S.M.A.R.T. Goal Setting

S.M.A.R.T. Goal Setting

Tya Waterman |

If you’ve decided to embark on a fitness program, we commend you, but we recommend that before you lift a single weight, you set up a plan for yourself. This is not to dull your enthusiasm and we’re not saying you must break out the protractors and slide rules. Rather, it’s to help make sure you stay on track for the duration of your training. Although planning can sometimes be a boring or complicated chore, all you have to do is use S.M.A.R.T. goal setting. This acronym stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. These are all important elements in helping you not only achieve results, but they also ensure you set the course for real and true goals that meet your potential.

Now we understand that people are most eager at the beginning of a workout program.  You may be thinking that, “I know that training is good, so just let me hit the gym and work out.” We love that enthusiasm. But establishing on paper what you want to achieve is truly the best way to ensure you succeed. Once you read on about the details of all five elements, you’ll understand that it’s not such a daunting task after all.  In fact, proper goal setting is the number one responsibility of a personal trainer, before you even break a sweat.

So, let’s look at exactly what S.M.A.R.T. is all about:


There are many different fitness goals for you to strive for, but it’s important for you to identify specifically what your goal is. If you adopt a casual approach like, “Well I want to gain some muscle and burn a little fat”, then you’re dooming yourself to failure (or an unnecessary elongation of reaching your target). Decide for yourself whether you want to build muscle, add strength, burn fat, or any other specific goal that you might have performance-wise, such as being able to run a certain distance in a certain time. Then commit to it. Perhaps you sustained an injury or have a particularly weak muscle group and want to rehabilitate it; that’s a very legitimate goal too.

Once you’ve identified the fitness direction you want to go, the second specific step is to quantify it; that is, establish how much you want to gain or lose. Think of the first classification (e.g. muscle gain) as the X and the actual amount as the Y (e.g. 15 pounds of muscle). These two variables go hand in hand with setting up your plan. Throughout the duration of your long-term program, you’ll constantly keep coming back to this amount for focus; as such, it makes it easy for you to never lose sight of what you’re working hard to accomplish.


They say that what gets measured gets improved. So, at this stage of your program planning, we’re going to introduce you to the notion that a fitness plan is not just about arriving at one ultimate long-term goal. True success comes from winning all the little battles along the way and reaching short-term targets as you climb the mountain of success. 

As an example, you may have established your specific goal over X months. Along the way, you should take time to make sure that you’ve not only pushed off in the right direction, but you’re repeatedly confirming you’re on track too. If you work out three or four times a week, you should find it relatively easy to see if you’ve added muscle every two weeks by using a tape measure. If you’re looking to lose fat, you can use calipers or have a trainer measure for you. If strength is your goal, then simply using the quantity of resistance as your guide, you can see your progress immediately. If you want to improve your running ability, you can log your time and distance. The habit of measuring your gains over and over will provide evidence that success is coming; it will also keep you emotionally charged and motivated to progress.


The concept of attainability refers to setting a goal that’s within the scope of potentially coming into existence.  You would not set a goal (especially if you’re a beginner) of trying to bench press 700 pounds, for such an amount is beyond the realm of what is humanly possible naturally. To give a less severe example, even setting the goal of losing 30 pounds in one month is not humanly attainable without the use of extremely unhealthy methods. 

You want to use some common sense here and consider what you regard as your own current potential for change. A logical, attainable goal could be for you to put on 15 pounds of muscle over the course of three months; you could also choose to add 75 pounds to your deadlift over the same period of time. Such attainable goals are quite commonplace and more readily feasible.


Attainable and realistic have a great deal of overlap, and you may in fact think they’re the same thing. But what the principle of being realistic delivers is intangible items like whether you’ll realistically be able to sustain the time, energy, drive, motivation and commitment to keep on pace with working toward your goal. 

Consider what is attainable and then think about what is realistic for you. Knowing your schedule, your typical energy levels, etc., is it realistic that you will be able to workout 5 days a week in order to gain those 10 pounds that you’re looking for? Are you realistically able to put in the effort that is required to meet the goals that you are setting?


The final piece of the puzzle in S.M.A.R.T. goal setting is “timely”. This simple principle refers to the overall length of time in which you complete your program. Once you’ve ensured your goal contains all of the other elements, than you need to determine a length of time in which it’s possible for you to complete it. 

You may wish to pursue a substantial goal of losing 75 pounds, which despite being a substantial transformation, is in fact both attainable and realistic – provided you give yourself sufficient time for the task. In this example, you’re not likely to achieve this goal unless you give yourself a minimum of eight months. Perhaps you want to add 100 pounds to your squat – by all means, we hope you go for it – but just remember that such a strength gain requires a fairly long period of time; in this example, about four months.

Putting all of these elements together, you’ll have set a S.M.A.R.T. fitness goal for yourself. Use the acronym throughout your program to reinforce and re-establish these elements to success. And don’t forget that once you’ve achieved one fitness goal, your journey isn’t necessarily over; go right ahead with pursuing another two, three, four or more S.M.A.R.T. goals and keep making gains over and over!