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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 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:
13 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.
8. Stretch More Often
“To help reach my fitness goals for this year, I will incorporate more stretches into my regular routine throughout the week. Following the Mayo Clinic suggestion, I will stretch 3 times per week to achieve the most benefits.
I will stretch on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays first thing in the morning for 5 to 10 minutes. Doing so will improve my range of motion, muscle blood flow, energy levels, and ability to do my daily activities within 2 to 4 weeks.”
S: This SMART goal clearly states the specific days, time of the day, and length of time stretches will be done to reach fitness goals. In addition, it also says what goals or benefits are gained out of stretching more often.
M: There is a goal here to incorporate stretching. This goal has measurable times and days that the stretching routine will be integrated to reach physical improvements.
A: This goal to stretch more often is attainable and doesn't put a significant demand on time to achieve results.
R: This goal is relevant to achieving optimal fitness levels by increasing overall quality of life.
T: By the end of the month, flexibility and blood flow will be obtained from stretching up to 30 minutes each week.
9. Get Adequate Hydration
“Drinking 2 to 3 liters of water daily is vital to reach fitness goals this year. Dehydration will cause health issues that will work against my health goals.
So, I will drink 2 cups of water first thing in the morning to rehydrate my body, boost my energy levels, aid digestion, and increase my mental performance. I will also drink water before each daily meal to curb hunger pangs.
Then I'll hydrate before, during, and after I am done working out to keep my body from overheating. As a result, I will see immediate benefits as water lubricates the joints, replaces lost water in the body, and aiding in weight loss.”
S: This goal specifies the who, what, where, when, and why getting adequate hydration is good for health and fitness goals.
M: Getting adequate hydration is measured by the times of day and amounts of water that need to be drunk to see a change in a person's fitness.
A: Drinking water at the specific times of day mentioned is very attainable.
R: Staying hydrated is very relevant to achieving fitness goals. It cannot be obtained without it, period.
T: You will see the immediate benefits of proper hydration. It can be one of the most attainable goals due to seeing quick results and the plethora of benefits gained from it.
10. Get More Sleep
“It is nearly impossible to achieve one’s fitness goals when we fail to get enough sleep. Thus, I'm prioritizing going to bed at an acceptable hour to get 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night. As a result, I will see immediate improvements in my overall well-being.
In addition, getting the right amount of rest at night will help my body heal and recover, refresh my mind, lower stress and blood pressure, and prevent depression.”
S: This goal answers specific questions for anyone wanting to know the benefit of adequate rest. It also shows why sleep is needed and how it fits into the plan of being healthy and fit.
M: Adequate time can be planned each day to get adequate rest and achieve the benefits that come with it.
A: Although we cannot make ourselves sleep, we can still set a goal of being in bed at decent hours so that the optimal amount of sleep can be achieved each night.
R: Sleep is essential to any fitness goal. So, making it a focus on your fitness journey is a wise choice.
T: Benefits of a good night's rest can be realized “overnight” when you follow this critical goal toward fitness.
11. Lower My A1C
“Lowering the A1C levels is essential to fitness goals because it reduces the risk of obesity, heart disease, kidney failure, and other health problems. To start, I will eat fewer carbohydrates to reduce my A1C (sugar concentration found in the blood over 3 months).
Then, I will add more whole grains, vegetables, fish, eggs, meat, and fruits to my daily diet. I will also incorporate a 30-minute workout each day, 5 days a week, to shed unwanted weight and lower A1c levels in 3-months’ time.
Lastly, I will manage my day-to-day stress. Doing so should help the A1C reach an adequate 6.5% or lower range.”
S: The plan to lower your A1C is specific as to who, why it is important to achieve, when it will be done, and how it will be accomplished over the set time. It answers all the questions to make it a SMART goal.
M: There is a set goal to determine what to eat and avoid. Plus, there is a set workout time frame to accomplish lowered A1C.
A: The plan is adequately laid out with doable steps to live the healthy, fit life one wishes to have.
R: Every step of the goal is working toward the end result of a better A1C and the desire to see overall fitness levels accomplished and maintained.
T: By following the steps toward a better A1C, you should see drastic changes in blood sugar concentration percentages in as little as 3 months.
12. Improve Balance and Flexibility
“Working on balance and flexibility is a significant part of any fitness goal, especially as I age. So first, I will make a workout calendar to keep me on track.
Then, I will incorporate walking, climbing stairs, or bike riding into my weekly exercise routine, 3 days a week for 30 minutes. I will do this organically within my neighborhood, weather permitting, or using equipment in my local gym. This will improve my core strength within 2 weeks and help me stay active and fit into my senior years.”
S: This goal specifies how you can achieve better flexibility and balance in 2 weeks through particular workouts in various places for a set amount of time.
M: There is a planned amount of time per day mentioned to help fitness goals be obtained in a couple weeks.
A: As Maya Angelou said, “Ain't nothing to it, but to do it.” The plans for improved balance and flexibility are laid out to incorporate our daily and weekly routines. We have to get at it.
R: Each exercise is relevant to living a strong, healthy, and fit life.
T: In two weeks, vast improvement can be shown by incorporating a few activities into our day three times a week. Out of 168 hours a week, only 1.5 is needed to have better balance and flexibility, fitting into any busy schedule.
13. Mix it Up, Don’t Fall into a Comfort Zone
“Having a set routine is excellent. It is a great way to develop good habits over time. However, there is no harm in mixing things up so that I don't get bored. Therefore, I will work out with a friend at least one day a week and share healthy recipes with them.
In addition, each week, I will alternate between indoor and outdoor workouts. I will also incorporate workout apps to help me keep things interesting.
Finally, I am going to add personal rewards to my fitness journey. Upon hitting a new milestone, I will gift myself a mental health weekend at the end of that month. It will boost my morale and continually incentivize me to keep pushing forward toward the vision I have set for myself.”
S: This goal shows the importance of changing routines to stay on track with health goals. Here you see specific examples to keep things interesting. It also demonstrates how to find joy in accomplishments to stay motivated.
M: When switching things up according to this fitness plan, you have set times to mix things up and time to reward yourself for the hard work you have put forth to be a healthier you.
A: These goals are not unattainable; they are sensible and reasonable steps that can even be duplicated and modified repeatedly as you continue your fitness journey.
R: These fitness plans help you overcome stagnation and burnout, so you don't give up before reaching your goals.
T: This plan includes times to switch up types of workouts and workout locations. Then it incentivizes certain times for rewards when fitness milestones have been obtained.
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.
And if you want more SMART goal ideas and examples, be sure to check out these blog posts:
- 15 SMART Goals for Nutrition (Examples for Your Healthy Eating Plan)
- 8 SMART Goals Examples for Weight Loss
- 8 SMART Goals Examples for a Physical Education (PE) Class
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.