You don’t have to have a goal to work out if you just enjoy the process and overall benefits of fitness.

As someone who has been a personal trainer and group fitness instructor for almost 20 years, if I had 10 cents for every time I heard a new training client or someone in a group class say, “I want to tone up and lose weight,” I’d be retired on my own private island by now. It seems like people who join a health club feel they need to have a specific reason for why they work out, so when asked, they provide a rote, canned response they think that I, or another instructor-type, want to hear.

Yes, according to the late Stephen Covey, it absolutely does help to begin with the end in mind (one of his seven habits of highly successful people). But what if you don’t have specific goals, or what if you’re not intrinsically motivated and don’t have a specific reason for why you’re at the gym? Are you wasting your time working out?

My response may surprise you: No, not at all. Having specific goals like losing a certain amount of weight to improve your health or preparing for a physical event like a triathlon can help provide the additional motivation that may be required to adhere to a grueling workout program, but if you enjoy working out because it simply makes you feel better, or you enjoy going to group fitness classes because you get energy being around other people and dig the atmosphere, then having specific goals is not really that necessary.

Who should set goals?

Working out and the health club scene have now been a part of popular culture for more than 40 years, and it seems like, as fitness consumers, we’ve been conditioned to the point where we are expected to have specific goals for why we’re spending time in a health club. Let me be clear: If you are one of those people who finds it difficult to follow and adhere to a regular movement program, then having specific goals like losing an exact amount of weight or preparing to run your first half marathon could help you develop the motivation to follow a fitness program.

However, if you are one of those people who genuinely enjoys going to the gym, then you probably work out because you like the way it makes you feel, or because it’s a great way to be social and meet new people. (Full disclosure: I met my wife at a health club, so I’m a big proponent of the gym providing a healthy social atmosphere.)

Let me tell you a little story. For a number of years in the early-to-mid 2000s, I taught lunchtime group fitness classes at a small health club in downtown, Washington, D.C. The lunchtime crowd was an eclectic group of professionals—some were just starting their careers in the city while others were senior executives. The cool thing was that they all enjoyed sweating with each other, which made for fun, high-energy classes. My all-time favorite response for why a person was working out came from a woman who was a regular in these classes.

One day she was there early while I was setting up for class, so to make small talk I asked her why she worked out and what her goals were. She just laughed and said, “I’m from the South; I enjoy cooking, I enjoy drinking and I like cooking for my friends. I don’t really care about losing weight. I just want to stay healthy and be the same size so I can be social and have fun without needing to buy a new wardrobe.”

I loved this response because it was real and, most importantly, the statement reflected the fact that she understood that the role of movement is to improve her health in order to allow her to do the things that she enjoys doing. From her point of view, movement was about the process, not the outcome. She was always full of positive energy and ended up making a lot of friends in the classes. And because she was so social her nickname became Julie, after the cruise director character on “Love Boat,” a television show from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.

Learn to enjoy the process

It’s essential to have realistic expectations about what you want from your time spent working out. If you’re not willing to follow a strict nutrition regimen or you simply don’t have the time or interest in changing other aspects of your life to be healthier, then it might be a good idea to shift your focus and learn how to enjoy the process of movement, instead of only thinking about an outcome. Think about it this way: If you worry less about achieving some non-specific goal like “toning up” or “losing weight” and focus on having fun while you work out, then it could really enhance your overall experiencebecause you will be working out to improve your quality of life instead of trying to change your appearance.

Did you realize that movement can vastly improve the quality of your life by giving you the strength and confidence to do what you want to do when you want to do it? Try to this point of view: Doing certain movements can give you the skill, coordination and strength to help you move more efficiently, which can greatly reduce your risk of developing painful, soft-tissue injuries. In addition to improving movement quality, exercises that involve a number of muscles at the same time help to burn more calories during your workout.

Moves for life-long benefit

The following list of movements can help you to change your mindset toward movement because they can help improve your skill and coordination, which are the first steps towards using movement to enhance your overall quality of life.

Hip hinge

A number of adults experience low-back pain at some point in their lives, possibly as the result of bending over using the lumbar spine as opposed to flexing forward at the hips. The hips are designed for mobility, while the structures of the lumbar spine are designed to create stability. If the lumbar spine is used too frequently for movements like bending forward, it could stress the soft tissue around the joints. Hinging from the hips uses the inherent mobility of the joint structures while allowing the lumbar spine to remain in a stable position. However the greatest benefit is the development of strong, lean, well-defined hip and glute complex (i.e., your rear end).

  • Grip a kettlebell in both hands, keep your knees slightly bent, your spine straight and push your hips toward the wall behind you.
  • To return to standing push your hips forward while pulling your knees back.
  • Start with three sets of 12 (the last rep should be really difficult) resting 45 to 60 seconds between each.
  • Once 12 reps is easy, use a heavier kettlebell; gradually increase to four sets of 12.

