How to Set Fitness Goals that are S.M.A.R.T.
Last updated: January 1, 2021, at 4:34 p.m. PT
Originally published: April 20, 2020, at 10:54 a.m. PT
Have you ever noticed that "I'm going to start working out more" is both the easiest fitness goal to set and the hardest to achieve? "More" can mean everything from every day to once per week. It may be easy goal to get started with, but as time goes on it can be hard to keep up momentum.
Experts from our Lose to Win program know the struggle of "I want to workout more" well. Lose to Win is a 12-week weight loss program where coaches help participants learn sustainable ways to eat healthier, move more, and lose unwanted weight. One of the most effective tools participants get from the program is how to set a S.M.A.R.T. goal. This style of goal-setting is designed to overcome obstacles of successful, sustained weight-loss, fitness planning, and healthy eating for long-term success.
If you're trying to make real progress on your goals, or looking for a new approach, keep reading to learn how we use S.M.A.R.T. goals and tracking at the Y.
Each letter in S.M.A.R.T. stands for an important way to think about your goal: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.
Let's walk through what each letter means and turn "I want to start working out more" into a S.M.A.R.T. goal:
- Before: I want to work out more.
- After: I want to take an exercise class every day.
Your goal should include specific details about what you want to achieve. One of the reasons it's hard to see results from a goal like, "I want to work out more" is because it is too vague. Adding specificity helps you visualize your goal.
- Before: I want to take an exercise class every day.
- After: I want to take an exercise class for at least 30 minutes every day.
Be thoughtful about how you will measure the success of your goal. Adding numbers to your goals helps you make sure that the change you're making is meaningful enough to show results.
- Before: I want to take an exercise class for at least 30 minutes every day.
- After: I want to take an exercise class for at least 30 minutes every other day.
An attainable goal is something that you can realistically achieve. It factors in your habits, your likes and dislikes, and your other commitments. If your work schedule or family life is particularly busy, it could make sense to set an every other day goal at first.
- Relevant to your goal: I want to take an exercise class for at least 30 minutes every other day.
- Not relevant to your goal: I want to read a book for 30 minutes every other day.
Think about what you want to achieve with your goal. If you are looking to work out more so that you are more physically fit, then exercise classes are a relevant way to achieve your goal. Reading would not be relevant to a physical fitness goal.
- Before: I want to take an exercise class for at least 30 minutes every other day.
- After: For the next 2 weeks, I want to take an exercise class for at least 30 minutes every other day.
When you come up with a goal, it's important to know when you will reach it. Knowing that there is an end date will help motivate you to stay on track. Once you reach that end date, you can start over with the same goal or start a new one using the S.M.A.R.T. method.
How do you track S.M.A.R.T. goals?
Once your goal is set, it's important to track your progress. Using a tracker helps develop your self-awareness, accountability, and self-efficacy. If you are trying to lose weight, research shows that consistent tracking leads to greater success.
Here's how to make an easy tracker for the goal, "For the next 2 weeks, I want to take an exercise class for at least 30 minutes every other day."
- Before you start, choose a time of day that you'll complete your tracker. Some people like to track right after they completed an activity, while others do it at the end of the day. Pick whatever time works best for you.
- Next, take a blank piece of paper. At the top, write down your goal.
- Underneath your goal, draw 4 columns. Make the last column a little bigger -- this is where you'll write down what activity you plan to do.
- Label your columns in order: Day, Time, Minutes, and Activity.
- In the first column, make a row for each day of the week (Monday - Saturday).
- For each day, record what activity you did and when. You can use our Healthy Living Room to find workouts if you need some inspiration.
- Use the Minutes column to make sure that you are completed at least 30 minutes of exercise.
- Use the Activity column to write details about what you did. This will help keep you honest and adjust for next time if you didn't like a class for example.
- Repeat for the next week and beyond!
You can also do the same exercise to plan for the week, and then compare your plan and your tracker to see how you did.
No one is perfect. If tracking your workout regimen, food intake, or other progress on your goal feels too challenging, think about how you might make it feel easier. Instead of writing it down on your tracking sheet, would it feel easier to text it to a friend? Or talk about your progress during a weekly phone call? Start where you feel comfortable and build up from there. You got this!