Home » Motivation » How to Set SMART Fitness Goals

How to Set SMART Fitness Goals

Even though we are a people that love to set resolutions at the beginning of a new year, the sad reality is that the majority of us will fail to achieve them. How many swear they’re going to lose weight for the umpteenth year in a row? Or say that this is the year they will “get healthy” only to stop going to the gym after one month?

sorry-statistically-speaking-wont-new-years-ecard-someecards.jpgpicture via someecards.com

Unfortunately, after a few years of this, setting resolutions can become something to avoid. After all, why would you consistently set yourself up for failure? Why not just live in the moment and see where the year takes you?

But what if I told you there was a better way? What if you could set yourself up with a better chance of success? The trick is, you’ve just got to be SMART about it.

Back in October, Jen wrote a great post about setting SMART goals for her marathon. You should read her post for more background (and for a great example of analyzing a goal to see if it meets the criteria), but basically, goals that are SMART are;

S – specific: this is the who, what, when, where, and how of your goal.

M – measurable: you’ve got to be able to measure your goal in some way. Otherwise how will you know if you’ve reached it?

A – attainable: if you really want to set yourself up for success, the goal should be something you can feasibly attain (i.e. winning the lottery so you can quit that job you hate is probably not a good goal).

R – realistic: something that you are willing and able to work toward. This doesn’t mean you can’t set the bar high — sometimes just fully believing something can be accomplished can make it realistic.

Ttimely: your goal(s) should have a specific time-line; a date by which you want to achieve them. This will motivate you to get started.

Transforming Your Resolutions Into SMART Goals

To make your health and fitness resolutions SMART, you just have to do a little crafting. For example, let’s take a common resolution: “to get healthy”

1.) Make it specific. This is actually why I prefer the term “goals” to resolution. A resolution implies you are deciding something; a goal implies a specific action you want to take.

Obviously as it stands right now, “get healthy” is not very specfic. There are many ways to get healthy — from stopping smoking, to eating more produce, to getting more exercise. But even saying something like “eating more fruits and veggies” or “exercising more” isn’t specific enough. To really be SMART about it, you need to define exactly what you want to do.

Specific goal: Exercise at least 30 minutes a day, at least 3 days a week. Even better: “do at least 30 minutes of moderately intense cardio a day, five days of the week” (this is the recommended guideline for healthy adults under the age of 65).

2.) Make it measurable. How are you going to track your progress? Making it concrete will not only help you stay on track, but it can also give you motivation along the way as you reach mini milestones.

tape measure.jpgphoto via Darren Hester

The specific goal above is clearly measurable. Success can be measured based on how often you exercise each week. But you don’t even have to be that prescriptive. The examples below are both specific and measurable:

Set a new 5K/10K/marathon PR (personal record)

Build up to being able to run for an hour

Eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day

3.) Make sure it’s attainable. Now I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t set the bar high or shoot for the stars. But sometimes when we set grand goals that we really aren’t in a place to achieve, we’re actually setting ourselves up for failure and discouragement. I think this is why so many people give up on their resolutions after a few months. On January 1st they may be fired up to change and proudly declare: “I’m going to the gym every day!” only to find that life gets in the way and doing that is pretty near impossible. Instead, it’s much better to start small. Or to create intermediate goals and celebrate small victories along the way.

For example, an attainable goal for me is totrain for and complete the National Marathon in March.” An unattainable goal would be to run every single day, or to win that marathon (as amazing as that would be!!).

4.) Make it realistic. If you aren’t a runner (or just hate running), running a marathon probably is not a realistic goal for you at the moment. That doesn’t mean you can never do one, but if you want to make sure that your goal is something you can achieve in the next year, you have to look at where you are now, and start from there. Similarly, it has to be a goal you’re willing to put in the work for. For example, committing to doing yoga 5+ days a week is not a realistic goal for me. I love running too much to cut back on it enough to pursue something else — even if that something could be really good for me.

Sometimes making something realistic might mean adding in the phrase: “I will do my best.” We can’t expect ourselves to be perfect. I’m very committed to my goal of running a speedy spring marathon, but I still slipped and failed to get in my training runs over the holidays.

Realistic Goal: “I will try my best to limit desserts, aiming to eat no more than 3 desserts per week.” (vs. vowing to never eat dessert again — which isn’t realistic for me, anyway).

