Whether you want to get fitter, build muscle or lose weight, having a well-defined goal is key for long-term success. There are a few ways to decide your goals, but following the SMART framework is one of the best.
From helping you stay focused to building an effective training plan, here’s all the advice you need to set SMART goals and successfully reach them.
Why should I set goals?
Having an overall end goal is crucial to success because it gives you something to work towards and helps keep your training focused.
Goals are also a useful tool for helping to keep yourself accountable, and to track and adapt your training if needed.
What are SMART goals?
SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely. These five steps are a way to help keep you on track, prioritise and stay accountable when training for an exercise goal. When setting goals, work through each of the below:
The first step of SMART is to be specific. It’s all well and good having an overall idea of what you want to achieve and by when, but for the best chance of success, it’s important to take your time to really think about what the end goal is and get specific about it.
If your goal is to get fitter, you need to be more specific and define exactly what “fitter” means. It could mean you are able to run 5 or 10km without stopping, or it could mean you can complete 10 press-ups. It doesn’t matter what the goal is, but as long as you know specifically what it is, it should be much easier to achieve.
The second element of the SMART framework is measurable. This means you should set out goals that you can easily monitor. For example, if your goal is to run 5km without stopping, you can work out whether you’re making progress through your running time or by how far you can run.
As your training progresses, you can track week by week your improvement, and getting closer to your end goal will provide you with motivation throughout.
When we first start working towards an exciting new challenge, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s realistic. Think of new year’s resolutions — every year people set out wildly unrealistic goals, going from 0-100%, and inevitably burn out quickly and lose motivation.
While goals must be challenging, they must also be within reach. If you’re never run before, training for and running an ultramarathon within six months isn’t going to be achievable. But you can work your way up to it over a longer time. Instead, set a goal of running 10km in six months, and then a half marathon six months after that. It’s much more realistic, while still challenging.
We are unique individuals, and our goals should be too. Your goals should match your interests or lifestyle, or help serve an ultimate ambition. The more relevant your goals are to you, the more likely you are to achieve them.
If you set yourself a goal of running a long distance, but you don’t really like running, is there not a different goal better suited to you? One that you enjoy and actively want to do. Instead, you can try swimming or even cycling.
Likewise, if you commit to start working out six times a week, but it’s difficult to fit into childcare and work commitments, then there are probably alternatives better suited to your circumstances.
The last element of SMART is setting a clear timeline. Don’t just set an end goal and trust you’ll reach it by a specific deadline. Instead, set clear milestones to meet gradually on the way there.
This will help give you structure, make planning your training easier, and keep you on track for success.
Setting a clear timeframe also allows you to reassess your goal. This is important because even if you’re not fully on track to meet your goal, you can easily adapt it without losing motivation. You’ll still be able to get there eventually — it might just take a little longer than you expected.
Take Home Message
Setting out clearly defined goals is one of the most important factors contributing to long-term success. By working SMART, you can have the benefit of clear milestones, set within realistic timeframes, and work your way towards them gradually, reassessing if needed.
Figuring out your SMART goals may take some time, but if you invest properly in the beginning, you’ll be far better set up for success at the end.