Push-up and/or high plank

Did you know that you have a number of layers of muscle fascia wrapped around your mid-section? These muscles do not work in isolation; they work in an integrated fashion to maintain stability between the spine, pelvis and rib cage. The high plank or push-up trains the layers of abdominal muscle to work together to create stability. As these muscles become stronger they can also create the appearance of a flatter stomach.

The secret to a successful high plank or push-up is to brace your stomach muscles like someone is going to punch you in your tummy, squeeze your glutes and thighs together and push your toes into the ground. These actions will help create stability from the hips up to the shoulders. The primary difference in the high plank and push-up is that the latter involves lowering the body to the floor and raising it back up while the former focuses on maintaining a stable position.

  • Start with a high plank.
  • Once you can hold it for 45 to 60 seconds, progress to doing push-ups.
  • Work up to doing three sets of as many push-ups as possible, resting approximately 60 seconds between each set.

Bent-over rows

This movement is great for enhancing core strength while developing a strong upper back, shoulders and arms.

  • For best results, hold two dumbbells so that your palms are parallel to one another and sink back into your hips while keeping your spine long and straight.
  • As you pull the weights toward your body think about pulling from your elbows. (The back muscles you’re using attach to the upper arm, so this can help recruit more fibers.)
  • When using a bar be sure to have a palms-up grip, which can reduce stress on the elbow joint while increasing the involvement of the biceps muscles of the upper arm.
  • Use a weight that makes ten reps difficult. (You should not be able to do 11. If you can, add weight.)
  • Start with three sets, resting for 45 to 60 seconds between each. Once you can easily do 10 reps, use heavier weights.


Jumping describes a motion taking off and landing with both feet simultaneously. (Hopping is taking off and landing on the same foot, while bounding is taking off with the right foot and landing with the left.) Jumping requires explosive power, which is produced by Type-II motor units and muscle fibers. Over the course of the aging process, if Type-II muscle fibers are not used regularly they can atrophy and lose the ability to produce explosive power when required.

One benefit of training the Type-II muscle fibers is improved power. A second benefit is enhanced muscle tone, since the Type-II fibers are the ones responsible for definition.

  • Start by learning how to land: Roll up on your tip-toes, then roll your feet down to the heels.
  • When your heels hit the ground push your weight back into your hip—this will train you how to land properly.
  • Start with two sets of four to five squat jumps in place. Build up to box jumps (jumping up to a specially built platform or box) and sets of six to eight jumps; rest 45 to 60 seconds between each set.

Goblet squat

Unless you are playing high school or college football, which often test strength using the barbell squat, there is no reason to do barbell squats. Placing a barbell high on the upper back can be uncomfortable, especially if you don’t have the best posture.

Holding a kettlebell or dumbbell in front of your body can be much more comfortable. It can also help you to activate more of your core muscles during the movement.

  • The first part of a good squat movement is a hip hinge; begin to lower yourself by pushing your hips back before allowing your knees to bend. Keep your spine long and straight throughout the entire movement.
  • Use a heavy weight that makes 12 to 15 repetitions challenging.
  • Begin with sets of six to eight repetitions resting for 45 to 60 seconds between sets; start with three sets and gradually work up to four.

One-arm overhead press

How many times have you ever struggled with putting a bag in the overhead bin of an airplane or moving an object off of a high shelf? Having the ability to lift objects overhead requires stability of the shoulder blades, and mobility of the shoulder joint with a solid foundation established by the core and hips.

The hips and shoulders are designed to work together while walking and running—the cyclic action of the gait cycle involves the right arm and left leg moving into flexion while the left arm and right leg move into extension. Sitting down to train the shoulders makes about as much sense as riding a bike to strengthen your arms. The standing one-arm overhead press involves all of the muscles of the lower body and core to create the stability while the shoulders develop the strength to lift weight overhead.

  • To do a proper overhead press hold your elbow in front of your body and as your raise your arm overhead.
  • Think about sliding your shoulder blade down towards your lower back—this will help the “socket” of the shoulder blade hold the “ball” of the humerus during the motion, creating more stability.
  • A key to developing an effective overhead press is keeping the elbow pointed towards the front of your body (NOT out to the sides like is commonly demonstrated). The shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint. If not properly aligned during an overhead press it could create impingement.
  • Start with three sets of eight to 10 reps on each arm.
  • Rest for 45 to 60 seconds between sets; once 10 reps becomes easy, use a heavier weight and gradually work up to doing four sets.

Movement should give you the freedom to enjoy life, not chain you to intangible goals that you think other people expect you to have. Adjusting your mindset to focus on the process of working out, along with learning how to do these six moves, can have a significant impact on improving your overall quality of life.

Take a lesson from my old fitness student: Use movement to give you the ability to do the things that you enjoy the most; once you do, you will love the results and wonder why you didn’t make this shift ages ago.

Photo credit (hero): YunYulia, Thinkstcok