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How many times did you set a fitness goal that failed? If you’re like most people, probably more than once. The problem often lies with how we set our goals. A simple “get in shape” won’t do it.
There’s a much more efficient way to motivate yourself. The secret is in setting the correct type of goals: SMART goals. Fitness plans should work, and this innovative approach can help.
What You Will Learn
What Are SMART Goals?
SMART goals are process-oriented objectives that create a path to success. They detail the specifics about how you can achieve a fitness or other life goal. For example, “I want to get fit” is a typical outcome-oriented goal. Likewise, “I will run 5K on Saturday mornings, lower my carb intake, and do 15 minutes of HIIT exercises three times per week for the next month” is a process-oriented SMART goal.
SMART is an acronym that stands for “Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. Here’s what each word represents:
Being specific about your fitness goals means you know exactly what it is you have to do. For example, “Run more” isn’t detailed enough. “Run in the park for thirty minutes each day for two weeks in a row” is a more specific plan. Your goal should answer the “Who?” “What?” “Where?” “When?” and “Why?” questions.
Add time, amount, or any other unit that will make it easier to measure the goal. If we take the previous example, thirty minutes and two weeks are the time metrics for the plan. This could also be “5K,” “1500 calories,” or another type of measurement.
The point of measurable goals is to make it easier to track your goal progress.
Attainable goals are essential in fitness. Unfortunately, people often set unreasonably lofty goals that include losing too much weight over too short a period or lifting a heavy set of weights too soon. Not only does failing these goals lead to frustration, but it can also cause injury and illness. Instead, you want to set goals that push you just a little bit over your current limits but that you can and will accomplish.
When setting a goal, make it relevant to what you really want. For example, running a marathon is irrelevant if your goal is to build upper-body strength and vice versa.
Relevant goals go beyond the small milestones. They are in line with everything that matters in your life, from your career to personal well-being.
Time-bound goals have deadlines. A time-bound fitness goal is much more exciting. For example, the difference between “running a marathon” and “running a marathon next year” is huge. The latter creates a sense of urgency and requires you to plan your goal in even more detail. As the deadline approaches, it will be evident whether or not you are on track to achieve your goal.
Why SMART Goals Are Important for Fitness
By setting a goal, we lay the foundation for success. However, not all goals are created equally. When it comes to fitness, most people’s goal lists are similar:
These are common goals oriented towards the desired outcome. But SMART fitness goals are different. They remind you of your priorities, let you track your progress, motivate you throughout the process, and make sure you see the desired outcome.
Here’s an overview of how SMART goals benefit fitness enthusiasts:
Creating a SMART goal for fitness is easy. Just get a pen and a paper and come up with an outline for each SMART goal. You can also use these printable worksheets to help you begin. And if you’re not feeling inspired, here are some examples to get you started:
7 SMART Goal Examples for Fitness
1. Get Healthier
To get healthy by next year, I will eat more balanced meals and start exercising. I will exercise three times per week for at least 30 minutes. I can choose between HIIT, running, and swimming. I will meal prep on Sundays to make sure I eat enough healthy foods throughout the week.
S: Compare this goal to the “Get healthy” statement. The SMART goal clearly states what steps you have to follow to get healthy.
M: We’ve got plenty of milestones here: getting healthier by next year, getting three workouts in each week, and doing so for at least 30 minutes at a time. It’s easy to track progress when you know how much of something you need to do.
A: This goal is attainable. It is spread throughout the year, and the activities shouldn’t be too overwhelming.
R: The goal is relevant to you becoming a healthier person and raising your fitness level.
T: This goal has two deadlines – weekly milestones to reach and a big yearly deadline to push for.
2. Walk More
To get more steps in over the next month, I will park two blocks away, walk for at least 30 minutes five times per week, and get off the bus three stops earlier. I will also take my dog for a walk for 10 minutes longer and take the stairs instead of the elevator.
S: This goal is specific about how you can get more steps in throughout the week.
M: Most people already use step counting apps on their phones. In case you don’t, you can always download one from Google Play or the App Store. Just type in “Step counter” and install the app you like best.
A: This goal won’t make you feel overwhelmed about walking crazy distances or getting in 10,000 steps every day. The goal is to walk more overall, and it’s totally doable when you implement small lifestyle changes like the ones above. You can always adjust the plan, so it’s more suitable for your current habits.
R: This goal is relevant to raising your fitness levels and feeling better overall.
T: By the end of the month, you should have walked at least 30 minutes five times each week.
