What’s the best way to set health and fitness goals?

Effective goal setting stems from the acronym SMART. SMART refers to specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. SMART goals use the following principles;
• Specific - A specific goal is one that is clearly defined in such a way that anyone could understand what the intended outcome is.
• Measurable- Goals need to be quantifiable. For example, “I want to look better” is not measurable, but “to reduce body fat by 5% in 12 weeks” is measurable.
• Attainable- Attainable goals are the right mix of goals that are challenging, but not extreme.
• Realistic- A goal is probably realistic if you truly believe that it can be accomplished.
• Timely- A goal should always have a specific date of completion. The date should be realistic, but not too distant in the future. For example, set goals that can be achieved tomorrow and in 3 months.

All wonderful answers, one thing I want to add is the power of positive psychology in goal setting and the necessary steps.

Step 1 is always the vision, you have to have a crystal clear vision when setting goals.  You have to be very visionary and know where you are going.  Then you can develop a rock solid strategy to match the vision and all the other steps such as belief, persistence and learning.

However, vision must come first.  The problem is almost all people start with the strategy (diet, workout, ect.) without focusing on the vision.  If the vision is not clear then the strategy may be flawed.  As I tell people, think of your goals like a GPS device.  The GPS is just a tool but you have to be in control of where you are going and you have to know where you are going.  The GPS is completely useless if you do not know where you are wanting to go (your goals).  Then the strategy is to use the GPS to navigate you to your vision.

Your goals are no different, without a clear vision the strategy is almost always flawed.  The SMART or SCAMPII goals outlined are great but I want to strongly encourage you to spend ample time in your vision.  Your vision controls your strategy.

Your vision may change from time to time and that is ok as long as your vision changes your strategy.  Spend at least a week meditating on the SMART or SCAMPI goals and try and make your vision crystal clear and then formulate your plan from there!

Depending on your goals, start with a 12 week plan to allow the effect of your training to come to fruition.  When setting a 12 week goal, also set shorter term goals such as 2 week goals.  To be helpful these goals should be measurable, and realistic in your ability to achieve them. 

Remember, goal setting is a tool or a guideline for measuring results.  If your goal is not reached, it is not failure, but offers the ability to analyze what work and what adjustments need to be made.  The primary success of your goal setting will require perseverant and commitment.

Once you've identified your SMART (Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Realistic and Time bound) goals, choose one small lifestyle improvement to work on per week in order to set yourself up for success.  

Your accomplishments will then snowball as you continue to feel better about yourself. Baby steps will turn into huge ground covered before you know it.

In adding to Dr. Dow's great response, be sure your goals are realistic and attainable within the timeframe you set. A personal trainer can assist you in identifying safe and healthy steps to achieving your overall fitness goal.

They should also be measurable. Be consistent in the measurements you use throughout your program to assess progress. For example, some people use overall weight while other use inches from the waistline or other areas, and still others use body fat composition or percentage of body fat. 

Dr. Mike Dow, PsyD
Addiction Medicine
Whether you want to add an inch to your biceps or lose 10 pounds, the best way to make something really happen is creating goals in specific, measurable, and time-sensitive goals. So instead of, “I really need to lose weight,” say, “I would like to lose 1 pound a week for the next 4 weeks.”

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.