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5 Stages of Readiness to Achieve Your Fitness Goals

April 19, 2022 8 min read

5 Stages of Readiness to Achieve Your Fitness Goals


The Stages of Readiness is something that can be implemented when contemplating starting a new fitness routine or when working to implement a new behavior into your life.  Noncompliance and a lack of motivation are factors that come up regularly when trying to establish new patterns.  This is impart due to willpower being a limited resource.  It is always better to rely on the formation of new habits in addition to getting very intentional about what it is you hope to achieve.  The stages of change are independent factors that rarely occur independently of one another.  They are pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action and maintenance.

Pre-contemplation is where you aren’t even aware of a problem, a goal, or a desired outcome that you may desire in the future.  It is a stage that you have no intention of changing, in fact it hasn’t even crossed your mind as a possibility.  If we were to use exercise for an example, you wouldn’t have any desire at this point in which to add exercise over and beyond what you do within your day to day activities.

Contemplation is the stage where you are tossing an idea around, you have had some form of stimulus that has triggered an idea or presented a goal or a change that you desire to implement in your life.

With the exercise example, this may be a point when you observe that you aren’t able to walk as far as you once did comfortably or that you struggled carrying your groceries a set distance or that you have noticed a general feeling that your fitness could be improved.

Preparation is the stage where a plan for change starts to come together.  This may acquire equipment or clothing, or you acquire a gym membership or begin to research a topic of interest be it exercise, or a course you are interested in, etc., could be a time to speak with an expert or with someone that has a background or an understanding of the topic or area of interest.  It's during this phase that you start to bring the pieces together and set milestones so that you may begin to plan out your S.M.A.R.T goals that will be your guide once you have hit your action phase.  For more information pertaining to S.M.A.R.T goals keep scrolling.

In keeping with exercise as an example, this would be when you would sit down with a pen and paper, and start with writing down what end point you desire, this could be a marathon or being able to walk the river valley stairs without being winded or be able to lift or squat a set weight.  Then you need to break this down into mini portions or set points.  Take into consideration all of the things that you need to achieve to get to the end goal.  This could be for the marathon, start walking every other day for 15 min for 2 weeks, then increase to four days a week for two more weeks, then increase the time that you walk over the four days for a couple more weeks.  Then start to add interval training like run for 30 seconds and walk for 4 minutes twice a week while you continue to walk.  This builds up until you can run steadily for the same amount of time that you once walked.  You may introduce cross training or other running styles. The idea is to break things down into manageable pieces so that you can track where you are in terms of completing the end goal.

Action is the stage where you start acting on the plan and working toward your goals.  It's tangible, and trackable.  This is the phase where you put in the sweat equity to hit milestones that you have laid out during the preparation phase.  This is usually the phase when most people throw in the towel.  It’s key to recognize that will power is a finite resource and with that you will have far more success if you form a habit. For some this may mean that you have to go to the gym every single day, this doesn’t mean you are working out every time, it could mean on your off days you use a mat to do some dynamic stretching, roll out and focus more on recovery.  For others it could be more chaining, so linking the desired action to something that you already do to help assist you in the formation of a new habit.

This would be when you start to put your plan into action, it's always a good idea to track your progress.  It can help motivate you along the way as you can see what all you have accomplished in the long term. Possibly one of the hardest things when you start the action phase is consistency.  Know that you will have to put in a bit of effort every single day toward your goal be it going for a walk or doing some recovery specific work.  This does not translate to not ever taking a rest day, that can lead to burnout, though going for a walk instead of the gym ensures movement but it differs from that which you may be doing as a means to accomplish your goal.  

Maintenance is the stage where you continue to show up the aim to continue to maintain and implement the behaviors that were put in place during the action phase.  This is the point in the journey where you have formed a habit and you can rely on automaticity more than willpower to continue with the desired behavior that you initially sought out to achieve at the start of this particular journey.  

