As the New Year begins, millions of people create the goal, “I want to lose all the weight this year”. In my opinion, weight loss goals are surprisingly ineffective for sustaining exercise motivation over the long run.
Instead consider performance goals, which may help you stay more motivated to exercise not just this year, but for the rest of your life. Getting leaner and stronger is a byproduct of achieving these performance goals.
Creating performance goals also helps shift the focus from the outcome to the process. You approach exercise as a skill that you develop over time. Working out for the sake of working out gets boring for everyone.
That’s why I created 25 fitness goals that are based on improving your performance to help you stay more motivated to exercise. Many of these fitness goals are very difficult, so you can scale them to your fitness level. I personally have several of these goals set sequentially so that as I achieve one, I have another to strive for.
I hope you give one, or more a try this year:
A pull-up is an excellent marker of upper body pulling strength, especially in relation to your own bodyweight. Completing 10 perfect pull-up reps from a dead hang to chin-over-the-bar is worthwhile goal. Losing body fat certainly helps make this goal easier. If you can already do 10 pull-ups, consider 15, or 20 pull-ups, or adding weight such as a weighted vest for a specified number of reps. Ladies who are not able to do any pull-ups can consider 1, or 3 pull-ups.
A muscle up is an advanced pull-up exercise where you forcibly pull your entire torso above the bar then push up your body up so that your body hangs straight toward the ground supported by your arms. The exercise requires substantial pulling strength and core stability. You can see an example of a muscle up here: 10 Pull Up Variations. If you can already do a muscle up, try shooting for 10 in a row.
The push-up has been used for centuries as a test of upper body pushing strength and core stability. Working up to 50 push-ups with perfect military-style form (hands slightly wider than shoulder width) requires both strength and muscular endurance. The leaner you get by losing excess body fat, the easier this goal becomes. Shoot for perfect form so that your head, neck, torso, hips, and legs form one solid line while only your arms move. Ladies can shoot for 10 perfect reps military style. See: Proper Push Up Form Video.
If you want to take your push-up strength to the next level, the one arm push-up is an excellent exercise to consider. The one arm push-up demands significant muscle tension only using your bodyweight, so be careful as you practice and be sure to warm up and properly progress. An advanced variation of a 1 arm push-up is to lift your opposite back leg, which is called a One Arm One Leg push-up. It’s really tough!
Being able to jump high enough to touch the rim of a 10-foot basketball hoop requires explosive hip strength and power. While it’s not an easy goal if you weren’t born with great jumping ability, getting leaner (losing body fat without losing muscle) can help immensely (See: How Body Fat Affects Athletic Performance). Improving your hip strength and power combined with jumping practice can help you achieve this athletic feat while getting in great shape in the process.
If you loved running in the past but have since fallen out of your routine, a 5k may help you get back on track and find your love of running again. Most metropolitan areas should have 5k races on a regular basis as they are very popular to help raise money for non-profit organizations. Active.com is an awesome resource for finding various endurance events.
The Spartan Race is an obstacle course race that has risen dramatically in popularity in recent years. The Spartan Sprint is 3.1 miles with around 20 obstacles that range from spear throwing to climbing walls. Last year I did the Spartan Sprint Citifield. Spartan Races can be a lot of fun and a great way to help inspire you to get in better shape. You can also do it with friends, which makes preparation and the actual race even more fun. Here’s a free Spartan Sprint Training Plan to get you started and you can view and sign up for upcoming races on the Spartan Website.
Most gyms have a stationary rowing machine, which can offer you a quick and simple fitness test by rowing 500 meters as fast as you can. Completing 500 meters under 2 minutes for men, or 2:30 for ladies is a great fitness test to improve your aerobic capacity.
Double Unders are a challenging jump rope exercise that requires you to spin the jump rope around your body 2x for every one jump. I created a video to show you how to do them here => Double Unders Proper Form Video. Even if you can’t do one double under right now, I think 50 in a row is a realistic goal to accomplish in a year. And you’ll be in very solid shape if you work up to 50 double unders in a row.
I only learned the Turkish Get Up (TGU) 5 months ago, but it is now one of my top 3 favorite exercises. Movement specialist Gray Cook stated that that the Turkish Get Up is one of his top 5 exercises. The TGU mimics how we first learned to move (rolling, kneeling, standing) and helps create excellent body control and full-body strength because you must use your body as one piece. I recommend getting a certified kettlebell instructor (RKC or StrongFirst) to walk you through the exercise as it is technical, but that’s part of the fun of learning it as you become more proficient. Eventually, you can work up to completing a rep on both sides (right and left hands) with a 1/3 of your bodyweight, and even 1/2 of your bodyweight as a strength feat.
In order to become a certified kettlebell instructor at RKC and StrongFirst, you must be able to complete 100 snatches in 5 minutes with a snatch-sized kettlebell, which is 24kg (53 pounds) for men and 16kg (35 pounds) for women. I recently passed a self-administered test, which was a very humbling experience that took months of practice. Kettlebell snatches require a lot of technique practice, an iron grip, hip strength and power, along with excellent cardiovascular endurance. While a “snatch-sized” kettlebell is very heavy for the average gym goer, you can choose a lighter bell with which to practice and test, then work your way up.
The “Beast” is a 48kg (106 pound) kettlebell that looks like a draconian medieval weapon. A proper kettlebell swing stimulates every muscle in your body, with an emphasis on core strength, hip power, and grip strength. Start with lighter kettlebells to get the form down and slowly work your way up to the Beast. By the time you are able to comfortably swing it for 10 repetitions, you will be a strong dude. Ladies may consider a 24kg, or 32kg goal weight.
