Have you decided to make a change to your diet or fitness, but not sure how to start? Setting fitness goals is a good way to start, it'll give you a sense of direction and motivation... Or have you already set goals for yourself in the past, but keep failing to reach them? Don't give up on setting goals just yet! Many people often set huge goals, start too hard, too fast, and end up failing before getting any actual results. The key to goal setting is being realistic and making it approachable as possible, so you don't overwhelm yourself and burn out after a few weeks.
With that being said, we want to help you create achievable fitness goals that will inspire you to take action and set you up for fitness success!
The importance of setting fitness goals
Before you set your goals, let us explain why you should even set goals in the first place. Setting fitness goals, whether they are short-term or long-term goals, are important because they act as a foundation, they give us a sense of structure and hold us accountable. Here are more reasons why you should set them:
They make change seem possible: Most people often think that starting a new training or diet regimen means making huge changes and those changes can be scary and impossible. Although drastic changes are what's going to get you to your end goal, that doesn't mean you have to start that way. Setting smaller goals will help you see that change can happen, but it's not necessarily a huge uphill battle, it's a series of smaller hills after another.
They help you see progress: Having goals to meet helps you see the progress you're making as a result of the effort you're putting in. For example, with weight loss, if you set up your goal in increments of five pounds and you lose those first five pounds, you'll actually be seeing yourself make progress. This, in turn, sparks motivation, it won't last forever, but as you keep achieving your small goals you'll return again to that source of motivation.
Success is more difficult to achieve without them: Not having firm goals in place will make success seem less achievable, and more difficult. You might get some results at first, maybe drop a few pounds, see a little bit of muscle growth, maybe even be healthier than you were before (which is a win as it is), but chances are that you won't achieve what you were hoping for.
The point is, if you have a specific goal in mind that seems unachievable, then it's going to be much harder to achieve without actually writing down and setting up a plan on how to achieve it. Goals will get you to where you want, but how do you set them up effectively so they actually get you there? Let us give you our best tips...
How to set effective fitness goals
As we mentioned earlier, the key to creating effective goals is setting them up to be approachable. You must be honest with yourself because if you want to succeed you have to be realistic. This is the best way to ensure that you don't start too hard, too fast, so you avoid burning out and dropping your fitness journey early on.
Before we dive into the tips that will help you set your own goals, here are a few common ones:
- Weight loss
- Get stronger
- Build muscle
- Be healthier
These are good goals to have, but they are broad and more big-picture goals. Maybe they don't align with yours, but that's okay because everyone's goals are different! Our following tips will help set up your 'bigger picture' goal to be more approachable and therefore attainable!
Make it SMART
Instead of just setting a goal without thinking much about it, center it around five main focus areas. This is also known as SMART goals. SMART is an acronym that stands for: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely. Setting your goals using these criteria will help set you up for success, so let's break it down for you...
Be specific - Common goals like the ones listed above, "I want to get fit" or "I want to be healthier" are too general. You need to choose a specific goal that will help get you to your overall goal. Instead of just saying, "I want to get stronger", be more specific, like "I want to be able to squat or lift 100 pounds".
Make it measurable - Once you identify your specific goal, add a number to it so you're able to measure your progress. Let's keep adding on to our previous example, "I want to be able to squat 100 pounds in x months". Fill in the amount of time you want to achieve that goal.
Make it attainable - Setting goals that you can't attain can discourage you along the way and make you fall off your workout routine again. So when you make your goal measurable make sure you choose a number that isn't too difficult to achieve, but not too easy either since it's not very motivating.
Make it relevant - Make your goals consistent with your interests. With weight loss goals, many think that in order to burn body fat you need to do endless amounts of cardio. In part this is true, cardio is a good way to achieve weight loss, but it's not the only way. So if you hate running, but start running 2-5 miles every other day to lose weight then you're going to burn yourself out pretty quickly. Instead, find something that you enjoy! There are so many ways to achieve fat loss and weight loss, you can do other forms of cardio like HIIT, hiking, cycling, swimming, etc. You can also try weight lifting with very few cardio sessions. Strength training is one of the best ways to lose fat, and even better when combined with cardio.
Make it time-bound - Decide when you hope to achieve your goal and then fill in your timeline with benchmarks you need to hit to keep you on track and to make the goal seem more attainable. For example, if your goal is to lose 20 pounds in two months (this is unrealistic), consider extending the timeline to 6 months or even longer. Break it down even further and aim to lose 5 pounds in an x amount of weeks or months.
This will help create a clearer path to your goal and with a set time frame to make sure you stay on track.
Start small - At least at first
When you set a goal, you don't have to limit yourself to just one. In fact, you shouldn't. Set your goals based on your current fitness level so it's within reach of what you're capable of doing.
Why should you aim for small goals as opposed to big goals?
