Dominique Gummelt, PhD by Dominique Gummelt, PhD

It’s 2016. Are you ready? Do you have a plan? Do you know what you are going to do to achieve your fitness goals in the New Year? 

Physical fitness is one of the most popular New Year’s resolutions, inspiring many people to enthusiastically join a gym. But simply saying you’re going to start exercising, however, will not do the trick, as evidenced by the fact that so many abandon their efforts before January is even over. 

If you’re tired of wanting to change certain behaviors, such as getting physically fit, but not being able to follow through, you’re not alone. Fortunately, there are some specific strategies you can follow for creating an effective fitness plan that you can stick with over the long haul. If you’re ready to finally achieve your goal of getting—and staying—fit and healthy, grab a pen or an electronic device so you can take a few notes as we go through these important points together. 


Write down five physical activities that you enjoy or could maybe envision enjoying, starting with the one you like the most. 


Make a short list of the fitness- or sports-related equipment available to you at home, work, gym or health club (if you belong to one) or in your neighborhood. Compare your list of resources with your list of enjoyable activities and connect potential matches. For example, if you own a bike, you enjoy biking and there is a biking trail in your neighborhood, that’s a great match. If you can’t find a connection between your two lists, think about what you would need to obtain to be able to proceed with activities you enjoy. For example, if you love swimming but don’t have immediate access to a pool, track down a local public or private pool you could use. 


Identify three things that you would like to accomplish in terms of your physical fitness and write them down. This could include establishing a regular fitness routine, finishing a 1-mile walk or doing 5 push-ups. Perhaps you have health-related goals, such as lowering your blood pressure, cholesterol or blood sugar levels. Either way, be very specific as to the details of your goals, such as how much and by when you want to accomplish these things. Remember, your goals should make sense in terms of what activities you enjoy doing (list #1). If you don’t enjoy running, don’t set a goal of wanting to run a marathon because you probably won’t do it. 


All effective fitness plans must include activities to address the complete picture of physical fitness: 

  • Cardiorespiratory Endurance
  • Muscular Strength/Endurance
  • Flexibility 

To achieve the greatest health benefits, you have to address all three aspects of fitness. Don’t worry if this sounds daunting—the FITT formula can help. The following table includes established fitness industry guidelines for healthy adults who want to improve physical fitness. Feel free to modify each category according to your personal enjoyment, preferences and current level of physical fitness. If you’re new to exercise, you may have to start with fewer or shorter workouts and work up to a higher intensities, frequency or times. 







3–5 days per week

2–3 non-consecutive days per week

3 days per week (minimum)

5–7 days (ideal)


Target exercise zone

Weight, sets and reps depending on current fitness status

To the point of tension, NOT pain.


20–60 minutes

Depends on number of sets and reps

Hold stretches for 15–30 seconds, repeating each stretch 2–4 times


Examples: swimming, biking, indoor cycling, cardio kickboxing


calisthenics, free weights, resistance bands

(Note: Be sure to address all major muscle groups.)

Static stretching after workout


To adopt a long-term effective fitness plan, it is vital to make physical fitness a priority in your daily scheduling. If you leave it up to chance, it won’t happen. Depending on your personalized FITT formula, add each particular fitness component in your daily schedule, just as you would any other appointment, and be sure to block off enough time to accomplish the chosen activity. Be realistic; for example, don’t schedule a workout at 11 p.m. at night, when you know you will be tired. If you are currently not active at all, start with fewer days and shorter times, such as three days a week of 30 minutes of cardiorespiratory fitness and slowly build up your plan from there. 


Research confirms that people are more successful with their personal fitness plans if they enlist the support of a workout partner or group, have access to music and record what they do (such as a free app or a traditional journal). Is there someone in your life who could be your workout buddy? Have you checked out some helpful fitness apps? Get set up with resources to track what you do on a daily basis. Make appointments with workout buddies and put them in your calendar. 


An important tip to remember: Setbacks are part of the process, but an effective fitness plan can help avoid many of them. What will you do when it rains and you planned to run outside? What will you do when your kid’s schedule changes and you can’t make it to your group fitness class at 5 p.m.? Plan ahead for obstacles and identify alternatives. Add these to your FITT formula by adding a row labeled “back-up plan.” 


Take action and follow through with the plan you set for yourself. Every day will be a new journey, but it is up to you to take action and follow through. 


It is vital to reevaluate your fitness plan on a regular basis and honestly reflect on the following questions:

  1. What did I do well?
  2. What did I do not so well?
  3. What are my barriers?
  4. What is not working that I need to change?
  5. How will I overcome my barriers? 

Every successful exerciser has to plan, prioritize and take action each and every day. It is a fluid process that is extremely empowering, inspiring and enjoyable, IF you employ the strategies listed here to maximize effectiveness. Remember, start slowly and don’t get discouraged when you fail—simply move on and refocus on your detailed plan. And always keep in mind the many positive benefits of physical fitness, because it can truly change and save your life.