Don’t Sweat it: How to Set Smart Fitness Goals

a fitness journal with smart fitness goals written in it, lying on top of another journal on a white table

Fitness goals are one of the most popular New Year’s resolutions that people make. 

But exercise goals usually fall by the wayside within the first few months of setting them. 

One reason we quit our fitness goals is that we try to incorporate too much change, too soon. We want to suddenly workout five days a week, despite not having exercised all year. Or we beat ourselves up for not learning new skills quickly enough, even though progress takes time.

Remember: fitness goals are no different from career or personal goals. It’s all about taking small, impactful steps on a regular basis. The saying, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint” definitely applies here.

Luckily, your fitness goals don’t have to feel so overwhelming. Tiny tweaks here and there can make a big difference. That’s why we’ve put together tips and tricks to help you stick to your fitness goals, using our favorite, tried-and-true goal setting methods. You’ll be working up a sweat (and feeling good!) in no time.

Don’t work harder, work smarter 

As someone who’s also quickly abandoned many exercise routines, I know how hard it can be to dedicate yourself to exercise goals, especially in the winter months, when the couch is so warm and inviting. 

But last spring, I really wanted to set a goal of walking every day, so I used the SMART goal setting method to help me stay committed. 

The SMART method uses a scientifically proven system to help you achieve your goals by ensuring that your goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.

Here’s how you can apply the SMART method to your own fitness goals.

Specific: Instead of setting vague goals like  “I want to be in shape” or “I want to exercise more”  try to create a specific, defined goal. For example: “I want to run twice a week.”  Obscure goals are easier to quit and harder to track. Instead, setting crystal clear goals that you can strive for and achieve gives you something to work towards and a clear finish line to cross.

Here are examples of specific fitness goals:

  • Go for a 60 minute walk every day. 
  • Run three times a week.
  • Take a dance class twice a week.
  • Do 10 push ups a day.

Measurable: Intrinsic motivation isn’t enough to commit to a goal. You need to put a system in place to measure your progress and build momentum. Use fitness metrics like “run every day for a week” or “do 10 push-ups a day” and then review your performance at the end of the day or the end of the week.  If you see that you’ve been consistently doing push-ups every day, you’ll be motivated to keep going. Plus, if you notice that you’re doing more push-ups than the previous week, you can start adding more reps to your routine. 

Attainable: According to this New York Times article, you’ll have an easier time with fitness goals if they are just slightly out of reach - but not out of your league.  In other words, your goal shouldn’t be unrealistic, but it should be out of your comfort zone.  So if you’ve never run before, don’t set a goal to “run every day.” Instead, try to set a target that’s slightly above your current level, like doing a run-walk combination where you alternate between 3 minutes of running and 3 minutes of walking for 30 minutes, 3 times a week.

Relevant: Do you love dance classes but hate running? Then don’t choose “running a marathon” as your fitness goal! Set yourself up for success and choose workout routines and exercises that align with your genuine interests. This also goes for scheduling your workout. If you’re not a morning person, don’t force yourself to wake up early and exercise. The idea is to introduce one, new habit that you can develop at a time. Allow the workout routine to fit into your existing habits and preferences. 

Time-Bound: Set weekly or monthly benchmarks for your goal. So if your goal is to “run a total of 10 miles by the end of the month” then you’re more likely to stay engaged. Setting a year-long goal means waiting 12 months to feel a sense of accomplishment. Setting mini goals along the way is much more effective to capture your attention and energy. Plus, crushing a short-term goal will make you that much more excited to keep going. 

Write your goals down

You’re more likely to stick to a goal if you write it down. Not only does the act of writing it down help you commit it to memory, but it also feels like making a promise to yourself. 

The  Ink+Volt Fitness Planner incorporates the proven systems and tools from our original planner but it’s specifically designed to help you achieve your fitness goals. With the undated, 3-month planner you can set weekly goals, track your workouts, measure progress, and create visual reminders to stay motivated. This is an empowering way to jumpstart and stay focused on your goals. 

Create a ritual

Another way to develop a fitness routine is to align it with a meaningful ritual. Maybe that means starting your yoga practice by lighting a candle and playing soothing music. Or saving up a favorite podcast to listen to on a run. Or even something as simple as making a cup of coffee or taking the time to put on your workout clothes before heading to the gym. The ritual serves as a cue, preparing your mind and body for an activity. Once you have the ritual and workout in place, your exercise goal becomes another easy routine, like brushing your teeth or making breakfast. 

Visual cues

Want to make sure you go out for a walk? Place your sneakers right by the front door. Do you waste time looking for your workout clothes? Organize them the night before and lay them all out on a chair. If you have these visual reminders in place, you won’t have excuses to delay getting yourself out the door. 

Have backup plans

Even with all our planning and good intentions, our workout plans can get moved around. Maybe an unexpected meeting or deadline popped up or the weather turned. Think in advance about a backup plan for your fitness goals, in the event last minute changes arise, so you don't have to simply give up on your workout if it doesn't work perfectly one day.

For example, if a thunderstorm derails your plans to run outside, download some workout apps that you can use at home or pick some shorter routes you can do in less time after the weather clears. The key is to have a backup plan in place so that you can stay active and keep your momentum. 

Reward yourself 

Make sure to reward yourself for all your hard work. Even if you don’t think you’re seeing results right away, remember that you are definitely making progress and it will build over time. Try to treat yourself with a self-care ritual or your favorite, healthy snack or workout clothes that make you feel strong and confident. You earned it!

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