How to set fitness goals? Try the SMARTER goal-setting system.

Setting SMART goals is a proven way to successfully map out what you want to achieve, the tools you’ll need, and how you’ll accomplish your goal. Thought to be developed by George T. Doran, the SMART acronym stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Sensitive. In recent years, the acronym has expanded to include Examine and Readjust (SMARTER).

By dedicating 30 minutes to this activity, you’ll be able to set attainable goals. Find a place where you won’t be disturbed and be prepared to write. Personally, I prefer a pen and a notebook, but you can also use a computer or mobile device. Let’s review how to set fitness goals by using the steps within the SMARTER goal-setting system.


Write down as much information as you can in regard to the goal you want to achieve. Avoid generic or confusing statements. Use precise numbers to set a concrete goal. Numbers can be the amount of weight you want to lose, how much muscle you want to build, or how many plates you want to bench press.

You must also define the tools you’ll need to achieve your fitness goals. If your goal is to lose weight, you’ll need a diet plan and a workout program that focuses on maximizing fat loss. If you’re focusing on building muscle, but you’ve never lifted before, a personal trainer will be essential to learn the fundamentals of resistance training. Write down what you think you’ll need in order to succeed.

Bad example: I want to lose weight.

Good example: I want to lose 15 pounds of fat as well as three inches from my waist. I need a new diet plan and workout program that focuses on burning fat and building lean muscle. I will consider hiring a personal trainer for one month to learn the basics of resistance training.


No matter your fitness goal, you need to define precise ways to measure your progress outside of the obvious method of looking in a mirror.

There are a variety of fitness tools that you can use to track progress. For weight loss, you can use a scale or fat clippers; for muscle building, there’s a measuring tape; and for performance enhancement, try a stopwatch. Take starting photos and monthly progress photos regardless of your fitness goal.

Bad example: Having no way to measure progress or only looking in a mirror.

Good example: I will use a scale at home to measure my weight and a tape measure to track inches lost or gained. My gym has a bioelectrical impedance device, which I’ll use to track my body fat percentage.


Don’t overwhelm yourself with setting the bar so high that you can’t get over it. Make your long-term goal achievable by focusing on setting smaller, more realistic milestones. Making small-scale strides each week or month adds up quickly. But you must be consistent.

For weight loss, if you are only losing one pound a month, in a year you’ll be 12 pounds lighter, not to mention the inches lost. For muscle building, if you can only increase the amount of weight you use by five pounds every month, by the end of the year, you’ll be pushing 60 more pounds than when you started.

Bad example: I’ll gain 30 pounds of muscle in one month.

Good example: Research says that as a beginner I can naturally gain up to 2 pounds of muscle per month for the first year depending on my training program and diet. I will strive to gain one pound of muscle per month.


Relevancy can be looked at in two ways: the why and the bigger meaning.

Think about why you want to achieve your fitness goal. Do you want to look good and draw attention? Are your goals driven by a doctor’s orders? Establishing the why behind your goals can motivate you to pursue them even when you aren’t feeling your best.

Now for the bigger picture: How is achieving this goal relevant to your life? Will achieving this goal allow you to stop taking a medication? Maybe it will help you become the person you’ve always wanted to be. Define how your life will change when you achieve your goal.

Bad example: No reason for pursuing the goal.

Good example: I want to lose weight because I don’t feel comfortable with myself anymore. I want to feel confident when I take my shirt off at the pool. I want to be noticed for a good reason. Achieving this weight-loss goal will improve the health of my knees and ankles, and it will help me avoid a hip replacement.


Deadlines are the fire under us. Set a realistic timeline to achieve your goals. Consider how much fat you can safely lose (up to two pounds) or how much muscle you can gain (up to two pounds) per month. Remember that deadlines and timelines will change based on your progress.

Bad example: Having no deadline, a very unrealistic timeline, or saying “I’ll get there when I get there.”

Good example: I am giving myself one year to achieve my ultimate goal of 15 pounds of weight loss. I’ll set monthly milestones as my check-in points to ensure I’m on the right track. I want to lose at least one pound of fat per month.


The next two steps in setting SMARTER goals happen after you’ve already started on your path. Once or twice a month, set a specific day and time to examine your progress.

Are you losing weight or gaining muscle? Has your running or jumping performance improved? If so, how much? Look at what you’ve achieved and compare it to the smaller milestones and the larger picture that you set before you began. Are you on track? Great, keep going. Getting ahead of yourself or falling behind? Depending on your progress, you might need to readjust.

Bad example: Not scheduling time to examine your progress or only doing it a few times a year.

Good example: I will check my progress first thing in the morning on the second and fourth Saturdays of each month.


Goals are meant to be readjusted. The results we want don’t always happen according to our well-crafted plans and timeline. You might find that you’re exceeding your expectations only to hit a plateau the next month.

Using the information from the Examine step, determine if you’re ahead or lagging behind your goals. If so, readjust your timeline, the steps you need to take (e.g. new workout or diet), and your motivation.

Bad example: Not knowing your progress or making it impossible to readjust your plan to accomplish your goal.

Good example: I seem to have hit a plateau as I haven’t gained any more muscle. I will update my workout program to focus on the super setting training methodology to trigger more growth for next month.


Admittedly, this isn’t a part of the SMARTER acronym. At the expense of proper spelling, I’ve added my own letter: R for Relax.

Changing your lifestyle is not an overnight process. Stay consistent and keep pushing. Most importantly, go easy on yourself. You can stifle your progress by belittling yourself. If you mess up, that’s fine. Laugh off your mistake, get up, and try again. Relax and enjoy the process of changing your body and improving your health.

What Fitness Goals Do You Want to Achieve?

Do you want to enter a fitness competition, such as the CrossFit Games or Tough Mudder? Looking to use your new body to conquer difficult hiking trails such as the Salkantay Trek in Peru? Let me know in the comments below.

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