How to Establish Physical Fitness Goals

A great conditioning program is a sweet science consisting of sufficient stimulus, enough rest, proper programming, periodization and a plan with defined physical fitness goals. Basically, periodization means to systematically plan out athletic or physical training with the intention of achieving best possible performance by a certain time, for example, an important competition. In periodization, different aspects of the training program will be cycled through during a specific period in order to be in optimum physical condition for that competition.

Improving your conditioning is about more than just training as much as you can, as hard as you can. If it were that easy, we wouldn’t see professional athletes ‘gas-out.’

But first comes establishing baseline. The martial artists needs to establish a clear awareness of physical conditioning. A conditioning program for a mid-forty year old martial artist who’s been sedentary for most of their adult life is going to look much different than a conditioning program of a mid-twenty year old MMA professional, who’s training full time. This seems obvious and logical, but many people miss this point, and push themselves full tilt into a program too intense, or the reverse, aren’t pushing hard enough.

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Source: startingstrength.com

Before the fun and work can begin, a baseline needs to be established, then a plan made on where we want to take our training. This will give us a measure to compare against and track progress, and keep us accountable.

Critically Assess Fitness Levels

There are several ways to establish a baseline for a desired level of martial and aerobic fitness. Here are a few examples:

Track Resting Heart Rate Upon Waking

A normal adult Resting Heart Rate (RHR) is between 60-100 beats per minute (BPM). Athletes may see a training adaptation drive their RHR under 60 BPM, indicating very efficient heart function and cardiovascular health. Elite RHR are defined as under 50 bpm. Establishing this baseline RHR will allow you to keep track of this measure and see how it responds to your training load. You can easily measure your RHR with a heart rate monitor or by taking your pulse.

Place your index and middle fingers on your neck to the side of your windpipe. This is the carotid artery, and one of the easiest places to reliably feel the pulse. Once the pulse is located, watch a clock, phone, or timer and count the number of pulse beats in 10 seconds. Next, multiply this number by 6. That will give your heart rate per minute. For example, if you feel 10 pulse beats in 10 seconds, multiplied by 6, means your pulse is 60 beats per minute.

Timing a 1.5 Mile Run

Another strategy to assess your aerobic fitness is to record your 1.5-mile (2.4-kilometer) time. This is called the “Cooper run test,” and was developed by Dr. Ken Cooper in 1968. It is a simple running test of aerobic fitness and is widely accepted as a gold standard for endurance. This is a very simple and effective way of tracking progress and seeing where you stack up. Below is a table of times that are generally accepted as good indicators of aerobic fitness levels. A better time for your sex and age indicates a good level of aerobic fitness. A slower time indicates the need for some work and improvement.

Good fitness results based on timing of 1.5-mile run



TIMe In Minutes


Time In Minutes

18 to 24



24 to 34



34 to 44



45 to 54



55 to 64






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Track Your Recovery

A simple but very effective way to test fitness levels is to monitor recovery from a particular bout of exercise. Good recovery is synonymous with good cardiovascular health, so tracking recovery, or how long it takes your heart rate to normalize, is a great way to monitor progress.

This method is easy but requires a hear rate monitor or excellent pulse taking skills. One simple way of monitoring heart rate recovery is using this formula: Heart Rate at the end of a bout of exercise  minus Heart Rate after 60 seconds of rest equals Heart Rate Recover.

Keep these results consistent by using the same exercise every time, along with intensity of effort. Use an exercise that is easy to track and scale. For example, do 25 burpees, or a 30 second all out 1-2-1-2 combination on the heavy bag. Over time, heart rate should lower during a 60 second rest. 

Once it consistently clocks in lower than it was at the start of the training block or program, that is proof of improvement. Use a notepad or track your results on your phone doing the same exercise, for the same time duration, at consistent intervals. 

Retest every 4-6 weeks to allow for sufficient training adaptation to occur.

Design a Program That Will Achieve Results

Tracking is important, as it allows seeing where strides are being made. The rubber hits the road on how hard you train. Execute and train accordingly in order to see performance increase over time. Formulate an appropriate plan to keep progressing steadily, achieving desired outcomes, not over-training, stalling, or under-training.

Consider Your Goals

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What are your goals? Improve cardio? Lose fat, add muscle, get ripped? Become more flexible? Do you want faster hand speed or better hip throws? 

Align goals with a training plan that will ensure achieving optimum levels of desired fitness. If losing body fat and building muscle are the top two goals, design a plan around those two requirements. 

For instance, create a plan that includes powerful muscle building elements, HIIT aspects (alternate intense high level activity with lower levels), stretching, along with low to medium level aerobic activities for a definite amount of time each week, such as 8 hours a week of intensive martial arts practice. 

An advanced martial arts class is ideal for this type of plan. This plan alone would meet above requirements, over a time of 6 months to 2 years, depending on original fitness levels, i.e., needing to lose 100 pounds looks different than working back into shape after a month or two off. If faster results are desired, add in 2 to 10 miles a week of jogging, 3 to 6 hours a week of yoga or swimming, and/or 2 or 4 sessions a week of weight lifting. 