3. Run a 5K
To run a 5K, I will come up with a personalized workout plan. I will start with interval runs with ten repetitions of a two-minute run and 30-second rest. Then, I will slowly increase the running time until I feel comfortable running a 5K without a break. I’ll do at least three runs per week. I will be able to run a 5K after 30 days.
S: This goal describes how you can prepare yourself for a 5K run in one month. You can find plenty of 5K (or any distance you want to achieve) interval plans online, so use those to bolster the foundation of your plan.
M: This plan is all about measuring the time and distance you run. As you increase your running time, you’ll cover more distance.
A: Compare this goal to the “Run a 5K in two weeks” statement. Not only is it overwhelming (given the fact you’re not a professional runner), but it’s highly unrealistic unless you can dedicate hours to workouts each day.
R: This goal is relevant because it promotes your overall health and supports your goal of finishing a 5K.
T: The goal is to complete ten series of two-minute runs and 30-second rests, so you’ll be working with an interval timer app. This should lead to you running a full 5K after one month.
4. Lose Weight
To lose ten pounds in four months, I will focus on strength exercises to boost my resting metabolism. I will do strength workouts twice per week and combine them with one HIIT workout once a week. I will reduce sugar and increase protein and fiber intake.
S: This goal is specific about how you can lose weight in four months: strength and HIIT workouts, reduced sugar intake, and increased protein and fiber intake.
M: The weight loss can be measured, and the planned workouts each week are your milestones.
A: Losing ten pounds in four months is realistic. It’s also healthy. Don’t overwhelm yourself with unachievable goals like shedding a dozen pounds in one month – those plans always turn out badly.
R: The goal is relevant to you, increasing your fitness levels and being healthier, which is the ultimate aim.
T: The deadline is four months. There are also smaller deadlines for doing three workouts by the end of each week.
5. Lift More Weights
To do ten reps with 30-pound weights, I will start with ten reps of 10-pound weights and slowly increase the weight for the last rep. Then, as I get stronger, I will add one rep of 30-pound weights and build my way to ten reps in two months.
S: This goal outlines the plan in detail – slowly increase the weight until you reach the desired goal.
M: The ten and 30-pound weights (and anything in between) are the measurable part.
A: This goal won’t put too much pressure on you because you know you’ll get there gradually if you push yourself and you give yourself a reasonable deadline.
R: The goal is relevant to you to lift more weights, one part of fitness.
T: The deadline is two months, which gives you just enough room for gradual progress.
6. Go to the Gym More Often
To make time to go to the gym three times per week, I will finish all my assignments on time, do meal prep to save time on cooking, and stop binge-watching Netflix. This will also help me spend less on food delivery and direct those funds toward my monthly gym budget.
S: The goal is specific in how it can help you get to the gym three times per week. It lists three things that can distract you from going to the gym but can be adjusted to fit your lifestyle.
M: Each week you hit the gym three times is a milestone reached. Getting more from your gym membership is also a good quantifier.
A: Once you limit distractions, you’ll find more time for the gym, making this goal easily attainable. Plus, if your budget is a problem, you can simply cut out some luxuries to save enough for what matters.
R: This goal is relevant in a way that promotes you to visit the gym more often.
T: The weekly deadline of three gym visits will push you not to procrastinate and to get those workouts in.
7. Burn More Calories
My calorie tracker says I currently burn 1,000 calories per week. So I will walk and exercise more to burn 300 extra calories weekly.
S: Instead of “I will exercise more,” you specified the number of calories you’ll burn.
M: If your calorie app tracker says you burn 1,000 calories per week, you’ll already be able to track whether or not you succeed in your new goal.
A: Since you already burn 1,000 calories per week, it’s manageable to bump the number up a bit. You can even burn the extra 300 calories through a single extra workout.
R: If your main goal is to lose weight or improve your fitness levels, this goal is relevant to the desired outcome.
T: This is a weekly goal, so the count resets by the end of each week. You’re free to keep going with the same plan or come up with a new one afterward.
Final Thoughts on SMART Fitness Goals That Will Motivate You
When creating fitness goals, you need to make sure they are sustainable. You can only get the most out of your plans when they genuinely motivate you to keep going forward. That’s why we have SMART goals. Fitness is a journey, not a destination, so you should plan your goals accordingly.
To help you implement your SMART fitness goals faster, read about these nine psychological tricks to developing fitness habits.
Finally, if you want to take your goal-setting efforts to the next level, check out this FREE printable worksheet and a step-by-step process that will help you set effective SMART goals.