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10 Essential Fitness Goals and How to Achieve Them

by
author image Linda Melone
Linda Melone is a seasoned writer and certified strength and conditioning specialist specializing in fitness and health. She also holds a B.S. in nutrition. Her work appears on WebMD, MSN Health, Shape.com, AARP, Oxygen and in many other online and print publications.

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10 Essential Fitness Goals and How to Achieve Them
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Whether you want to run faster, burn more fat, increase endurance, build more muscle or simply gain flexibility -- you need a plan! We’ve talked with top fitness experts to find tips to help you achieve the ten most common fitness goals. Read on to learn the best ways to take your workout to the next level.

1. Burn More Fat
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1 BURN MORE FAT

Increasing fat burn requires burning more calories overall, says Scott Weiss, DPT, ATC, CSCS, a New York-based physical therapist and athletic trainer. Long, slow distance exercise burns a higher percentage of fat calories, but kicking up the intensity burns the highest total number of calories and total fat overall. Interval training burns the greatest number of calories due to the “afterburn” effect, known as excess post oxygen consumption (EPOC). You continue to burn calories for hours after your workout as your body returns to its pre-workout state. Try alternating 20-30-second sprints for every five minutes of running at your normal pace, recommends Weiss.

Related: The Burn Fat Faster Workout

2. Run Faster
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2 RUN FASTER

Striving for a new personal best or beating your friend in the next 10K requires exercises to improve your stride length (the distance you take with each step) and stride frequency (how fast your legs move). “Ultimately, running speed is based on the product of stride length and stride frequency,” says Neal Pire, CSCS, author of “Plyometrics for Athletes At All Levels” and founder of Inspire Training Systems, NJ. “This involves increasing the strength and power of your hip extensors, especially your glutes and hamstrings.” Pire recommends incorporating squats, step-ups and single-leg Romanian squats (one leg elevated behind you on a bench, which helps improve stride length) into your workouts, as well as calf-strengthening moves.

Related: Fat Burning Stride and Strength Workout

3. Lift Heavier
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3 LIFT HEAVIER

Gaining strength requires two things: pushing yourself past your comfort zone and using weight that fatigues you at no more than six reps, says trainer Neal Pire. Several studies show that you’ll get your best results using 2-6 sets of six repetitions and 2-5-minute rest periods in between each set. “Get rest between sets so that you can repeat your performance the following set,” says Pire. You want to focus on your performance, so when working your back, for example, if you can't perform at least four or five pull-ups, Pire recommends doing them at an angle on a Smith machine or another stable straight bar or try pulldowns on a cable machine.

Related: 13 Benefits of Weightlifting That No One Tells You About

4. Increase Endurance
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4 INCREASE ENDURANCE

If you plan to outlast your opponents on the playing field or running course, you’ll need to strengthen your heart, increase your ability to uptake oxygen in the muscles and deal with the byproducts of exercise such as lactic acid, says trainer Scott Weiss. “You want to use a combo of long, slow distance and high intensity interval training (HIIT).” This includes 5-6 days of long, slow distances, including three days of intervals as well. Aim for 30-40-second full-blast sprints with 3-4 minutes at a slower pace. “Not only does HIIT help strengthen the heart muscle, but it stimulates a greater uptake of oxygen in working muscle,” says Weiss. “Plus, the more hydrated you are, the less likely you are to feel a burn while you work out -- so drink up.” All these variables translate to greater endurance.

Related: Endurance Running Exercises

5. Improve Agility
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5 IMPROVE AGILITY

Agility comes in handy when dodging puddles on a rainy day or sidestepping a hole in the sidewalk when walking or running. “Agility is the ability to start, stop and change direction efficiently,” says Weiss, who recommends three exercises to improve agility: ladder drills, the 5-10-5 football shuttle test and figure-8 cone drills along with box jumps for advanced exercisers. Try this ladder drill for starters: Construct a “ladder” with strips of paper, or you can buy an agility ladder from a sporting goods store. Place straight markers (pencils, strips of paper, etc.) on the ground approximately 18 inches apart about 10 yards out. Start on two feet in the center of the first box. Hop into the next two squares with both feet. Hop, landing with both feet outside the third box, straddling it. Continue hopping with two feet for two boxes and then two feet outside.

