The new year is a natural time to think about how you'll run your 365 days of fitness. Here's how to plan a year like a pro.
1. Choose one big goal and two smaller goals for the year
Just like a good tv show will have a big central plot with lots of subplots that connect to it, your year needs to have an overarching story with smaller goals that feed into it.
For example, your big goal for the year might be to lose body fat and gain muscle tone. But along the way you also want to become a better runner and learn to use a kettlebell. Your mainline activity will be burning calories and doing muscle-building exercise. But you'll save a few months of the year to shift your focus to distance running or a kettlebell program. By the end of the year you can even bring all the plotlines together with a cross-training period of runs for your cardio and kettlebells for strength.
Limit your secondary goals to one or two items.
If you're constantly trying new things you'll never get the benefits of any of them. You'll have "lost the plot."
Not sure what makes a good secondary objective? Here are some ideas:
- Distance running
- Power (producing strength at speed)
- Improvement in a specific sport
- Learning a specific physical skill (handstand, juggling, jump rope tricks, etc...)
- Mastering a new piece of equipment (kettlebell, barbell, medicine ball, punching bag, etc...)
- Pull-up improvement
- Swimming (swimming uses a different collection of muscles from every other activity)
2. Be realistic about your time commitments
You're an adult with all the responsibilities that come with it. Unless you're an athlete or movie star getting in shape for a role, you're going to have to squeeze fitness into the small slots of free time in your day.
The shorter the amount of time you have for nutrition and exercise, the longer you'll need to expand your time horizon.
The good news is that just a half hour of daily exercise repeated across a year will get tremendous results. Don't overschedule yourself. If anything UNDER schedule yourself. There will always be unexpected things that pop up and steal time. A pro will account for this and leave some padding in her/his day.
3. Account for boredom and burnout
You're a homo sapiens, the brainiest creature the known universe has ever evolved. If you don't program some variety in your plan, you WILL get sick of it. Imagine someone making you play the same level of Mario Brothers every single day for a year. You'd be bored silly. The same applies to your fitness year. This is why it's good to have some secondary pursuits to layer in when you're feeling your workout switch from fun and challenging to tedious drudgery.
The timeline for workout boredom is about 8 weeks. Know that you're going to hit this wall and have a plan for something new to mix in when you hit it.
4. Schedule rest periods.
If you're thinking of your training in a 12 month block, you should reserve 3 of those months for rest. When I say rest I don't mean sitting on the sofa eating cookies, I mean time spent out of an organized training regimen. You still exercise. You still eat well. But you're not on a rigid plan.
These rest weeks are just as important as the training times. Your body gets the chance to consolidate your progress and heal up any areas that have gotten worn down. Just as important, you get some breathing room to work on other priorities in your life. A good rest period sets you up for the next successful training effort.
5. Avoid training during big life events
Every year will have a handful of big weeks. Maybe it's the final push to complete a project at work. Or a month where you're constantly on the road. Maybe it's a house move, or a wedding, or the birth of a child. Don't get locked into a serious training cycle when you have one of these events sticking out in the middle of it like a boulder in a river. You WILL smack right into it and get thrown from your boat.
Instead, try and time it so that you have training ending just before or starting just after one of these busy times. If you wrap up a training cycle before a big event, you'll go into it fit, strong, and clear-headed. If you have a training cycle start up after a big event, it's a great way to get back on track and not spend months in the wilderness.
"Make a plan that's both inspiring and realistic"
As you lay out your fitness year keep these 5 parameters in mind and make a plan that's both inspiring and realistic. Before you know it the year will be over and you'll be living in the culmination of your food and exercise choices from the last 365 days.
Make that feeling one of satisfaction and not regret!