Putting Your Skills to Work: A Student Affairs-Minded Approach to Fitness by Chris Diggs

CDiggs SA Fit Photo

Chris Diggs is currently the Assistant Director for Student Affairs at Baruch College in New York City.  She is also on the executive board of CSPA-NYS, the New York State affiliated chapter of ACPA.  She received a B.A. in Political Science and Religion Studies and a M.Ed. in Educational Leadership, both from Lehigh University.  Her work in student affairs has included career development, residence life, and social justice advocacy.  Chris is currently training for her first full marathon with Team in Training.  Visit her professional website at http://cdiggs.com and connect with her on twitter @cdiggs.


Many of us whose professional lives follow the academic calendar find that the summer provides a lighter schedule, fewer late night responsibilities, and more time to tackle big ideas and new projects.  I find this time professionally refreshing as it provides opportunities to reflect and improve our work while also charting our course for the upcoming year.  With all the good energy that the summer can generate for our professional work, why not apply the same outlook to our fitness lives?  The summer is a great time to start or refresh a fitness routine and there are many strategies we use as student affairs professionals that can help us be successful in this process.

Goal Setting

Have you recently completed an annual report that asked about your goals from the previous year and how you achieved them?  Perhaps you were also asked to generate short and long term goals for the next few years, with a plan that outlines who is accountable for them, how they will be measured, and what impact you expect them to have.  Applying that process to your fitness goals is a great way to create a reasonable plan and identify the tools that will allow you to be successful.

I didn’t decide to train for and run my first full marathon (which I am slated to do in November) without first attempting smaller distance races, consulting resources that would help me learn how to train, and identifying a support network that would make my success possible.  I have trained for and completed four half marathons and each time I have created a specific training plan tailored to my fitness level and goals with a realistic perspective on what I could commit to in my training.  In the same way that we would not suggest a goal for our department that radically changes the way we operate without first assessing our current practices and testing some smaller ideas, our long-term fitness goals should follow smaller steps that come before them.  So, put your skills in goal setting to use.  Consider using an action-planning chart for your fitness ambitions or creating a free blog account to use as a journal to record your plan and progress.  Set up the parameters, measurements, and check in points the same way you would for your professional goals.

Sample Resource: WebMD Food and Fitness Planner http://www.webmd.com/diet/food-fitness-planner/default.htm


In times when you have worked directly with students, whether it was supervising, advising, or mentoring, what kinds of advice did you give?  Perhaps you told a first year student to try a wide variety of new things in order to find the right niche on campus, or an undecided student to take a range of courses that might expose them to a new major.  What a great thing to apply to your fitness routine!  Heed your own advice and find a new activity to try or a new group of people to be active with.  Surrounding yourself with new people or a new challenge can help rejuvenate your fitness routine.

When I worked as a career counselor, I often encouraged students to find organizations, events, or contacts related to their career goals as a way to build knowledge and a network that would help prepare the way for their job search.  The same is true for fitness.  If you are interested in trying something new, find a group or local business that is related to your pursuit.  Living in New York City, I am fortunate to have access to lots of resources- from an LGBT rock-climbing club, to outdoors enthusiast groups, and yoga studios galore.  Visit a local sporting goods or specialty store and talk with the staff about local events.  Many stores have their own programs and the staff members are usually expert enthusiasts who can make great recommendations.  If you can’t find something nearby, look for online communities and social media tools where you can connect with others and gain motivation and knowledge from a virtual group.

Sample Resource: Active.com http://beta.active.com/

Scheduling and Planning

With the lighter load that summer typically brings, starting a fitness routine now can help set you up to maintain it once things get busy again.  During busy times, our priorities often shift to accommodate for work, family, and other obligations.  For many of us, spending time exercising is an easy target for cutting something out when we need more time in the day.  Even more difficult is setting aside time to start something new, rebuild our fitness level, and make it through the tough beginning of starting a new routine.  Set yourself up for success by using the flexible time in the summer to establish a routine, take on a new challenge, or try something different in your fitness life.  As things get busier, your schedule will likely need to change, but you will have already started working towards your goal, which will make it less likely that you decide to back out when things get tough.

Take my November marathon, for example.  By the time the academic year is in full swing, my weekly mileage will be significant and I will need to devote a sizeable number of hours each week to my training.  Without building the proper base, both physically and temporally, it would be easy to say in September that I don’t have what it takes to meet my goal.  Instead, I’m following a 20-week training plan that allows me to build my commitment over time.  As professionals, we model this behavior often.  Whether it’s in the way we approach a large research project, a program series, or training for our staff, we create gradual plans that intentionally build over time in order produce success.  That kind of approach is incredibly valuable in fitness, too.

Sample Resource: Runner’s World Magazine Online Training Plan Tool http://www.runnersworld.com/training

Balance and Self-Care

Many of us include fitness activities in our list of things that help us maintain balance in work and life, and rightly so.  Setting aside time to create goals, plans, and activities that contribute to your wellbeing is an important part of practicing self-care.  It also sets a positive example for our students.  At the same time, it is important to remember that the goal is to achieve balance in all directions.  This means we also need appropriate breaks from our fitness routines.  Taking a planned break helps to reduce your risk of injury, allows your body to recover physically, and provides an opportunity to rest mentally.  You might plan rest days during a typical week of activity, as well as rest or active rest periods in between major milestones.  As always, consult with medical and fitness professionals to develop a plan that is suitable for you.

In the times between the half marathons I have run I was not always the best at staying active.  Even though I was not as successful as I hoped I would be in keeping my fitness level steady, I know that the rest time was important.  By limiting the number of major events I run each year, I have minimized the fatigue and potential injury that some experience.  I have also been able to find time to focus on my professional goals, maintain personal relationships, and see the full picture that contributes to my motivation.  By tapping into the positive moments that come from all areas of our lives, we come closer to achieving the balance that is critical in the work we do.

Sample Resource: University at Buffalo School of Social Work, Self-Care Resources http://www.socialwork.buffalo.edu/students/self-care/

The concepts of goal setting, advising, planning, and self-care are just some of the many skills that we possess as student affairs professionals.  By using the tools we typically consider in the work-only realm to help achieve our fitness aspirations, I believe we can develop best practices that permeate many facets of our lives.  In the times when I doubt whether I will be able to complete my first marathon, I try to connect to what I know works professionally.  Sometimes this means revisiting my training plan or trying something new, other times I connect with my running community or take a break from my routine.  These tools have helped me thus far and I am confident that they will continue to contribute to a fulfilling fitness and professional life.  Finding success in lofty goals can feel daunting, but in realizing that you already have many talents that will help you achieve those goals, you are already on your way to achieving something great.

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