Related: Resistance Bands for Speed & Agility Training

6. Boost Power
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6 BOOST POWER

Boosting power enables you to move an object or lift a weight faster than you would with less power. “To boost power,” suggests trainer Neal Pire, “incorporate plyometric exercises into your routine.” These explosive movements require a strong foundation and are not recommended for beginners. Start with 5-10-second drills and work your way up. Try these squat hops for starters: stand tall with feet hip-width apart and hands clasped behind your head. Keeping your weight on your heels, squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Pause in the squat. Without counter-movement and without the use of your arms, jump as high as possible. When landing, make sure to absorb the impact by pushing your hips back and flexing your knees.

Related: Why You Should Be Doing Powermetrics

7. Increase Flexibility
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7 INCREASE FLEXIBILITY

Increasing flexibility involves taking part in static, passive, PNF and dynamic stretching, says trainer Scott Weiss. Static stretching involves lengthening a muscle and holding it for 30 seconds and focuses on one specific muscle. Passive stretching requires the use of a strap, gravity, body weight or another person to apply force while you relax. PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation) stretching involves a relax-and-contract method often used by athletes. “Dynamic stretching includes multiple muscles and joints and provides the best crossover for exercise and sport,” says Weiss, who recommends it be done for 2-3 sets of 20. Use light stretching prior to exercise (and after a warm-up) and do more intense stretches post exercise.

Related: Examples of Dynamic Exercises

8. Improve Balance
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8 IMPROVE BALANCE

Balance involves more than the ability to walk across a balance beam without falling off. “Balance integrates strength, mobility, dynamic flexibility and core stability,” says trainer Neal Pire. Therefore, improving your balance while on your feet involves strengthening the muscles of the lower leg and foot with exercises such as calf raises. Try balancing on one foot and progressing to standing on one foot on an unstable surface (rolled up yoga mat or balance cushion), and then do the same with your eyes closed to take away visual feedback and increase the challenge, suggests Pire.

Related: 12 Easy, Anytime Moves to Strengthen Your Feet and Ankles

9. Gear-Up Core Strength
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9 GEAR-UP CORE STRENGTH

Core strength comes into play in every sport and activity, prevents injury and keeps your midsection in shape. Start with a simple isometric exercise such as planks, suggests Pire. “I start beginners with ‘the rotisserie.” This includes prone planks (traditional, facing down), followed by lateral planks (side planks on each side), with supine bridges (lie on your back with knees bent; raise hips up into a bridge) in between; hold each position for 30 to 60 seconds to start and building up. “If standard planks are too difficult, start on your knees instead of your toes,” says trainer Neal Pire. Increase the challenge by lifting one foot off the floor.

Related: Why Crunches Won't Give You Flat Abs -- and the 12 Moves That Will!

10. Recover Faster
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10 RECOVER FASTER

The more quickly you recover, the sooner you can get back into the game. “Recovery is essential to feeling fresh for exercise the next day,” says trainer Scott Weiss. Several approaches can help, including watermelon juice, which was shown to relieve muscle soreness post-exercise, and tart cherry juice, known to reduce inflammation. In addition, ice baths may help as well as compression garments and stretching, suggests Weiss. Light aerobic exercise may help you recover quicker. You can also try elevating your legs for 20 minutes after exercise to use gravity to redistribute blood flow.

Related: 11 Easy Post-Workout Snacks and the Science of Why They Work

What Do YOU Think?
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WHAT DO YOU THINK?

What’s your current fitness goal? What steps are you taking to achieve it? What obstacles are you facing along the way? Did you find these experts’ tips helpful? Let us know in the comments section below.

Related: How to Set and Achieve Your Fitness Goals

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