Big goals are necessary, but if you start by setting the bar too high you'll already work through mental obstacles that could thwart your progress before you even begin! The less confident you are the higher the chance is that you will make the necessary steps to get there. You want to be 90% confident in yourself that you will actually achieve that goal. The steps to get there will seem less intimidating and it will help you believe that you can do it. So, let's say your main goal is weight loss, to be more specific, you want to lose 20 pounds. That might seem unattainable... Instead of starting off with wanting to lose 20 pounds, break into smaller portions. Set a more realistic goal of losing five pounds and so on, break it up so eventually you hit 20 pounds. Five pounds seems easier, approachable, so there's a higher chance of you actually giving it a real shot. Plus, those smaller goals that you set at the beginning of your fitness journey will show you all the progress you've made! Once you achieve losing those first five pounds, you'll be motivated to keep going because it was much easier than you thought! Achieving success early on will help build confidence and will help you get long-term results.
Have daily micro-goals and write them down
Aside from setting your main goal, and your smaller goals, you should also create daily micro-goals that you write down to check off every day. The reason you want to do this is because the daily choices you make are what's going to lead you to achieve your main goal. An example of this would be adding into your calendar (could be a physical calendar or on your phone) "walk after dinner", "track calories", "exercise". Note down what you're going to do on a specific day and do it. Let's get more specific, let's say your goal is to be able to do 10 pull-ups. Write down on your calendar when you're going to train your back, and what exercises you will do that will help get you there. That way you know, "ok I have to train my back today so I'll set aside an hour for the gym". Then once you complete it you can check it off and feel proud that you did it!
This is also a good way to build healthy habits. Sticking to an exercise program is harder than actually starting, and the best way to stick to it is by building the habit of working out. If you're completely new to working out, use our previous tip, and start small by working out 3x a week, write down in your calendar what days you'll workout, and do it. Once you're used to that routine, increase it to 4x a week, and then to 5x a week. You'll eventually realize you've built a habit of working out that is hard to break, and all by simply writing it down on your calendar and starting small.
Understand your reasoning behind your goals
Why do you want to achieve your goals? Is it because you want to be stronger? Be healthier? Or maybe it's just because you want to fit into your old pair of jeans! Whatever the reason is, understand that reasoning and use it as your driving force. When you wake up early in the morning to workout think about how it's going to benefit you. It'll make you feel better, give you the energy to get through the day, and get you one step closer to your goal.
But a word of caution, sometimes fitness goals are driven by insecurities or underlying fears. If your reasoning has to do with insecurity, it's better to address the issue instead of assuming achieving that goal is going to fix everything. Instead, try to think of other reasons you want to reach your goal, like wanting to live an overall healthier life.
Acknowledge the hurdles
Chances are this isn't your first rodeo. Maybe you've had goals before but failed to achieve them, if you have, then think about why you didn't achieve them in the first place. Identify your weaknesses and address them. Write down how you plan to overcome those hurdles. It's also important to understand that there's no such thing as a linear fitness journey. Your journey is going to have a lot of ups and downs, it's not going to be perfect. But that's okay, the key is to learn from those downs in order to continue moving forward.
Make it your own
Being bombarded with images from Instagram of super fit people is inspiring, but not something you should base your own goals on. It's not productive or practical, and it can make it even more challenging to actually achieve your goal. That's because everybody's body composition is different. Everyone's body type is different, some have an easier time with weight loss and building muscle, and some have a more difficult time. It doesn't mean it'll be impossible to look like your favorite athlete, but it might be harder for you to get there. So just avoid setting goals based on what you see only. Set your own goals that fit your fitness level and lifestyle, not someone else's.
Avoid these mistakes
Aside from following the tips to help you set effective goals, we want to make sure you avoid common mistakes that can make achieving your goals impossible. Avoid doing this when starting, or restarting your fitness journey.
In summary, setting fitness goals can help you get started on the right path to actually achieving them. So write down your main goal, break it down to smaller and approachable goals, and remember to set micro daily goals! Doing this will help you determine your nutrition and workout plan, help you stay consistent, and even build healthy habits, which will in turn help you achieve that big goal you've always wanted to achieve!
Set negative goals: This should be a given, but don't set negative goals, meaning don't phrase your goals like "never eat junk food again" or "not be weak". Think positive, like "eat more vegetables" or "get stronger".
Not keeping track of progress: Your goals should be measurable, so don't forget to record your progress! Not only is it a good motivator, but it also helps you practice the fitness principle progressive overload which entails making changes to your workout routine in order to create new challenges for the body to adapt to. For example, if one of your goals is to run a half marathon in an X amount of time, you'll want to track how much you're running each day and for how long to figure out what changes and improvements you need to make. This principle is more popular amongst weight lifters, but as you can see, anyone can benefit from tracking progress!
Don't be afraid of making adjustments: Remember, a fitness journey has many ups and downs, and along your path, you may need to make adjustments to your goals if you find that they are not realistic or need more time. Adjustment doesn't mean failure! It's better to adjust to whatever may happen, then give up completely.
Punishing failures: It's best to avoid the idea of failure altogether because in fitness you are guaranteed success as long as you play by the rules (eat right, exercise, etc). So instead of punishing yourself for not meeting your goal in time, figure out what changes you need to make to get you there, even if it's going to take you a little longer than expected. Or if your cheat meal turns into an entire cheat day then just pick yourself up and start fresh the next day. Whatever you do, don't punish yourself and give up entirely.
Focusing on perfection: Nobody is perfect, not bodybuilders, athletes or those super fit girls you admire on Instagram. Believe it or not, people have their bad and good days, they're not always perfect. Instead focus on consistency and progress, not perfection.