The first month back at school always seems to be the busiest of the year for the University of Alabama's Rec Center. Determined to keep whatever New Year's resolution they've set for themselves, folks flock to the gym in droves, and for about 12 straight hours every day, the facility is more crowded than it's been since ... well, January last year. As much as I hate crowds, I find it difficult to be too frustrated at the massive influx of people slowing down my workouts. After all, the gym is supposedly the answer to America's weight problem, so the more people hitting the gym the better.
Plus, most of these people will be gone in two weeks, anyway.
[Read: Why a New Year's theme works better than a resolution.]
According to a recent study from the University of Scranton, about 45 percent of Americans make New Year's resolutions – but only 8 percent are actually successful in achieving them. What this tells me is that people are either getting burned out or aren't thinking about the goals they're setting for themselves.
So, in that vein, here are some tips for setting intelligent fitness goals for yourself, as well as a look at how to battle the inevitable burnout that comes with getting back in the gym.
Set SMART goals. According to the University of Scranton, two of the top ten New Year's resolutions for 2014 were to lose weight and to stay fit and healthy. While these goals are certainly admirable, they aren't nearly specific enough. The American Council on Exercise suggests using the SMART goal method as a strategy for effective objective-setting. According to the SMART method, your goals should be:
Specific: The goal must precisely state what is to be accomplished. Ambiguity is a big no-no.
Measurable: The goal must be quantifiable so you know if you achieved it or not. This also allows you to evaluate your progress.
Attainable: Don't make the goal too easy or too difficult.
Relevant: The goal needs to relate to your personal needs and interests. Doing a whole bunch of bicep curls probably isn't the best approach to improving your 5K time.
Time-bound: Deadlines help keep you focused and on-track. Ask your journalist friends.
Using the SMART method, you can change your goals so they're much easier to achieve. For example, instead of saying, “I'm going to lose weight,” you could say, “I'm going to lose ten pounds by the beginning of May.”
[Read: 8 essentials to stuff in your gym bag.]
Don't do too much too fast. This is hands-down the biggest reason people give up on their resolutions after two weeks of working out. They get super motivated and determined to get down to a Justin Beiber-esque weight extremely quickly.(Which isn't a healthy weight, by the way. That boy needs to do some burpees.) So, they work out six days in a row, completely wear themselves out and then give up on their goal.
The best way to avoid this kind of burnout is to limit your activity when you're just starting out. You can't force your body to become any stronger, faster or trimmer than it's physiologically capable of, so it's always best to gradually work toward your goals.
Don't expect immediate results. Most people give up on their fitness goals when they feel they've failed to meet them. The glamour of the gym has begun to wear off and excuses for skipping workouts are abundant.
An effective strategy for dealing with this type of burnout is, again, more effective goal-setting. You should be setting two types of fitness goals: short-term and long-term. Set short-term attainable goals every single workout; these will help you stay on track and boost your confidence, and they'll also help you achieve your long-term goals.
[Read: 5 people who are changing the face of yoga.]
Vary your workouts. Studies show that most people give up on a workout program within six months of starting it, and boredom is a big reason for that.
Changing your workout serves a dual purpose. In addition to keeping your workouts exciting (and keeping you interested), it keeps your muscles confused. Muscle confusion is an effective workout strategy that keeps your body from ever fully adapting to a workout. This means that your workouts will always be as effective as possible.
[Read: Tony Horton: Why I'm excited about my new P90X3 workout.]
Find accountability. You're more likely to stick to a workout plan if someone is making sure you're in the gym when you're supposed to be. Peer pressure is one of the better motivators out there. I always seem to get more out of my workouts when I have a buddy or two hitting the road/iron/pool/bag along with me.
Plus, working out with buddies makes the entire workout process more fun. When I was growing up, my dad would host huge weightlifting parties in our backyard. We usually had about 12 or 15 people show up to lift hard and enjoy a good workout with some like-minded people. Whether you're working out with a trainer, friend or significant other, you can't go wrong with a solid workout buddy.
[Read: Why a fitness funk is contagious.]
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Steven Holbrook is a senior majoring in journalism at The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala. In addition to finishing up his degree, he is currently working on attaining his personal trainer certification. He wants to use his fitness journey to help others attain their own fitness and nutrition goals. He loves a good omelet, aggravating his dog allergies and superhero t-shirts. Follow him on Twitter at @iHolbrook.