What Every Fitness Goal Must Have & How to Set One

by | Updated: December 4th, 2016 | Read time: 4 minutes

Fitness goals aren’t like the promises you make on Monday morning, after an exceptionally gluttonous weekend. These are long-term commitments; the kind that gives you tunnel vision. Regardless of whether you’re trying to lose 50 pounds or run 50 miles, your fitness aspirations should have a hold on you (in a good way). But if you’re going to take your health and fitness seriously, you’ll have to wise up to these goal-setting tips.

There’s a reason for everything, and your goals are no different. A fitness goal should be a healthy pursuit of something that’s meaningful in your life right now. If not, there’s no fuel to feed the fire when it starts to die down. So your first order of business is to find the “why” and make sure it’s coming from the deepest part of your being – right from your core. Got it? Great! Now you’re ready to make the magic happen.

How to Properly Set Goals for Fitness

When setting goals for their clients, many certified personal trainers and athletic coaches follow a practice known as SMART goals. You can (and should) take the same steps, even if you aren’t ready to invest in or commit to a fitness professional who can guide you through the process. SMART goals are:

Specific: If you’re new to a fitness routine, specific doesn’t have to mean “I want to bench-press 100 pounds.” Though that’s a reasonably challenging goal, you’ll want to start small – and there’s nothing wrong with that! Bench-pressing 100 pounds may be a great goal in the future. For now, just make sure your goal is clear as day, such as “I want to learn to swim.”

Measurable: Once you have a good grasp of what you want to do, it’s time to put a number on it. Of course, this number must make sense for your goal and not be too lofty, especially for the short term. If you want to learn to swim, you might say “I want to swim ¼ mile without stopping.” Now, there’s a concrete objective that can be measured.

Action oriented: To prevent you from losing interest or simply going through the motions, it’s important that your goals be reasonably difficult to obtain. According to the National Strength & Conditioning Association, “An effective yet challenging goal is one that has about a 50% success rate.” Don’t let this scare you. Fifty percent is the half-way point between a goal that’s over the top and one that’s so easy you’re yawning through workouts. For instance, the measurable example goal above makes sense for someone who knows how to swim breaststroke, but doesn’t have the aerobic endurance to swim laps on laps on laps. Thus, ¼ mile nonstop is a reasonably challenging long-term goal.

Realistic: Only you know your limits. So stay within your means when setting goals by considering all that you’re up against on a daily basis. What commitments do you have to your family? Do you travel a lot for work or have a big presentation coming up that will add stress to your life? Can you wake up an hour earlier or leave work in the middle of the day to exercise? How many days each week can you train? Thoroughly think through these questions and be honest with yourself – regardless of what pressure you may feel from a coach, colleague or competitive friend.

Time-bound: A goal without a deadline is just a dream…and dreams fade. Deadlines hold people accountable, which is why imposing a time-constraint is so critical to achieving success. Especially for those without a coach or trainer to guide them, accountability is going to be a huge obstacle. However, marking that date on the calendar will help keep you on track when no one’s around to kick you in the butt. Of course, the time frame should be realistic, as well. You’re not a Lamborghini. Going from 0 to 60 in 2.9 seconds isn’t going to happen. Most long-term goals will be set 4 to 8 weeks out, at which point you’ll want to evaluate your progress and record everything!

Along the way, you’ll set smaller goals, which may even be weekly. For the person trying to swim ¼ mile continuously, they may want to begin by committing to swimming 3 days per week. That’s the first goal. After a couple weeks, the routine should be in place before moving onto the next short-term goal. Before you know it, you’ve paved a triumphant path to your long-term goals!