How to Set SMART Fitness Goals
Question: “I would like to get in better physical shape. I’ve tried to do this in the past but have always had trouble staying with an exercise program for any length of time. Any suggestions to help me stick with it?”
Transforming fitness resolutions into reality will not occur by chance. That is where the importance of setting clear and appropriate goals comes into play. Your short-term fitness goals should define the day-to-day behaviors required to achieve an objective—the long-term goal. Short-term goals chart the course, establish benchmarks to measure progress and provide an opportunity to experience daily successes.
Experts agree that SMART goals have the best chance of achieving the desired outcomes. The acronym SMART stands for goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-based.
Setting your fitness goals
It is safe to say that you won’t hit the target if you don’t have one! It is imperative that you clearly identify the desired outcomes and plan a series of steps that will ultimately lead you there. Consider the following guidelines when formulating your fitness goals:
Write it down. Studies show that people who keep written goals have a better chance of achieving them. Written goals become a legitimate contract—with yourself.
Be specific. The statement “I want to get in better shape” is a general desire, not a specific goal. A more specific, measurable goal would be “I will exercise a minimum of five days a week for 30 minutes each day.” Likewise, the statement “I will perform 3 sets of 30 push-ups every-other day” is much more specific than “I will do push-ups every other day.” Setting specific and measurable short-term goals will focus your efforts and provide an opportunity to evaluate progress.
Be realistic. While it is essential to establish goals that stretch your physical and mental limits, it is equally important that your goals be attainable. Unrealistic expectations eventually lead to exercise dropout.
Prioritize. Decide which aspects of “getting in better shape” are most important to you. Do you want to lose weight? Add muscle? Reshape your body? Prioritizing will enable you to effectively channel your efforts to produce maximum results in the shortest period.
Set performance goals. Performance goals spell out what you will do, not necessarily what you will accomplish by doing them. The statement “I will walk two miles every day” is a performance goal within your control. In contrast, the statement “I will drop 15 pounds by my high school reunion next month” is an outcome goal. Goals based purely on outcomes are more vulnerable to failure because of circumstances beyond your control.
Set action goals. Your goals should motivate you to action every day. View the completion of each daily goal as one small step taking you closer to your ultimate objective.
Monitor progress. Short-term goals provide an ongoing measure of progress toward the realization of long-term goals. If there comes a point when you begin to question the effectiveness of your program, you will be able to look back and compare where you were then to where you are now.
Set target dates. Set specific deadlines for the completion of each goal. A target date creates accountability and provides motivation. If you don’t achieve the goal by the completion date, simply adjust and keep moving forward.
Review and evaluate. Periodically take a step back and assess your progress. You may discover that your goal statements aren’t challenging enough, that you are capable of more. On the other hand, if you are having difficulty sticking with the program, then it is possible you’ve set the bar too high. Make any necessary adjustments and continue moving forward.
Experience success daily
Setting SMART goals will establish patterns of behavior that can literally shape your physical future. The importance of experiencing success every day, however slight it may be, cannot be overstated. The effects of small successes are cumulative. What you do today, tomorrow and the next day will play a role in how you look and feel two months from now. As you begin to see tangible results, you will become motivated to reach for even greater heights.