Should Your Fitness Goals Emphasize Health or Performance?

A Variety of Cardio Exercises

Establishing goals when starting new training routines helps you maintain consistency and effort. No matter what your health and wellness or fitness performance goals may be, you’ll need to maintain both if you want to see results.

Here how the two differ:

Health and Wellness Goals

If your goals are to set personal records at the doctor’s office during annual physical checkups, you are in luck. Just doing more than you were doing before you started this new fitness journey will allow you to see results.

Subtle changes can make a big difference. Walking for 20 minutes every day, combined with eliminating sugary soda, can be all you need to lose 25 pounds or more in a year. Add in more effort and a more disciplined approach to nutrition, and you can lose 50 pounds or more and see improved health screening numbers from your blood work (cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar, blood pressure and insulin resistance score).

Increased activity plays a major part in improving overall health and wellness. Switching from a sedentary desk job to one that requires more walking throughout the day also will result in improved health. Doing a project in the yard or around your house is a great way to increase your activity levels.

As you improve your general health, you may need to increase the effort levels required by the activities you select. Utilize the FITT principle to increase the frequency per week, intensity per event, time per day and type of training options available as you continue to grow with your abilities.

The FITT principle used to be the FITS principle, where the “S” stood for specificity. The type or specifics of your training routine matter as you progress to a more performance-based training approach. As your health improves, you may start to realize you can do certain things you once thought impossible.

Try a five-kilometer run, swim laps for exercise, lift weights or challenge yourself with graded military style fitness tests to see how you match up with those who serve. These types of fitness goals require training that specifically addresses these events and the military’s new performance-based goals.

Fitness Performance Goals

You cannot just do push-ups and expect to perform better in pull-ups. This is common sense, but many fail to focus on the specific exercises and movements required to succeed in their future goals or injure themselves when trying to test these challenging events before they’re ready.

There is a logical progression needed when you start something new, whether that is transitioning from walking to running, calisthenics to lifting weights or solitary at-home workouts to more aggressive group gym workouts.

Treat yourself like a beginner whenever you make changes to your fitness routine. Not everyone follows this advice, and too many get injured, because they started off lifting too much, running too much or simply doing too much way too soon.

Many avid runners will struggle when they take up swimming. Learning to swim efficiently requires an altogether different type of conditioning. Even if you’re starting off easy in the pool, the workout at first will require the effort of a challenging run.

Whatever your goal may be, a logical progression into a new exercise is going to require patience and specific training routines. As you progress from your general health and wellness goal into a more specific performance-based goal, you may need the crawl, walk and run approach.

Go with easier versions of your future goals at first. If your goal is to do your first pull-up, you may have to start by building your grip and pulling muscles by doing weighted pull-downs, rows, biceps curls and by hanging from the pull-up bar.

Being lighter in body weight also will help with pull-ups, so patience, combined with a continued weight-loss plan, may be the determining factor in how quickly you accomplish that specific goal.

You’ll need to apply consistency and effort to achieve these specific goals and do more than just start moving and eating less food that is bad for you. Specific goals often can be much easier because you can see objective grading points and experience regular feedback on performance. For general health and wellness goals, you’ll have to wait for an annual health screening.

Both approaches have their pros and cons. Many prefer the general nature of simply moving more and eating better for health and wellness, while others prefer the competitive nature of objective grading points and challenges. The best answer is to try both and see which one you prefer. No matter what you choose, the underlying result is better health and wellness with either approach.

I like to use military tests as a way to assess physical fitness (run, swim, PT, lifts) and impress my doctor at annual physicals by keeping my blood screening numbers within a healthy range and my body weight low.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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