How to Set SMART Fitness Goals You Can Actually Achieve

Setting up a new fitness goal may sound easy, but there’s more to it than just deciding what you want to do. We’ll tell you everything about SMART goals and how to achieve them.

How to Set SMART Fitness Goals You Can Actually Achieve
Photo by bruce mars / Unsplash
Evelyn Valdez Evelyn Valdez
9 min read

Whether you’re just a beginner at the gym, you’re an advanced lifter, or you’ve never been an active person but want to finally try it, everyone has goals in mind that they want to achieve. It could be something small such as being able to do one pull-up or a bigger challenge such as running a 5K, what matters is that specific goals are something that motivates us and makes us want to keep pushing. But what happens when we don’t plan for our goals accordingly is that we end up losing motivation, postponing it, or even quitting halfway through. This is a common occurrence, so you shouldn’t feel bad if it has happened to you! Instead, work on setting SMART goals that you know you can achieve so you can experience that great feeling of satisfaction once you make it.

But what are SMART fitness goals? And how can you use this method to achieve what you want? We’ll break this down for you so you can better understand what it stands for and how you can implement it in your life for a smoother and more motivated fitness journey!

What are SMART goals?

While SMART goals are definitely smart, there’s a different meaning behind the word. SMART is an acronym that stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound, which are all key aspects when setting up new fitness goals. This is an effective five-step method that can help you decide exactly how your new goal is going to look, removing any kind of ambiguity so you can follow your plan without getting lost in the process because you’ll know exactly what you want and how to achieve it. By taking the steps needed to make sure that they’re realistic and achievable, SMART goals are a great way of staying motivated because it will remind you of your priorities during your fitness journey, as well as help you set reasonable expectations for yourself and how your journey is going to look so you can prevent the disappointment that comes with poorly planned goals.

Each of the five steps is fundamental when planning a new fitness goal so you can make sure that it’s clear and specific, measurable so you can track it, attainable and realistic, relevant for you and your lifestyle, and time-bound by setting up a deadline. So let’s get into that...

Your goal should be specific

The S in SMART stands for specific, and this should be the first step when setting up any fitness goal because you need to know the details of what you want to achieve before you actually get into it. You should be able to understand your own goal, not just say what you want and expect the magic to happen by itself, because you’re the one who’s going to put in the work to achieve it! During this step, you remove any vagueness or ambiguity from your plan by clearly defining what you want instead of giving a general answer. Saying “I want to get in shape” is a valid goal, but it’s too vague because there are many paths that you can take to do that, so there’s no clear way to make sure you achieved your goal. So what exactly does being in shape mean to you? Do you want to grow bigger muscles, build your stamina, or maybe achieve some weight loss? Deciding this will make the process easier so you can proceed to the next SMART step, so try changing your goal to a more specific one like “lose 20 pounds” or “run a half marathon”. This way you’ll have a specific and direct goal that narrows down exactly what you want so you can have a baseline to set up the rest of your plan.

Your goal should be measurable

The second step is making sure that your goal is measurable because you’ll want to be able to track your progress and know exactly where you’re standing in your fitness journey! You can do this by expressing your goal in numbers, whether you’re measuring time, reps, weight, or something else. Setting up goals such as “do 10 pull-ups” or “jump rope for 30 minutes” is great because this way you know the end goal and can work your way up, instead of never really knowing when to stop or when to keep going. If you want to be able to do 3 sets of 10 squats in a row but can only get through the first set, you already know how many are left for you to do, so you can keep track of your progress and try to take it one step further each time you work out until you reach your goal.

This step goes hand in hand with the first one, so make sure your goal is both specific and measurable from the get-go to have a smoother journey. Setting up measurable goals also helps to make them scalable, meaning that once you achieve your goals you can increase the numbers and keep progressing, which in turn helps you get motivated enough to reach a new milestone. And don’t forget to reward yourself for your hard work after you’ve reached each goal!

Your goal should be attainable

A is for attainable, and this is the step where your goal starts getting more personal and specific to you and your lifestyle. Attainability refers to how realistic and achievable your goal is, so you need to make sure you’re not shooting for the stars right away and instead you’re focusing on small goals first that can ultimately take you where you want to be. Yes, long-term fitness goals are great and they can help you stay focused, but it’s the smaller goals in between that will motivate you to keep going. Let’s see three examples:

  • “I want to walk 8,000 steps every day” is a perfectly attainable goal that you can work your way up to if you put your mind to it.
  • “I want to lose 15 pounds in one week” is an unrealistic goal because the timeframe you’re setting up is too narrow for you to actually see those results.
  • “I want to be able to do 50 push-ups next time I work out” might sound like a realistic goal for some, but is it for you? If you’re just a beginner, you might have a difficult time doing push-ups because you need to build up your upper body strength first. So while some people could set up this goal because it is attainable for them, it might not be a good idea for you just yet.