Outside Cardio Workout | Fighting Arts Health Lab

Dislike the idea of any extra ‘cardio’ that isn’t done on a tatami? That is fine, too. Find extra ways to get in your sessions using your desired art. For example, speed drilling, hitting the heavy bag, shadow boxing on the beach. The possibilities are numerous and only limited by imagination.

These plan examples illustrate just how easy it can be to incorporate several required elements into one solid, very workable plan that minimizes chances of burnout, over or under-training, while leaving room for mixing it up. The beauty of this becomes clear when winter or summer come and you want indoors or outdoors more, friends and family visit, or boredom sets in.

These examples show how simple it can be to achieve max results with plenty of effort, sure, but with massive variety, and no tedium. Simply understand what each type of exercise does to the body, muscles focused upon, time required to maximum effect, and they become like pieces on a chess board and you’re always checkmating. 

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Listen To Your Body

Some people train like demons at first, going 6 or even 7 days that first week or two, until suddenly just walking across the room gets painful. This is commonly observed in folks coming right off the couch who become obsessed with progress and seeing instant results. This isn’t such a bad thing if done right, and taking time off when needed.

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If you've been working hard in the dojo, or dominating opponents before, now returning from time off because of injury, illness, or life issues such as major moves or job changes, new baby, parents, etc., one needs to lean in cautiously but steadily, the tiger on the hunt. Aim high, ramp it up ambitiously, but listen when your body says stop, take a day off, do the long soak, bike ride in the country, meditate or relax with music.

Plan out a regimen that fits schedule and time constraints. Take sufficient rest days. Don’t block out all the noise, and live the “no pain--no gain” mentality, as this all too often results in injury, burn out, and fatigue. And that means time off the mats.

Put It Into Action

The most perfectly designed conditioning plan means nothing if it isn’t carried out. All the good intentions don’t manifest in gains if they aren’t put into action. The best plan won’t work if it doesn’t realistically take into account timing, availability, possible conflicts or shifts needed, and then, massive action. When it comes down to being successful--it’s all about movement and commitment. . Not just once, not for a week, or a month. This is a lifestyle, baby! You get there—you stay there. increase your chances

Develop A Routine

Win the morning, win the day. This is something popularized by New York Times best seller, Tim Ferriss, in his book Tools of Titans. The author interviews the leading figures from all different lines of work. One of the common themes amongst successful people, from bankers to elite level MMA athletes is the importance of a good morning routine.

This routine is unique but sets the tone for the day. Whether it is starting the day with 50 burpies or jump-ups, 200 kicks, gratitude journaling and a set of bodyweight squats, or 40 pushups Decide what wins the morning and sets the tone for the rest of the day. It’s much easier to feel committed and succeed with goals when massive action makes you win the morning. Winning the morning makes you win the day. Win days consistently, and see amazing achievements.

Track And Monitor

Success is intrinsically motivating. Success can manifest in many ways. It can be proof of fat loss as clothes fit looser, or dropping numbers on the scale, faster, easier sprints, quicker recovery, powerful sparring. Don’t miss out on this amazing confidence booster-- track changes and improvements.

Assess critically. Make notes, track times, and regularly weigh in. See the fruits of your labor and improvements. Make tweaks and changes to your routines until it works good as envisioned.

How to Establish SMART Goal Setting

SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time Based focus. Time tested SMART goal setting principles were explained by Mike Dolce, retired MMA fighter, cast member on The Ultimate Fighter season 7, turned top MMA coach, when he said:“It’s about goal-setting and achieving when it comes to successfully advancing as a martial artist.

S.M.A.R.T. goal setting guidelines will help ensure that goals become a reality.


The goal has to be clear and resonate with you, otherwise it fails before even starting. A good practice is to use the 3 W’s to guide goal setting. What do I want to accomplish? Which resources or limits are potentially involved? Why is this important? When there is a good enough why, the ‘how’ can be endured.


Tracking progress towards goals. Re-test every 4-6 weeks. Established a baseline to test from. Stay accountable by committing to testing and re-testing at established internals. For example, time a 1.5 mile run at the beginning of each month.


If one is afraid of heights, best not to decide skydiving is a goal. However, becoming a black-belt is attainable—at almost any age—once again, depending on overall conditioning. Setting lofty goals is a great idea. Set goals that push and challenge, but make them attainable, too. Best not to set up for failure. Fighting in the octagon when retired and overweight is not the best plan, for instance, but getting a black belt and becoming an excellent sparring partner is attainable.


If the goal is to become a Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt, it wouldn’t make much sense to spend half the time practicing Capoeira or Muay Thai. Similarly, if the goal is to get explosively strong when wrestling, maybe don’t choose running, but rather, a well formulated weight lifting program would achieve optimal results.

(T)ime Based

Stay accountable and keep forging forward towards goals by putting a time frame on it. This keeps motivation high and the encouragement to do what is necessary. This may look like making weight for an up coming fight, planning on getting a blue belt within two years, or committing to classes 4 times a week all next month. Put a time frame on goals, write them down, then complete them before the due date Psyche! Doing this massively increases chances of success.