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Skyler EspinozaJanuary 9, 2024 at 1:35 PM6 min read

New Year's Goal Setting Tips from an Elite Athlete


Source: Skyler Espinoza

January is, by far, the most popular month of the year to begin a new gym membership. Spurred by New Year’s resolutions, we all zip up our coats and unzip our wallets to jump on the latest fitness craze. In the years that I’ve been involved with sport, and more particularly, gyms, I’ve seen and heard it all: “This year, I’m going to wake up every day at 5am to work out!” “This is going to be the year that I lose that extra weight!”So many people I know, and have known, want to make health-related resolutions, and that’s something we should celebrate! But here’s the kicker. Research shows that 80% of January gym goers will quit within 5 months. Have you set a fitness or health-related resolution for 2024?


As an elite athlete who’s spent about 20-30 hours per week of the last 10+ years working out, here are my best tips for how to make your new exercise regime stick.



1. Start small

One of the toughest resolutions to stick to is one that requires you to completely change your current routine. If, for instance, you never wake up before work to work out, then a resolution to the tune of “I’m going to wake up every day at 5am to work out” is unlikely to last long. An alternative could be: “I’m going to wake up 2 days a week to work out and see how it goes.” Or, “I’m going to commit to working out on the weekends.” It’s far better to start small and follow through on your commitments than set a big goal which you won’t stick to and end up beating yourself up over later.


2. Don't let good be the enemy of great

Let’s say you decide to workout in the evenings, but something came up and your workday ran longer than expected. You don’t have time to drive to the gym anymore. So the whole day is a wash, right? Wrong! Any workout is better than no workout. Take 20 minutes to go for a walk, or a light jog. Pull up an at-home core video on YouTube. Doing a little bit of movement will help you feel better, and also increase your sense that you are sticking to your schedule, even though you had to adapt.


3. Be flexible

Let’s say your goal is to run every day, or train for a half marathon. But a few weeks in you get a foot injury. Don’t let a change of plans be the end of your plans! Can you swim? Bike? Listen to your body and your doctor, but be prepared to be adaptable over the year. In fact, if you’re targeting a big change in your exercise type or amount, small injuries and setbacks should be expected!



Source: Skyler Espinoza

4. Treat yourself

Is there an audiobook you’ve been wanting to listen to? A trashy TV show you’ve been wanting to binge? If you pair the pleasurable activity with exercise you can trick your brain into thinking exercise is a treat! If you save the show or audiobook or playlist you like only for exercise it can even make you look forward to that time.


5. Do something you enjoy

There is all sorts of research everywhere you look about the “optimal” form of exercise or the “best way” to lose weight etc. But we all know that the least optimal form of exercise is doing none at all. If you’ve read that the stairmaster is the best form of exercise but you hate the stairmaster, then you’re probably more likely to do nothing than hike up that infernal machine for any length of time. If you like playing pickleball instead of running, play pickleball! If you like working out at home rather than going to the gym, work out at home! Sticking to a plan is hard enough without trying to force yourself to do something you don’t like.


6. Recruit a buddy

I know, I know, this one makes it onto all the lists. Have an accountability buddy! But more than just having someone to keep you accountable, working out with a friend means you get to mix workout time with social time and who doesn’t love a little bit of double dipping? Try teaming up with a friend who has similar goals, and try accomplishing them together.


7. Treat yourself (part 2)

I have little Nutella packets that I bring in my pockets on long bike rides. Once I make it back to my neighborhood after hours on the bike, I open up the Nutella packet and give myself a little treat for making it through. I’m not saying that every time you exercise you treat yourself to a big milkshake (although I’m not not saying that), but building positive associations with exercise will make you more likely to enjoy it, and therefore stick with it.


8. Set good goals

We’ve all heard some version of a goal setting acronym for “good” goal setting. For instance, SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Bound). If that’s a helpful framework for you, then go for it! I would say the most important parts of goal setting is that they are goals that are within your power to achieve, motivating for you, and able to be broken up into smaller chunks. For instance, “I’m going to go to the gym with my friend 5 times a week this year.” Could be broken up into 2 days a week starting in January, 3 days a week starting in April, 4 days starting in July, and 5 days starting in October. Achieving phase one will give you the confidence you need to tackle phase 2!


9. Sustainable isn't sexy

It’s so tempting to set a goal that will look good on social media. Run a marathon! Run 6 marathons! Run 6 marathons while juggling 6 oranges! But if your goal is your long term health, then try to wrap your head around the fact that your goals may not be sexy. Long term change will probably look like eating a little healthier, while exercising a little more, at first. Small changes over time will lead to the big changes you’re after, but they might not make good Instagram content in the meantime.



Source: Skyler Espinoza

10. Reach out for help! 

There are so many good resources available to you, and no one does this alone! Could you budget 3 sessions with a personal trainer at your gym to get you started in the right direction? Could you ask a friend who has a workout routine to bring you with them once a week? For me, having a coach write my workout plans for me is a huge motivator. It takes the “what should I do at the gym today” conversation completely off the table. Whatever support you need, don’t be shy to ask someone to give it to you! My DMs are always open. 🙂


About Parity
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Skyler Espinoza

Skyler was a DI rower and coach at Columbia and Stanford Universities, and now is a Team USA athlete as a guide for a visually impaired cyclist. She is a world championships medallist, and a 2x Parapan American champion. You can read her blog about women in sports at, and follow her on Instagram @skyler.espinozaa.