A 10-second handstand may seem far-fetched, but it’s within your reach with practice. Becoming proficient at handstands offers numerous benefits including improved shoulder mobility and stability (you will likely have to work on your shoulder mobility just to get into a proper handstand position), body control and awareness, along with full body strength and tension. Gold Medal Bodies has a great tutorial on how to master the handstand here => Handstand Tutorial.
If you can do a hand stand already, or want to take your hand stand practice to the next level, you can try different hand balancing exercises. One popular exercise is the walking handstand, which requires significant upper body strength along with core control and balance. See if you can work up to 25 meters without stopping.
The last few months I’ve been obsessed with Captains of Crush (CoC) Grippers to toughen up my hands and help improve my grip strength, which helps immensely with kettlebell training and increasing overall body strength. Most men should start with the CoC Trainer, which requires 100 pounds of pressure to close, and then work up to the CoC #1 that requires 140 pounds of pressure to close. Every man should have a CoC gripper! Ladies can consider the Guide, which requires 60 pounds of pressure, then work up from there.
Human beings are designed with the ability to brachiate, which means hand swing. Think about how children can swing across monkey bars with ease. The ability to hang for over 60 seconds on a bar will vastly improve your grip strength and may help you improve your shoulder mobility and stability. Losing body fat without losing muscle will certainly help you achieve this goal faster. To learn more about hanging than you ever wanted to know, check out this awesome hanging tutorial by Ido Portal.
Hanging on to a bar with one arm is surprisingly difficult. When I first tried, I could barely hold myself up for 5 seconds (thumb under the bar grip) despite being able to do weighted pull ups with 75 pounds for reps. I recommend first working up to at least a 60 second double arm hang before moving on to a single arm hang, which requires substantial grip strength and endurance, along with shoulder strength and stability.
Reach your right hand behind your head and your left hand behind your back. Can you get your hands to touch? Being able to touch your hands behind your back tests your shoulder and thoracic spine mobility, along with your scapular rhythm (coordination of your scapula and humerus). This is a tough, but great goal for most guys who have tight shoulders. Ladies usually can perform better on the test, but it’s an equally great test for ladies. Here’s a starting point: 5 Exercises To Correct Rounded Shoulders From Office Work.
While I’m not the biggest fan of 1 rep max lifts, I think with proper workout progressions, form practice, and solid a warm up routine, the risk posed by an occasional max lifting session can be reduced significantly. Being able to press 1.5x your bodyweight is a very achievable feat of strength. While the barbell bench press can put significant stress on your shoulders if improper form is used, it is a very effective upper body strength and mass builder. See: How To Bench Press With Proper Form & Technique.
The deadlift is a classic full-body strength training exercise that tests your ability to lift a heavy weight off the ground. While the deadlift can be an effective strength builder, it can also be a dangerous exercise. In order to do deadlift properly, you will need to practice form with lighter weights and achieve adequate hip, hamstring, and upper back flexibility. Without enough flexibility, your lower back will round, which makes the deadlift into a lower back killer instead of a lower back strengthener. A 2x bodyweight deadlift is a solid feat of strength. I strongly recommend working with a knowledgeable strength coach, or personal trainer before attempting this fitness goal. Also see: How To Do A Deadlift With Proper Form & Technique.
Another classic strength exercise – the barbell back squat – is considered by many strength coaches as the king of all strength exercises and when combined with ample calorie and protein intake, an unequaled muscle builder. For much more on the squat, check out How Deep Should You Squat, How To Increase Squat Depth, and How To Barbell Back Squat With Proper Form. Keep in mind most people who are squatting should not be squatting because they lack the mobility to do it safely. I strongly recommend getting at least a “2” on the deep squat test of the Functional Movement Screen before barbell back squatting.
While we all could hold a deep squat easily when we were 3 years old, the advent of sitting on chairs has robbed many of us of our innate ability to squat, which is technically a resting position. Here’s what a deep squat looks like => Deep Squat Photo. I completely lost the ability to squat, mostly as a result of a locked up left ankle, but have since regained it after a lot of foam rolling and stretching of my calves along with practicing prying goblet squats. See How to Increase Squat Depth Video for some more information on how to improve your squat.
A pistol squat is a calisthenic exercise where you squat down and up using just one leg while the other leg is extended straight in front of you. This exercise requires great ankle and hip flexibility, along with leg strength and core balance. It takes time and practice to progress. Eventually, you can work up to 1/3 body weight pistol squat, where you hold a weight at your chest like a 20kg kettlebell. Here’s what a pistol squat looks like if you’ve never seen it before => Pistol Squat Photo
Daily exercise is ideal, whether you are doing some yoga, push ups, jogging, or really any type of physical activity that challenges your body. Given how much the average person sits each day, daily exercise becomes even more important. Consider creating a simple 10-minute morning routine of exercises like push ups, bodyweight squats, and dynamic stretches. It can be a game changer for you if you have trouble with consistency, or only workout a couple times per week. My bet is you will notice results in just a few days as your strength, energy, and flexibility improve.
I’m only just beginning to fully appreciate the benefits of yoga. The more I learn and practice, the more I believe it’s an exceptional exercise method to help you feel younger, more relaxed, and improve your mobility, body control, and balance. If you feel stiff all the time and stressed, I will make the bold claim that Yoga may change your life completely…if you give it an honest try. If 60 minutes of yoga sounds like too much, try 10, or 20 minutes a day for 30 days.
What are your fitness goals this year? Are there any on this list that you want to try?
I would love to hear your thoughts, so please leave a comment!