5.) Set a time-frame! This is probably one of the most important pieces. Without any sort of deadline, we don’t have any real motivation to make a change. I am pretty much the Queen of Procrastination. If I don’t give myself a specific date to start and a specific date to end, I will most likely put it off. Especially if the change is hard or the task is unpleasant.



Telling yourself you’re going to start exercising or you’re going to build up to run for an hour isn’t enough. When do you want to achieve this by? Next year? In two months? Having a goal will keep you motivated, and will also help you keep track of your progress.

Timely Goal: Starting next week, I am going to do some form of cardio for at least 30 minutes, at least 3 days each week. I will to commit to this schedule for the next 3 months.

Setting SMART goals doesn’t mean you’ll never experience failure or setbacks. But it does give you something concrete to work toward and can increase your chances of being successful in 2011.

When you sit down to look at your goals for 2011, are they SMART? Or do they need a little tweaking?


15 Responses to How to Set SMART Fitness Goals

  1. SMART goals are so important, especially when you have your sights set on and end result. I try to make SMART goalsnow that I am immersed in running and racing because they help me to stay healthy and injury-free. When I was just starting out, I didn’t set SMART goals…or any goals at all. They overwhelmed me and I always felt like a failure. I stuck to one general rule. “Do your best today.” Every day was different, but if I tried my best it turned out okay :)
    Becky´s last post ..The More the Merrier

    • That’s actually a great point! I guess setting a whole bunch of SMART goals could be really overwhelming when you’re first starting out. But…I think you could probably take the “do your best today” mentality and tweak it a little bit using those principles. Saying something like “I will do my best today to exercise” or “…to eat whole foods” could be SMART without being so overwhelming.

  2. I think for runners, scheduling races is a great way to set goals. You automatically have a plan and an end point. The only trick is making sure it is attainable for the time you have and the fitness level you are currently at.

  3. Oh…I love SMART goals! I teach the method to my students every year. Attainable and realistic are the biggies for me, especially as it applies to running :)

  4. These are GREAT tips for setting goals for oneself no matter the time of year! Love it. :)
    Rach´s last post ..Comparing Myself to Me

  5. I definitely need to work on making my goals more specific and time-bound! Thanks for the reminder! I was about to type up my goals for 2011 so this was good timing. :)
    Teri [a foodie stays fit]´s last post ..Four Reasons I Need Ambien

  6. I love this acronym!! And that comic. Haha =P
    megan´s last post ..downward dog

  7. Fantastic advice! I think its so important to be specific when setting a goal so that you can track progress and see results.
    Samantha @ Health, Happiness & Skinny Jeans´s last post ..Flying Solo

  8. Yay, I love SMART goals :) But I think I take the wrong approach. I often set a goal and then retrofit it to make it SMART without really taking the time to see if it’s truly smart. And I don’t think that made any sense haha!
    Jen´s last post ..The waiting game

  9. this is a good reminder to me that i still need to set goals for this year. i mean, i’m running a marathon, but i don’t really have goals attached to it. it’s the result of achieving my goals…hmmm. so as i continue to try and figure out how this year will go i will definitely keep the SMART ideas in mind :)
    the dawn´s last post ..warm legs- cold hands- and a winter track session

  10. I’m with Dawn. I haven’t set my goals yet, other than the fact that I’m running a half marathon in May. I should probably start mapping out a schedule, huh? I’ll make sure that they’re SMART!

    –I did want to say thanks for the encouraging words on Daily Mile, too. I don’t know what this week was, but thanks for the support. :)

  11. SMART goals are the best! Some of my 2011 goals definitely need some tweaking in terms of being specific and measurable…it’s tricky because I’m still trying to figure out what is feasible for me. But I guess it’s better to start somewhere and adjust if needed.
    Thanks for the reminder!

  12. I talked about SMART all the time in the Peace Corps, but always relating to development projects. I definitely haven’t applied it to my fitness! You’ve motivated me, though. I am finally going to make the calendar that I’ve been swearing I would make for the last two weeks–because it will motivate me, but I have to MAKE it first, with reasonable goals!
    Courtney (Pancakes & Postcards)´s last post ..Welcoming 2011… A Little Late

  13. I really believe this is certainly among the most info for me. Using this program . content studying ones report. Even so need to affirmation with a number of general issues, The web site fashion is great, the particular reports can be great : Chemical. Perfectly work, best wishes

  14. I must say you have high quality posts here. Your blog can go
    viral. You need initial traffic only. How to get it? Search for; Etorofer’s strategies
    95Carissa´s last post ..95Carissa

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


CommentLuv badge