For a goal to be attainable, you first need to consider your current fitness level, as well as your limits and abilities, and the time in which you want to reach that goal. As we previously said, instead of going for extreme goals that might not be attainable, or can be achieved in a very long time, shoot for short-term goals that can make you feel accomplished and motivated to keep moving toward your ultimate goal. But don’t make them too easy! Very simple goals might not be as motivating or rewarding, so always aim to challenge yourself to a healthy degree.

Your goal should be relevant

If there’s anything that will keep you motivated during your fitness journey is knowing that your goal is relevant to you. You need to be able to find meaning in your goal, and it should make sense for you and your current fitness level, health, age, and other factors that play a key role in your daily life. Your goal should be worthwhile and motivating for you, and though this may sound a little obvious, sometimes the line between “I want to do this” and “I could do this” might be a little blurry. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean that it’s going to be rewarding for you, or that you’re going to enjoy it. Making it a goal to attend yoga class twice a week can be a great plan, but doing it just because it’s a popular activity on social media and not because you actually want to do it might not be the best idea. If you truly feel like you would enjoy it, or that you could benefit from it, then by all means go for it! But if not, you can take that time and effort and put it into a goal that truly motivates you and makes you want to work for it. A good example of a goal that makes sense in the context of your life is wanting to lose those 5 pounds that you gained over the summer so you can fit comfortably in your favorite pair of jeans again!

Your goal should be time-bound

Time-bound is the last key aspect of SMART goal setting, and it can also be interpreted as timely or time-based. It refers to the timeframe in which you expect to achieve your goal or the deadline that you set for yourself. The reason why you need to make sure that your goal is time-bound is that it helps you stay focused on it instead of getting sidetracked every once in a while because you don’t have a specific deadline for it. This is probably the hardest part of this five-step method, because how can you be sure how much time you need to achieve a goal?

Well, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, you need to consider your fitness level and your health, and how easy or hard this particular goal seems to you. Then, think about the actual time that you have available to reach your goal, because if you have a lot of responsibilities in your daily life it might be hard for you to go to the gym more than two or three times a week, or you might only have your weekends to go out on runs. Considering all the different factors in your life will help you see more clearly when you can achieve your goal, so try to set a deadline that works for you, without being too hard on yourself while still keeping it challenging. For example, if you work full time and have children at home, practicing for the upcoming marathon next week might be too difficult to achieve, so a more realistic deadline for you would be waiting for the next marathon that’s three months from now, and preparing adequately for that one. On the other hand, setting up deadlines that are too far away, like planning to lose 15 pounds in 6 months, may not give you the motivation that you need to actually start working toward that goal. Instead, you might put it off for a while which can ultimately lead you to give up or forget about it completely, so try to choose a reasonable deadline!

How to achieve SMART goals

Going through the five key aspects of a SMART goal and setting up the plan to achieve it is only the first part, but being able to execute it and stay motivated throughout the whole process can be challenging! Here are a few tips for keeping up with your goals and achieving them without setbacks:

  • Start small

The difficulty of your goal will play a big role in how motivated you’ll be during your journey. As we mentioned earlier when talking about attainability, starting small means that you can reach milestones sooner, which will give you a sense of accomplishment that will keep you motivated to keep going up. This goes for everyone, no matter your fitness level or how soon you may want to achieve results, it’s always important to go step by step so you can make progress gradually instead of rushing through it and risking burnout or even an injury, depending on your specific goal.

  • Listen to your body

Your body will be your ultimate tool during your fitness journey, so you’ll want to make sure you’re healthy along the way. You can only do so much before you need some rest, so don’t be afraid to take a step back once in a while to take care of yourself, and don’t keep pushing if you physically or mentally feel like you can’t take it. Some goals might be tougher than others, so relax, take a deep breath, and start again when you’re feeling better.

  • Keep a training log

Being able to see your progress on paper or your screen will make you want to keep improving and moving forward. Writing down how much weight you lost in a week, how much you’re able to lift, or how many pull-ups you could do on your last workout will put everything into perspective, showing you how far you’ve come and how long it will take you to ultimately reach your goal!

  • Practice healthy eating

Training hard is just one half, but supporting your body and fitness efforts with healthy eating (and healthy habits in general) is something that you should always keep a priority. Depending on your specific goal, you might want to eat more protein in your diet or be in a calorie surplus. Tracking your macros will help you see what you need to eat more clearly, and getting those macros through whole foods is the best way to go if you’re serious about achieving your goals while staying healthy. You can see how much protein, carbohydrates, healthy fats, and calories you need daily by answering a few questions in our Fit With Iulia Macro Calculator, and we’ll give you the exact results that you need!

Staying on track with your fitness goals might be challenging at first, but if you make sure you’ve followed all five SMART steps and implemented these helpful tips, you’ll be on your way to a smooth fitness journey in no time. And if you want a place to keep track of your training efforts and your healthy diet, check the Fit With Iulia app! Besides offering you goal-focused workouts planned by Iulia every week, which you can log and save with the reps and weight that you used, you can also log in your daily meals so you can keep track of your macros, all in one place! You can try your first workout for free by just downloading the Fit With Iulia app - no subscription required.