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How to Set S.M.A.R.T. Fitness Goals

Start With Your Why

Before you can commit to a workout or supplement routine, you need to understand the reason that you are doing it in the first place. You might think that choosing a goal alone implies a reason, but to be successful, you need to define it. Having a why creates an emotional attachment that can fuel your ambition and help you tap into reserves when things get tough.

The difference between success and failure is often doing what you have to do even if you don’t necessarily want to. On the days when you just don’t feel like doing what needs to be done, a strong “why” can help you to keep pushing through. It’s a way to find more even when you think you have nothing left--especially when you’re tempted to skip cardio or reach for junk food when watching t.v. A strong reason for losing weight, or body fat, can help you justify an apple over chips or a run over your favorite Netflix series.

So how do you choose a “why?”

People often step into fitness and choose aesthetic reasons as their justification for getting in shape, but that isn’t always sustainable—that depends on the individual. No one can tell you the reason you need to do something. If you’re not already motivated and prepared to make the necessary sacrifices to create a better version of yourself. Inherently, you already know this because it triggered an emotion (for better or worse) that caused you to seek change. For example, a person who is new to fitness can benefit from a “why” more related to health than appearance, but for a bodybuilder, appearance can be a very strong driving force.

Define Short-Term Goals

Despite the best intentions, many people find themselves throwing in the towel after only a month or two of exercising and dieting. Your motivation may be high but it’s essential to have a well-prepared set of goals and actions steps. Without the roadmap to your fitness goals, you’ll never reach your destination because you won’t know how to get there.

Improving your life is not an overnight process, but it is achievable as long as you make sustainable decisions. Pursuing one single goal initially will help you to maintain clarity and can keep you from getting too overwhelmed. Write down everything that you want to accomplish, then pick one area to start.

The best thing is that as you learn to succeed at changing one area of your life, many things can be applied to others. As you adapt to this new change, you can take on more because you’ve already laid the foundation.

Let’s review how to create smart fitness goals in the new year.

S.M.A.R.T. Goal Planning Process

Thoroughly planned goals are S.M.A.R.T. goals: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-based.

As we review each step in the fitness goal planning process, it will be important to write everything down. You can do it on your laptop but I recommend using an old-fashioned notebook and pen because studies suggest the act of physically writing down your goals leads to a greater likelihood of accomplishing them.

Specific Goals 

First things first, you must establish a very detailed and specific goal. It’s not enough to simply say, “I want to lose weight.” You can be as specific as possible by establishing a number and your reason behind chasing after that goal.

Establish the number of pounds you want to lose or how much muscle mass you want to gain. You can also include your goal measurements. Do you want to lose an inch around your waist? Would you like to gain half an inch on your arms?

Next, write down the reason you want to begin going after this fitness goal.

Write in the first person to make the connection.

Example of a Specific Fitness Goal

  • I want to lose 15 pounds of body fat. I want to fit into the pants that I was wearing three years ago because I want to get back the body I had when I was much healthier. I felt better about myself when I was at that weight. I want to be that confident again.

Measurable Goals

Next, your goals need to be able to be measured. If you established a number for your specific goal then you’re on the right track as you’ll be able to use a scale and tape to measure your progress.

If your goals do not involve weight loss or muscle building but performance enhancement, you’ll need different tools to measure your results. For example, as a runner, swimmer, or endurance athlete, you may need a stopwatch. Match your performance goal to the appropriate tool you need to measure your progress.

In any case, weight loss, muscle building, or athletic enhancement, you need to be able to write down information that shows where you started and how you’ve advanced to that point.

Fitness Measuring Tools You May Need

  • Weight scale
  • Measuring tape
  • Bioelectrical impedance tool (body fat measuring tool found in most gyms)
  • Camera for progress pictures
  • Stopwatch
  • Athletic tools relevant to your goals (e.g., barbells, pool, running track, boxing gloves)

Achievable Goals

Creating an achievable goal involves the question of “how will you accomplish this goal?” For example, you want to lose 15 pounds: How will you make this happen? What action steps are you going to take to achieve this goal?

Here are some questions to ask yourself to help you establish the method of achieving your goals: 

Weight Loss Goal Example

  • Will you consult with a nutritionist?
  • Will you hire a personal trainer?
  • Will you go to a gym or exercise at home? 

Muscle Building Goal Example

  • Will you buy protein supplements?
  • Will you find a workout buddy?
  • What type of muscle building lifting methodology will you use? (e.g., German Volume Training)

Performance Enhancement Goal Example

  • Where will you need to train?
  • Do you need a training partner?
  • What special type of diet do you need to see results? (e.g., runners and carb loading)

Realistic Goals

Gaining 30 pounds of muscle mass in a few weeks, losing 100 pounds in two months, improving your vertical jump by 12 inches in six weeks: All of these are unrealistic goals. 

When you give yourself unrealistic goals, you’re setting yourself up for a world of stress, frustration, and anxiety. It won’t take long for the stress to build and eventually crush your motivation. If you want to see your goal through until the end, it’s a necessity to be sensible.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when creating your goals:

  • Weight Loss: It’s common to lose between 0.5 and 2 pounds per week, depending on your current weight, gender, lifestyle, and genetics. Also, you may lose inches but not pounds on the scale.
  • Muscle Mass: You can expect to put on a pound or two a month but this can vary widely based on a training schedule, diet, gender, and previous experience with muscle building.

Time-Based Goals 

Finally, you need to give yourself a target date. Are you pursuing this goal with an event or competition in mind, such as a high school reunion or the CrossFit games?

Continuing with the idea of being realistic, don’t assume you can train for a marathon in a week. Give yourself ample time to comfortably achieve your goal. It’s better to slowly make progress that you can maintain than make fast progress that you lose.


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Date December 18, 2017
Category Training