How to Set Fitness Goals that Are SMART & Achievable

Andrea and her husband, Paul, decide it’s time to get in shape. They head to a local gym and buy memberships. Andrea uses the elliptical trainer for about 20 minutes, while Paul does a few bicep curls with the free weights and tries a handful of resistance machines. After a few weeks of this same routine, their trips to the gym become less frequent until they give up altogether. What happened? Andrea and Paul struggled and ultimately failed because they didn’t develop any fitness goals to help focus their time at the gym.

A goal gives you something to strive for, a purpose. It also offers you a finish line so that you can measure your progress. Without a goal, Andrea and Paul had no idea what to do at the gym or any motivation to continue. New exercisers, like Andrea and Paul, can benefit from developing SMART goals. SMART fitness goals for beginners are the ultimate way for Andrea and Paul—and you—to achieve fitness success.  

Let’s learn more about SMART fitness goals and take a look at SMART fitness goal examples through the experience of Andrea and Paul.

Introducing SMART Fitness Goals

your workouts and training. However, not every goal is equally effective. Some goals are too vague, while others may not be realistic. In fact, the problem most exercisers face isn’t a lack of goals, but rather poorly devised ones.

Enter, SMART goals. The acronym stands for:

  •         Specific
  •         Measurable
  •         Achievable
  •         Relevant
  •         Time-bound

SMART goals help clarify and activate the process of goal setting and give individuals the tools they need to achieve their goals. While the concept of SMART goals was originally developed as a management solution in the business world, SMART goals can be applied to any area of life, including health and fitness. Let’s see how Andrea and Paul can take the concept of SMART goals and redefine their approach to fitness.

Creating Specific Fitness Goals

When Andrea and Paul signed for a gym membership, they had a vague idea that they wanted to “get in shape” but what does that mean? To start building your own SMART goal, you must begin by creating one that is both clear and specific. Without a clear target, you can’t begin programming workouts or even determining if you are on the right track.

To help yourself clarify your fitness goals, ask yourself:

  •         What do I want to accomplish?
  •         Why do I want to accomplish this goal?
  •         What does this accomplishment look like?

After considering how to create a specific goal, Andrea and Paul realized that “getting into shape” meant entirely different things to them. Andrea wants to lose weight, while Paul wants to build muscle. Just clarifying this idea will help Andrea and Paul figure out how to focus their time and energy on their next trip to the gym, but that’s only the beginning of designing their SMART goals.

Creating Measurable Fitness Goals

One of the biggest mistakes new exercisers make is creating a goal that can’t be evaluated or measured. Take Andrea’s goal, for example. Andrea wants to lose weight, but how much weight? Five pounds? Ten pounds? One hundred pounds? There’s a big difference between building a fitness program to lose five pounds versus devising a program to lose 100 pounds.

The second step in developing your SMART goal is to make it measurable. This will allow you to track your progress and know when you’ve achieved your goal. If you’re struggling to find a way to measure your goal, you might need to step back and re-configure it. For example, Paul’s original goal to “get into shape” wasn’t measurable. Now that he knows he wants to build muscle, he can turn that into a measurable goal.

Andrea and Paul consider how to make their goals measurable. Andrea decides that she wants to lose 10 percent of her body fat. Paul wants to increase his muscle mass by 10 percent.

Creating Achievable Fitness Goals

There’s no stopping Andrea, Paul, or you from creating any goal you want. For you to eventually reach your goal, you’ll need to make sure it is achievable. For example, Paul can always say that his goal is to be crowned Mr. Universe (a top bodybuilding prize), but that’s a highly unlikely scenario and would require him to quit his job and commit to bodybuilding full time.

Instead, think of a goal that is slightly beyond your reach but seems possible. If your aim is too big or too broad, turn it into a smaller, more achievable chunk.

For example, Andrea’s initial goal is to lose 10 percent of her body fat, which would translate into 40 pounds of fat loss. That’s a lot! Just thinking about it feels overwhelming. Andrea realizes that it is more achievable to lose five percent of her body fat, or 20 pounds. Once she hits that milestone, she can always create a new SMART goal to keep making progress.

Creating Relevant Fitness Goals

Will your goal help you achieve the results you want and need right now? Before you throw a lot of time and energy into your goals, it’s worth stepping back to make sure your goals are relevant. Consider what matters most to you right now and what you actually want to achieve in your life. If your goal isn’t moving you in that direction, you may need to start back at the top of the SMART goal process.

For example, Paul recently tore his ACL. Recovering from the surgery has been a long, slow process, and he’s still not as mobile as he’d like to be. He wants to be able to walk up the stairs in his house and play with his kids in the yard without pain. His current goal is to increase his muscle mass by 10 percent, but after considering what he really wants, Paul realizes that this milestone isn’t very relevant. Instead, he needs to focus on regaining his mobility and strengthening his knee and surrounding stabilizer muscles. Once Paul can jog up the stairs with ease, then it might be time to work on increasing his overall muscle mass.

Creating Time-Bound Fitness Goals

Have you had a goal that’s been floating around in the back of your head for months or even years? Chances are the reason you aren’t actively pursuing the goal is that you didn’t give yourself a deadline. Without a target completion date attached to your milestone, there’s no way to hold yourself accountable or to track your progress effectively. A time-bound goal gives you a finish line and offers you a way to plot your course. Just make sure your deadline is reasonable. It’s always a good idea to give yourself a little leeway for unplanned life events.

If you are having trouble adding a deadline, break your goal down into smaller pieces and determine how long it will take to achieve each piece.

Andrea’s goal is to lose five percent body fat, which equates to roughly 20 pounds. Without a deadline, she might start to make initial progress and then find herself slipping. Instead, she gives herself a 10-week deadline. Now she knows that she needs to lose two pounds a week, a healthy and achievable goal that she should be able to hit by eating clean and adding regular exercise into her life.

Now It’s Time to Create Your Own SMART Goals

The beauty of SMART goals is that you can apply the concept to every aspect of your life. Want to eat healthier? Create a SMART goal. How about learning the piano? SMART goal. Don’t be afraid to create multiple SMART goals and to break big SMART goals into smaller SMART goals. Want to run a marathon? Create a SMART goal for the marathon and then create a SMART milestone for your first 5k, 10k, and half-marathon!

Still not sure how to apply SMART fitness goals to your life? Talk to a personal trainer at your gym. They can give you smart fitness goal examples and help you devise fitness goals for beginners. You may even want to hire a personal trainer to help you pursue your SMART goals. Your trainer can help you develop specific milestones, create measurement standards, ensure your goal is achievable, make it relevant to your situation, and help you hit your target date.

Now, it’s time to create your first fitness SMART goal. When you arrive at the gym with a clear and motivating SMART milestone in mind, we know you’ll achieve all your fitness goals! 

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