Physical Therapist’s Guide to Setting Realistic Fitness and Health Goals

Physical Therapist’s Guide to Setting Realistic Fitness and Health Goals

August 31, 2023

As summer wraps up and the school season and fall routines begin again it’s a great time to revisit your fitness and health goals. Setting realistic goals is crucial to safely and effectively improving your health. Knowing where you are starting from and what you want to achieve – be it your first 5k run or recovering from an injury to get back to the Tennis courts – helps us to set a path forward to helping create the vision of yourself and your life that you want. With insights from our experienced physical therapy team this guide can help you prioritize your body’s well-being and health at every step on your journey forward.

1. Collaborate with Your Body

Before defining your fitness goals it can be useful to consult with a physical therapist, trainer, or your doctor to understand your body’s unique requirements. A physical therapist can assess your current physical condition, identify any limitations or vulnerabilities, and help you set goals that promote overall health without risking injury.

Some of our patients are very flexible and we suggest they focus on strengthening, others have severe stiffness in one or more areas and before beginning a full body routine, we focus on improving the range of motion in that area so that they don’t overstrain. Recognize your own strengths and limitations and customize your path forward based on where your body is starting from.

2. Establish Goals Aligned with Your Physicality

Craft goals that take your current physical condition into account. If you’re recovering from an injury, your goals may involve regaining strength and mobility in the affected area. A physical therapist can guide you in setting objectives that work within your body’s capabilities and encourage proper healing or help you find a way to work around an injury or limitation.

If you’re recovering from an ankle injury, for example, and need to be avoiding running on uneven surfaces, don’t push forward too quickly and get onto the trail to run without checking in with your body’s ability right now. This approach could cause further injury and result in setbacks. Instead, it might be a good time to focus on strength training in a gym setting for a few weeks and improve your overall strength and flexibility – this approach can help you meet your goals on your timeline.

3. Prioritize Functional Fitness

Collaborate with a physical therapist to develop a fitness plan that emphasizes functional movements. These movements mimic activities you perform in daily life and help improve your body’s functionality and resilience. Your physical therapist can recommend exercises that enhance balance, stability, and coordination.

4. Focus on Proper Form

One of the most valuable contributions of a physical therapist is teaching you correct exercise techniques. Proper form not only ensures maximum benefits from your workouts but also minimizes the risk of injury. Your physical therapist can provide hands-on guidance and corrections to ensure your exercises are safe and effective.

5. Gradual Progression is Key

With your physical therapist’s guidance, structure your fitness routine around gradual progression. Overexertion can lead to setbacks, so it’s essential to increase intensity, duration, or weight systematically. A physical therapist can monitor your progress and adjust your plan as needed to avoid overloading your body.

6. Listen to Your Body

Your body communicates its needs and limits on a regular basis. Be ready to listen. A physical therapist can teach you what those signals mean – and how to adjust accordingly. If you experience pain, discomfort, or unusual sensations during or after exercise, consult your physical therapist to determine if adjustments are necessary.

Some pain is there as a big a red flag that we need to know to back off from to prevent further injury. Other types of pain are small yellow flags that signal you’re getting stronger. Being able to differentiate these signals can be very challenging, especially when you are returning to activity after a break or starting a new training routine with moves that are new to your body. If pain is sharp, intense, or lasts for a long time know that there are resources to help you and getting a consultation with a physical therapist might be a good idea.

7. Incorporate Rest and Recovery

Rest is a fundamental aspect of any fitness regimen. Physical therapists guide their clients in scheduling adequate recovery time to allow their bodies to repair and rebuild. They may recommend specific stretches or techniques such as massage, cool downs, or timed rests to facilitate recovery and prevent muscle injury or imbalance.

8. Regular Progress Assessments

Work with your physical therapist to schedule regular assessments of your progress. These check-ins provide an opportunity to review your goals, make adjustments, and celebrate achievements. Adjustments might include modifications to exercises, intensity, or even setting new goals as stepping stones toward your ultimate achievement.

9. Long-Term Sustainability

A physical therapist’s perspective extends beyond short-term goals. They aim for long-term health and wellness. Your physical therapist can assist in creating a fitness routine that not only achieves your current objectives but also supports your body’s well-being for years to come.

10. Embrace a Holistic Approach

A physical therapist understands the interconnected nature of the body. They can recommend complementary practices such as flexibility routines, post-workout stretches, and even mindfulness techniques to enhance your overall well-being and keep you healthy and mobile throughout all of your life’s activities.

Remember, setting and achieving fitness goals is not solely about pushing yourself to the limit. It’s about nurturing your body, understanding its intricacies, and progressing at a pace that ensures lasting health and vitality.

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