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How To Set Fitness Goals

May 8, 2014

Fitness, as with most pursuits in life, is extremely difficult if you don’t have clearly defined goals. While you may begin your workouts full of zeal and energy, it’s likely that this will diminish over time. You are at a much greater danger of this if you don’t have goals. On the other hand, if you have goals and know exactly what you are working towards you will get the added motivation that comes along with self-satisfaction.

In fact, several studies have backed this idea that appropriate, progressive goals can be the very factor that decides whether or not you successfully stick to your workout routine. It’s important to realize, though, that these goals have to be “reasonable” and “appropriate.” What does that mean? How can you set so-called appropriate goals and is there anything else that would help you reach them?


According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), an easy way to remember what it means to set proper goals is the acronym S.M.A.R.T. This model highlights specific principles that will help you set progressive and useful goals.

Specific – You should know exactly what it is you hope to accomplish by working out. Just saying “I want to lose weight,” will not work. Instead, decide that you want to lose 5 pounds.

Measurable – One of the reasons that your goals need to be specific, is so that they can also be measurable. This means that you should easily be able to track your progress towards your goal. As you work toward you ultimate goal, keep a log that plainly shows your progress. If you are working toward losing weight, enter your weight in a journal each time you step on a scale. Or, if your goal is to run a faster mile, keep a log of your times. Having this tangible report to look back on will plainly show you all the good that you’ve already accomplished and give you encouragement to keep going. ACE does state that these measurements can be either objective or subjective, which means that you can track your percentage of body fat or just judge how your pants fit you.

Attainable – Honesty, balance and lots of forethought are required to fulfill this aspect of goal-setting. Your goals should be challenging, of course, but if they are too hard you risk getting discouraged. Ask yourself honestly, “Considering my time frame and fitness level, can I actually do this?”

Relevant – Simply put, your goal should directly fit your circumstances, interests and sport of choice. Although it’s true that cross-training can be very useful in helping you progress, do not allow yourself to get distracted or do anything that will detract from your performance in your actual sport. If, for example, your goal is to run your first 5K you won’t do yourself any favors by running quarter-mile sprints.

Timebound – Your goals absolutely must have a definite deadline. Rather than procrastinating since you have no end-date, this will make sure that you work hard to accomplish your goal and make the best use of your time.

Something else to consider, that doesn’t fit into this acronym, is that your goals could – and should – be progressive. For example, you might set a long-term goal that you want to run a marathon. If you’ve never done that before, it unrealistic that think that you could run such a demanding race without a lot of preparation. Over the course of your training, then, you could set goals to run a 5K, 10K and half-marathon to help yourself progress towards your marathon. Kind of like a step ladder approach towards something big.

Once your goal is set, and designed in accord with these principles, there are other steps you can take along the way to help you accomplish it.

Many people find it beneficial to make a list of costs and rewards regarding their workout program. What will it cost you to stick to your plan? What will you get out of it? Having this physical list that you can refer back to periodically will help you test your resolve. You may also find things that you perceived as “costs” at the beginning of your routine are not as big of a concern as you thought they would be.

Make sure to reward yourself, as well, as you meet your various progressive milestones. This way, you won’t just be working out to reach your goal; You will be working out to get that prize you promised yourself.

Finally, you should never underestimate the power of accountability. Tell you friends and family about your goals. Your more likely to stick to your plan when other people are watching your progress than if you were in it on your own. Of course, there’s always the chance that you could recruit a few workout partners too.

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