Tips for Setting Fitness Goals

With a new year fast approaching, now is the time that many people consider resolutions and goals for the future. They may look back on the past 12 months, consider their successes, progress and shortcomings, and aim to set fresh objectives for 2019. Often, setting fitness goals are among these plans.

It’s a great idea to consider what’s important to you, like fitness, and establish some targets to aim for. These can provide direction, motivation and accountability, thereby making you more likely to hit the mark. Where people can go wrong, however, is in actually laying out the goals, which inadvertently can set them up for failure. Although it may seem quite simple, developing achievable objectives requires some forethought, introspection and planning.

Of course, the process itself shouldn’t be a deterrent, but also should be taken seriously to help promote ultimate accomplishment. Let’s be honest – anyone can set goals with good intentions that they eventually abandon. We’ve all been there. To really establish change and mastery, thoughtfully consider these tips for setting fitness goals.

Tips for Setting Fitness Goals

Why Goals?

If you’re already a workout junkie, you may wonder why goals are even necessary. And of course, if you are hitting the gym daily with no hesitation, and are content with your fitness as-is, you may not need to set any goals, and instead simply continue your routine.

But for many people, doing consistent workouts or getting to the health club on a regular basis can be a struggle, so they don’t make the gains or experience the results they’re seeking. This is where establishing personal fitness goals can make a difference.

  • Direction – Naming specific goals give you something tangible to work towards and provides a greater sense of purpose. For instance, setting a goal of running a 5K or 10K this spring yields specific training requirements and guidance – thereby organizing your workouts. Goals can help keep you focused not only on what you are doing, but why.
  • Motivation – Anyone who struggles at times to break a sweat understands the tremendous importance of motivation. Intentions are great but don’t always get you off the couch. Goals, such as doing 5 full body-weight pull-ups, or mastering crow pose in yoga, keep you fueled to keep going – even when you may be tempted to skip a workout.
  • Accountability – Sharing goals with family or friends makes us more likely to actually fulfill them, because they typically will routinely ask about our efforts and progress. Don’t look at this as nagging, but instead as encouragement, follow-up and interest in our journey to realize what we set out to do.
  • Vision – Goals are aspirational by nature. So they keep us striving to improve, to progress, to succeed and eventually to change our lives. This can be powerful on tough days, or days where the daily grind feels endless. Seeing ourselves completing the race, losing the weight or embracing a new activity lifts us out of today’s challenges and delivers welcome anticipation and hope.
  • Self-efficacy – Setting and then attaining goals is a huge boost to your self-confidence, which, in turn, makes you more likely to pursue other activities or endeavors in the future and can lead to a more enriched and varied life.

Setting Fitness Goals

Most experts recommend SMART goals, which stands for:

Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely.

  1. Specific – Setting a broad goal like “lose weight” is not recommended because it’s so broad and not exact. Do you want to lose 10 pounds or 40? If you want to lose 40, but don’t specify that in the goal, are you satisfied if you only lose 10? Do you quit then?

In the same way, a goal such as “work out more” has no teeth. Does that mean once or twice a year, a month, or a week? Vague goals don’t provide necessary direction or motivation, thereby limiting the chance of true success.

  1. Measurable – In line with Specific, Measurable goals are important so you know you’ve actually achieved them. If you set a goal of getting fit, how do you know when you’ve accomplished that? Break down your get fit goal into measurable aspects, such as completing 25 crunches daily, swimming 20 laps twice per week or holding stretches for 30 seconds. Similarly, if your goal is to get stronger, set incremental, measurable goals like bench pressing 45 pounds, 55 pounds, etc. over time.
  1. Attainable – Yes, goals indeed should be something you work toward, and that aren’t necessarily easy, like exercise for 10 minutes once per month. They should stretch you, but not be so overwhelming or impossible that you want to give up from the start. So, while you may want to get fit to compete in an Olympic sport, that may not be totally realistic depending on your age and experience level. Or you might want to win a marathon, which is great to shoot for, but if you’re just starting to run, aim first to finish a few marathons and work on improving your time.
  1. Relevant – Don’t set goals based on what other people desire for you. If your mom wants you to become a Zumba instructor, but you don’t like being the center of attention, the likelihood that you sincerely will pursue this goal is minimal. The goal must be important to you. If you spouse wants you to cut soda and drink only water, you probably won’t succeed unless you also want to do this and are wholly invested. Even if you somehow meet a goal that another person sets for you, it can be difficult to maintain.
  1. Time-bound – Without adding a time specification, goals can go on forever – and most of us will lose interest long before the goal ever is truly accomplished. If you want to exercise 3 times per week, set an initial deadline, like 3-6 months, that you will fulfill this, so you have something concrete to aim for. After 3-6 months, don’t quit; instead, re-evaluate and reset, or continue with this goal for the next time period you determine. Or if you want to lose 5% body fat, set a timeframe, such as 4-5 months, to do so.

Maximizing Success

Even if you have SMART fitness goals doesn’t mean that you’ll automatically conquer them. Keep in mind:

  • Remind yourself often – Look at your goals frequently on your phone, in your office or car, on your bathroom mirror or in your gym bag – wherever you will see them. This is why you are doing what you’re doing.
  • Except challenges/setbacks – We are human, and sometimes fall short. Don’t let a missed workout derail you entirely for the week. Recommit and get going again right away.
  • Accommodate/reset if necessary – If you set a goal to exercise 3 times per week and then broke your ankle, you may need to alter the original goal a bit or change your standard routine to accommodate for your injury. If you lose two weeks due to the flu, then your workouts might have to be less intense when you recover.
  • Reward yourself – Keep moving forward by rewarding yourself once you achieve a goal – with a new workout outfit or massage, for instance.
  • Don’t quit – Goals require perseverance, again and again. Bring it.