How To Properly Set Fitness Goals For Maximum Success

Having goals is of utmost importance in fitness. It’s hard work to maintain a good fitness level, and even harder to improve once you’ve lost it. Having a clear finish line can help to keep things in perspective when the going gets tough. Additionally, intention naturally precedes behavior, meaning that before we can hope to engage in a new behavior (like exercise or healthy eating) we first have to have a reason to do it. This is where our goals become important. Our fitness goals determine our path. Different people have different goals, and it is just these sorts of differences that will lead people to do very different programs. A powerlifter focused primarily on strength will have a much different program than a marathon runner focused on speed, just as an individual focused on general health will have a much different program than an individual hoping to compete in a bodybuilding show. In other words, your goals determine your program.

Most goals will fit into one of three categories:

  • Physiological goals
  • Aesthetic goals
  • Performance goals

 Physiological Goals

These goals generally include improving some sort of health marker, such as: lowering blood pressure, improving blood lipid profile, lowering cholesterol, etc. Physiological goals are goals aimed at directly improving overall health. Someone starting a program with the intent of improving chronic pain from rheumatoid arthritis, for example, or preventing a diagnosis of heart disease that may run in the family, would fall into this category,  

Aesthetic Goals

Aesthetic goals involve improving one’s appearance, such as: losing x amount of pounds, losing x amount of body fat, getting more defined arms or six pack abs, etc. Naturally, improvement in this area will lead to improvement in health markers above (especially for those who may be considerably overweight), but the intent of these goals is to look and feel better about one’s appearance.

Performance Goals

Performance goals involve successfully performing some sort of physical feat, such as: lifting x amount of weight for a chest press, running a 5K in x amount of time, completing x amount of pull-ups, etc. Performance goals can be very conducive to lasting progress, as they are essentially infinitely obtainable (once you reach a performance goal you can always try to further improve your performance for future events). For example, if your goal is to lose 50lbs, once you’ve achieved that goal it may not be healthy for you to try and lose any extra weight on top of that initial goal. However, once you’ve achieved a certain time in a 5K race, you can always train to further improve your time.

Each of these types of goals plays an important role in keeping you motivated (and healthy!). Most people start a fitness program in order to fulfill physiologic or aesthetic goals. Performance goals generally come later, once the initial starting goals are achieved, the individual has developed some experience in fitness, and can then differentiate between physical activities they do and don’t like. It isn’t wise for someone to set a performance goal to improve their running speed if they absolutely hate running. Performance goals should be related to an activity or exercise that the individual enjoys. Furthermore, performance goals are important for keeping you working towards something once those initial goals are achieved. How many of us know someone who successfully lost a bunch of weight, only to put it right back on because they lost interest in going to the gym? They essentially believed they were “done,” and without anything else to work toward they lost interest in continuing with their fitness program.

At A-Team Fitness, we recommend that everyone have at least two goals: one that falls into either the physiologic or aesthetic category, and the other that is performance-based. Once you have an idea of what you’d like to achieve, you are then in a better position to create your fitness goals.

An additional problem that many people face with goal-setting, is having no clear system for determining their goals. Of the infinite possibilities of potential goals available to you, how can you decide on a goal that will help keep you motivated? Well, we have a system for you that can help you evaluate what you want to achieve, and what is realistic. This system is called the S.M.A.R.T. goal setting system, an acronym that will help provide a step-by-step approach to setting fitness goals.

Setting S.M.A.R.T. Goals

When setting your goals, you should be asking yourself, “is it…”


Specific – What exactly are you trying to achieve? If your goal is, “I want to be healthy,” this doesn’t tell you or anybody else anything. On the other hand, “I want to lose 20lbs and lower my blood pressure levels to within a healthy range,” now that’s pretty specific.

Measurable – How will you know that you have achieved your goal? Can you measure it? You can measure how much body fat you’ve lost or how many more push-ups you can complete, but you can’t measure how much more defined your arms are.

Attainable – Are you willing to do what is necessary to reach your goals? When you set a goal that you truly want and believe you can reach, you will undoubtedly change a part of yourself. You will develop new skills, attitudes, and abilities to achieve them. In short, you will grow as a person. Are you willing to change something in order to reach your goals? There’s a saying that goes, “losers find an excuse, winners find a way.” Are you willing to do what is necessary to reach your goals?

Realistic – Are your goals even possible? They should be something in which you are able to put forth the effort necessary to reach them. If you say, “I want to lose 20lbs in a month,” is that realistic? Is it possible, yes. Are you able to put in the countless hours of working out daily that it will take to reach that goal, probably not. A more realistic goal would be, “I want to lose 5lbs this month.” You can have both short and long-term realistic goals. “I want to lose 5lbs this month, and I want to have lost 50lbs by this time next year.” This is a specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and lastly a timely goal.

Timely – When is the deadline? There is another saying, “A goal without a deadline is just a dream.” Each of your goals should have a specific time frame in which you would like to achieve it. This deadline will help keep you accountable. If you just want to “lose 10lbs” it is very easy to put that off until next week, next year, or next forever. If you say you want to lose 10lbs by your friend’s wedding next spring, then get your ass in gear because you’ve got work to do.

In summary, do you know exactly what you are trying to achieve? Do you know when you will have been successful (or have a way to measure success). Are you willing to make the changes necessary to achieve your goals, and is it even possible to reach them? And lastly, do you have a deadline for your goals? If you answered yes to all of these questions, then congratulations! Now the real fun begins.

 

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