowering your body-fat percentage probably won’t get you up at 5:00am to strap on your sneakers. Body fat changes are hard to conceptualize. They require being measured again and again by the same person for accurate comparison. Working toward a body fat goal alone provides us with no immediate, tangible payoff — and, therefore, is also hard for us to stick with.

So, why not find a more meaningful (and enjoyable) path?

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If you’re aiming to be a lifelong, fit individual, let’s step away from what’s in the mirror or on the scale. Let’s go deeper to pick a performance goal that, with practice, will have you high-fiving yourself all-day long (and for a lifetime).

What other goals are out there? Scroll down and choose from a few fun alternatives suitable to a variety of fitness levels. These five goals range from just starting out in exercise to finding a new off-season training goal — and I promise the end results will get you everything you originally were after, and more.

Goal #1: Get Upstairs Without Getting Winded

Practice time required: 10 minutes, 5 days a week

Length of time to reach goal: 1 month

How to train:

  • Work on your cardiovascular strength by choosing the stairs over the elevator or escalator at your work place.
  • Start by taking enough flights of stairs where you are getting winded, exiting onto a floor, and then hopping on the elevator to complete your building commute.
  • Repeat at lunchtime.

Why Losing Fat Is Not the Best Goal (Plus 3 Actually Fun Goals)

Accelerating toward your goal: Get to your goals faster by supplementing actual stair climbing with gym workouts. Try weighted step-ups, low box jumps, and you can always build your stair climbing endurance on the “Step mill.” Start with five to ten minutes on a stepmill interval program and add two minutes every week.

Benefits: Improved cardiovascular strength, plus appearing fresh when you get to your desk, and don’t forget those good-looking calves.

Special considerations: Work shoe-wear and clothing choices may need to be altered to be more in support of this goal. The good news is that athleisure-wear is on an uptick. Check out these brands that are offering work-wear suitable for stair climbing: Athleta Women’s Commute and Work Clothing and Public Rec Apparel Men’s Athleisure Wear.

Goal #2: Touch Your Toes (and/or Play on the Floor with the Kids)

Practice time required: 30-60 minutes, 3 times a week

Length of time to reach goal: Varies by person

How to train:

  • Yoga, yoga, yoga. If you’re looking for increased mobility with joint relief, but without impact, try yoga.
  • Yoga comes in many different forms from more restorative Yin yoga, to athletic and intense types of yoga like Vinyasa and Ashtanga. In Yin you will hold poses for up to five mins. In Vinyasa and Ashtanga, you will hold poses for shorter amounts of time making the practices more cardiovascular.
  • Most important is to find a great school and a teacher who has been accredited by the Yoga Alliance. You can use this yoga directory to search for schools near you.

Why Losing Fat Is Not the Best Goal (Plus 3 Actually Fun Goals)

Special equipment/considerations: Invest in a good yoga mat. It’s worth it if you’re planning to increase your practice time. Stick with your yoga practice and take note as your movement improves. Consider taking photos of yourself touching your toes once a week. Look for visual improvements in hamstring and low back flexibility. There’s your progress.

Benefits: More quality time with your loved ones with less internal distraction.

Goal #3: Improve Your Max Back Squat

Practice time required: No more than 2-3 times a week for 30 minutes. (Leg muscles need time to recover between workouts.)

Length of time to reach goal: 3 months to a year

Mobilize first: Start out with a good foam roll of any areas that tend to limit your range of motion in a squat (calves, IT bands, low back). Try a quick dynamic warm-up of 2 rounds of 10 bodyweight-only squats, 10 reverse lunges, and 10 spider lunges.

How to train:

  • Start with 8 repetitions at a low weight for your first set, emphasizing slow controlled form.
  • Rest one to two minutes.
  • Do your second set of 6 reps at a higher weight.
  • Rest one to two minutes.
  • Raise the weight and do 4 reps, then raise again and do 2, raise again and do 1 repetition.
  • Note: If you’re going to do a heavy set with less than 5 reps, please find a trained spotter.

How do you know how much you should squat? Check out this helpful chart that will allow you to take one data point and figure out how much weight you should be lifting for your other sets.

Benefits: There are almost too many to list. Let’s start with the fact that having a strong squat will circulate more strength hormones in the body, thereby increasing your capacity on other lifts. You will also improve in self-sufficiency when you’re able to squat and pick up heavier things.

Special considerations: Invest in good lifting shoes. Look for a wide toe box that allows your feet to spread. A nice hard shoe sole will also be helpful. No squishy running shoes allowed. Some brands I recommend are Reebok Nano and Nike Metcons.

Goal #4: Run a Destination 5K Trail Race

Practice time required: 3 runs a week for 30-45 minutes.

Length of time to reach goal: 3 months

How to train:

  • If you’re starting from scratch with running, begin with Fartlek intervals. Run for 5 minutes, walk for 1 minute, and then repeat until you’ve completed 30-45 mins of cardiovascular exercise.
  • Aim to run three times a week, increasing your total mileage by 10% from week to week.
  • One of your three weekly runs should be on a trail to begin building up the stabilizing muscles in your feet and ankles.

Why Losing Fat Is Not the Best Goal (Plus 3 Actually Fun Goals)

Benefits: Getting outdoors brings a whole new level of joy to exercising. Plus, picking a 5K event in an exciting destination can give you and your partner/family something to look forward to over the three months of training. Why not pick somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit?

Special considerations: Sign up for your race well in advance. A lot of races run in spring and fall for more ideal temperatures. Check out this race calendar to plan ahead. If you’re going to work toward becoming a regular runner, strength training twice a week is still key to your athletic development. If you want to run and lift in the same workout, run first as that is your current training priority.

Goal #5: Break Down Gym Walls by Learning a New Summer Activity

Practice required: At least 2-3x a week

Length of time to reach goal: 3 months

How to train:

  • Consider putting your gym membership on hold for summer. Use your gym money to fund a new personal adventure.
  • Great summer activities to check out include kayaking, paddle boarding, indoor rock-climbing, martial arts, hip-hop dancing, and early morning hiking.
  • Take lessons to get yourself off on the right foot.
  • Rent equipment this year and consider buying next year, once you know you enjoy the particular activity.

Why Losing Fat Is Not the Best Goal (Plus 3 Actually Fun Goals)

Benefits: Summer is a great time to create your own “off-season” and pick up new skills by varying your activity. A break from your standard routine may provide new neuromuscular response and connections. Then, you can look forward to coming back to this activity (or a new one) all over again next year. It may even spark a renewed interest in your winter-indoor training, knowing you’re getting stronger for the summertime.

The Best Part of Choosing a Goal Other Than Losing Fat

Here’s the irony. What do all these things have in common in the end?

When coupled with great nutrition, working toward any of these goals is likely to decrease your body fat. And, I promise, you’ll have a heck of a lot more fun losing fat when you’re enjoying the tangible achievements you will make along the way.

Liz Marmesh
Liz is a NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and 200HR Yoga Instructor. Liz has been in the fitness industry since 2003, working in fitness education, fitness management, personal training, and group fitness in Boston, South Beach, Los Angeles, and the DC area. Liz graduated from the University of Miami with a Masters in Exercise Physiology.

A believer in constant movement, Liz has partnered with clients of all types to achieve various end goals. You can catch her teaching yoga at Ballston CrossFit in Arlington, Virginia.