Think SMART for successful fitness plan

Mainly due to television weight-loss reality shows, there is a growing popularity for very intense programs as the answer to our being whipped into condition. Unfortunately, reality shows don't accurately portray the way real-life fitness success occurs. Safety should be the top priority.

A credible and properly designed fitness program includes conducting a pre-exercise risk assessment and obtaining physician clearance and recommendations as needed. Then, an individualized, progressive exercise program is designed, taking into account the participant's health history, exercise history, fitness goals, psychosocial needs, and preferences. This process is not typically seen on reality shows -- instead, contestants jump right into high-intensity workouts.

Asking an obese, sedentary individual to exercise to the point of vomiting or passing out might boost TV ratings, but it's negligent, dangerous, and would never be advocated by a credible professional trainer. Viewers of these shows may feel inspired to exercise at inappropriately high levels on their own, risking injury or even death. Also, no one deserves to be shown disrespect or a lack of dignity, regardless of their physical condition. Demeaning or yelling at people is not the way to teach skills for long-term weight management.

If you're inspired by weight-loss reality shows, keep your personal expectations in check. The more sensational the antics on these shows, the more viewers they attract. If you're looking for an evidence-based approach to fitness, follow established guidelines. For lasting results, most fitness experts recommend losing one-half to two pounds a week. There's no get-thin-quick plan that is safe, effective, and long-lasting. Sustainable results take time.

Advanced, intense training programs can be appropriate for those already in condition. Be sure to balance appropriate intensity levels with the other factors important in having an effective and safe program that you will be able to stick with. In other words, train hard but most importantly train smart! Below, I will discuss how to start a successful and safe fitness program. The first step in any plan is to set a goal. This simple act, when done correctly, will instantly give you the feeling of success. Think SMART! You may already be aware of this much used acronym. Here's how to make your goals S.M.A.R.T.

SPECIFIC: What do you want to accomplish with exercise? Do not be too general or vague. An example is "I want to lose 23 pounds of body fat" vs. "I want to lose weight." Your goal should be clear and well defined.

MEASURABLE: You have to be able to track your results to measure your progress. What you measure will depend on what your specific goal is. You can measure pounds, body fat percentage, inches, and blood pressure. It could even be fitting into some pants that you haven't been able to wear or maybe just measuring the improvement in the way you feel.

ACTION-ORIENTED: A goal without a plan of action is just a dream. Your course of action should be relevant to your goal and be results-oriented.

REALISTIC: As discussed above, you should set goals that are stretching, but you are setting yourself up for failure and frustration if they are not realistically attainable. If you have fifty pounds to lose it won't all come off in a month. Setting unattainable goals simply sets you up for failure.

TIME-BASED: Set an exact time to achieve the goal. Every great goal is set on a time line. Keeping the above steps in mind, give yourself an exact date and time that your goal needs to be accomplished. Your time line should match up with your realistic step. If you have a major fat loss goal then break it down into small attainable goals. As you achieve each smaller goal you will reinforce your progress and ultimately can attain any desired goal.

For the same reason that extreme diets fail for 95 percent of those that use them, any too extreme program will usually have a stronger failure rate than a success rate. Even without a concern for injury why would you want to go through needless pain and discomfort with a program that has not been proven to be more effective in the long run than a more scientifically sound and safer comprehensive program? Follow the guidelines above for a smarter way to fitness.