When people tell me about their goals, ‘weight loss’, ‘get fit’ and ‘tone up’ are the three most common goals they come up with and have been for as long as I’ve been in the fitness industry, which is 17 years. I would imagine they’ve been the most popular goals for much longer. The thing is though, when I’ve asked questions to get a greater definition of what clients really want, the answer with the most value usually has no relation to either of the goals. Just about everyone tells me they want to feel better about themselves again. And that’s ok.

I read a post yesterday by Amy Abrahams about her experiences in the gym in being asked if she was there to lose weight or tone up when actually she was still on a high from running her first half marathon the week before and just wanted to run. Being asked if we want to lose weight can just about be the most offensive thing you can ever get asked and in this case was probably asked very innocently but why is presumed we want to lose weight or tone up when we exercise and if our goals are actually different to those three, why do we even say that? The answer might surprise you.


Simon Sinek wrote in his book Start With Why that emotions are stored in the limbic brain (along with senses and memories) but there is no language attached to that part of the brain so it can be very difficult to describe what we truly want or why we want it. Think of trying to describe what something smells or tastes like. Think of why we love our partners or favourite activities. Indeed, if we were to ask a group of runners why they run then it’s likely that they’ll all give us different answers and I bet very few will say to lose weight or get fit.

Feel Better

Why do we even use those terms if we just want to feel better about ourselves? It’s likely that people will say ‘Weight Loss’, ‘Get Fit’ or ‘Tone Up’ because that’s what they think they want and when they think about a time before when they felt good about themselves, they might recall they were lighter, were fitter and, perhaps, a lot more toned than they are right now. For example, someone might say they want to get down to 10 stone because they were happier when they were at that weight. Were they happier because they were 10 stone or happened to be 10 stone at the time they were happier? It’s also understandable that people think that by losing weight, getting fitter or toning up, they will become happier but that doesn’t always mean that they will. It’s a feeling.

There is nothing wrong with having weight loss, getting fitter and toning up as goals as long as you have a clear idea of what that actually means and what the end result would look like. If you do just want to feel better about yourself again, there’s no problem at all to tell your instructor/PT that and they will be able to help you try some exercises to help you achieve that. It’s actually very common to find yourself at your happiest when doing an exercise you never thought you’d like such as running, cycling, weight lifting, boxing, swimming amongst others. It’s usually when you find an exercise getting easier and improving time or distance or weight or whatever that gives you a boost because to feels better than it did before.

Running A Marathon

Going after feeling better about yourself, having more confidence etc can be a very good goal to aim for as you can usually reach that pretty quickly and by then you may have thought of other goals that have a high value that you wouldn’t have thought of when you started like running a marathon, climbing a mountain or whatever. Goals that will make you feel even better about yourself and not aesthetic.

How do we resolve the issue of weight loss, get fit or toning up, being presumed that’s why we’re exercising or saying that’s what we want of it isn’t? It might be useful for instructors and PTs to have the skills to ask better questions to find out what people want and why they want it. It might be good for magazines and lifestyle blogs to help change the culture and focus on writing about the great things people are doing, what they are achieving and where weight loss, fitness etc happened as a result of what they did rather than being the main driver. For individuals, its ok not to have strong, clear goals straight away and be comfortable in saying you just want to feel better about yourself again.