This may be the point when you have run your first marathon, now what? Well you could decide that you rather enjoyed running so you change up your program to shorter distances that are sustainable and continue to work on your running technique, your timing and further improve your running performance at different distances.  It could be that you have decided that you wish to go for another marathon, so this would mean that you see where you are at, make some adjustments to your training and start the process again, this time from the contemplation and action phases.  With strength training it could be that you hit your goal weight but then you notice that you have developed some imbalances along the way, so you have decided to tackle these to reduce your risk of injury.  Once the habit of exercise or whatever your desired habit is formed it makes it easier to adapt and create new different habits as you have proven to yourself that you can adjust and alter your behavior to accomplish your goals.

SMART Goals, What Are They and Why Are They Important?

Some things to keep in mind that may help you to be successful along the way.  Goals should always be SMART.  When working to establish a new habit figure out a way to make it obvious (walk an extra block when you walk your dog), attractive (go to the gym that is right beside your favorite coffee shop), easy (link the desired behavior to something that you have already made a habit) or satisfying (create a reward system like a massage for every dozen visits to the gym).  Alternatively if you are trying to break habits work to make them invisible (place the candies and cookies in an opaque container), unattractive (link the activity to something that you don’t want to do like go outside on a winter morning), difficult (create friction so that you have to put more effort than it is worth to get to or complete the thing you are trying to stop) or unsatisfying (remove any rewards that you would have normally granted yourself prior to ending the behavior).   There are books written on the formation and maintenance of habits including Atomic Habits, Better than Before or The Power of Habit which go into much more detail on why habits are a good thing to incorporate into your life especially if you wish to achieve specific goals.

S.M.A.R.T - Specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time specific.  Let's break these down.

Specific - Keeping fitness in mind you want to be clear on what you want to achieve (walk 5 km, run 10km, squat 110 lbs, etc.), who is involved (trainer, family member, your gym mates, etc.), where (will you workout at home, walk the mall, go to your favorite fitness class, etc.) and which (what resources are available to you, will you need equipment or a specific piece of equipment or gear, is there anything you need to acquire or can you dust off your old running shoes, etc.)

Measurable - As with specific, here are some questions to help you along the way.  It is always best to keep the answers in this section quantifiable, have a clear idea of what it is that you are trying to achieve.  How much? (this could relate to time, how much weight do you want to be able to move, what distances would you like to achieve, etc,), how many? (gym sessions, types of a specific training style you would like to complete, etc) and when do I know it's achieved? (the number of repetitions, achieving a one rep max, a set distance that you manage, etc.)

Achievable - This is a time to look at the big picture, are you hoping to achieve a marathon but you haven’t ran since you were in middle school, are you trying to go for a 300 lbs lift but you’ve never lifted weight before? This is a time to decide if you need to break your goal up into a bunch of smaller goals or milestones that you hit along the way to your big goal.  It is always best to start with smaller pieces and build then take on the whole thing and quit because it is too much.  Be careful not to fall prey to a planning fallacy or an optimism bias.  Things happen in life so this is the time to allot space for that, you can pad how long you think it will take for you to achieve a specific goal and if you hit it early, that’s amazing, and if you finish on time with that padding you are more likely to move on to the next step than quitting.

Relevant - This is your why? What is it about this goal that you want to achieve it? Will you have a better quality of life? Will you be able to perform at task with improved functionality? Will you be able to keep up with your friends when you go for a walk? Will you have fewer falls and improved quality of life? The why is important.  We tend to focus on body composition, however if you can see how your goal can impact the bigger picture you may find it easier to get to the maintenance phase of your goal.

Time Specific - This is where you get intentional about how long you think it may take for you to achieve your goal.  This may require some research to figure out averages for certain things.  You may wish to talk to someone you know who has undertaken the same goal or a specialist or trainer.  If you give yourself 30 days to clean your house it will take 30 days, the same goes with fitness and other areas of your life. So get intentional, it adds a sense of urgency to what you wish to achieve.  One word of caution, as with the Achievable section, be aware of planning fallacy and optimism bias, you are better to pad your time within reason when it comes to the amount of time that you think it will take to achieve your goal, especially when it comes to fitness and the human body is involved.