How To Set SMART Fitness Goals & Achieve Them

Like training legs in the gym, goal setting is often neglected entirely or done halfheartedly.

It’s one of those things you know you should do, but when you’ve got a good pump and are riding the wave of motivation you figure ‘good enough’ goals are, well, good enough.

What you’re failing to realise is that your ability to reach your goal is a direct outcome of your planning and goal setting.

If you set non-specific goals like;

  • “I want to lose a bit of weight”

  • “I want to build some muscle”

  • “I want to change my body”

  • “I want to do it now”

Then you can guarantee that you won’t get far.

Sure, you’ll probably lose or gain a little weight but then without a concrete goal to aim for you’ll get disillusioned with the process. Before you know it, you’re sitting on the couch binge watching Game of Thrones instead of working out in the gym.

Broken dreams lie shattered on the floor around you as you comfort eat to ease the pain of failing yet again. All the while thinking, “how the hell do I know what I want to achieve? A year is such a long time to plan for.”

I get it.

A year is a long time and right now it feels so far away. Besides, a lot can change in a year and any goal you set now will probably change 10 times before the year is up.

Which means when someone asks you, “hey what’s your goal?”

You can’t tell them…can you?! Think about it, if someone walked up to you right now, could you tell them? Could you clearly explain what you’re aiming to achieve, in what time frame and how you’re going to get there?

Saying any of these things is not good enough;

  • “I want to lose a bit of weight”

  • “I want to build some muscle”

  • “I want to change my body”

  • “I want to do it now”

Sure, it shows intention and some pre-thought but intention without action is useless.

You need to be able to quantify, understand and believe in your goal.

So, I’ll ask you again, “what’s your goal?”

Say it out loud, say it in your head, I don’t care.

Just say it…

Difficult isn’t it?

You have to really think about it before you can even begin to answer, and herein lies the problem.

If you don’t intimately know your own goal how can you expect to get there?

The problem with traditional goal setting is that for most people a year is a long time. Do you even know what you’ll be doing next month, next week or tomorrow, let alone a year from now?

Probably not.

At least not with any surety.

Life is fluid, your circumstances change, your wants and needs change and sometimes that means everything changes. Goal setting for a year is just not practical or suitable for a lot of people.

This is where short cycle goal setting comes in.

 

Short Cycle Goal Setting

This is an accelerated cycle of goal setting which I believe could be the answer to your problems.

You see, setting a lofty goal that you say you’ll reach in a year is fun. It’s fun to imagine what it’ll be like to achieve it, to think about how different you’ll be…but who says you’ll get there?

Don’t you think it would be much more fun to set a goal for 3 months’ time and absolutely smash it, knowing the whole time that you’ll reach it. Then do it again and again until you get to where you want to be.

 

How Does Goal Setting Work?

This is the great thing about short cycle goal setting, it’s super damn simple.

All you need to do is set a goal for a 3-month period which allows you to be adaptive, not reactive to your progress.

For example, sometimes you’ll build muscle for 3 months, go a bit off track and end up fatter than you’re happy with. No problem, because you’re only working in 3 month blocks you have the freedom to use your next 3-month block to spend a month dropping a little fat before using the next 2 months to build muscle again. *

*if right now you’re thinking, “yeah but I can do this even if I’ve set my goals for a year”, keep reading I’ll explain the difference!

Other times you lose fat only to realise you actually don’t have as much muscle as you thought you did. No problem, instead of feeling obliged to follow through on your yearlong plan you can switch into a lean bulk for your next 3-month block.

You see if you do this when you’ve set goals for a year, then as soon as you stray from it, you start to feel guilty for ‘not sticking to the plan’ and it all begins to fall apart.

However, setting 3-month goals removes this problem entirely, whilst also forcing you to;

  1. Really identify what you want to accomplish – you don’t have all year so must really get to the meat of what you want to achieve

  2. Focus your attention on the things that matter – by cutting away everything else that doesn’t help you reach your goal

  3. Stick to a concrete timeframe – 3 months is long enough for you to make a difference but not so long that it feels abstract and out of reach

  4. Be adaptable - if after 3 months things aren’t going to plan you can make a change

For example, you could use the criteria above to set a fat loss goal;

  • In the next 3 months I will accomplish – 15lbs of fat loss whilst maintaining my muscle mass to change how my body looks and make me feel more confident

  • To make this happen I need to focus on – creating and maintaining a calorie deficit, prioritising protein intake and continuing to do strength training

  • To do this in 3 months I need to – train 3 times a week, pick a diet that I can stick to and stay focused

  • After 3 months I can – use my results to figure out what I should do next; lose more fat, start building muscle or maintain my new physique

 

Why Set 3 Month Goals?

Easy.

3 months is long enough to see substantial change whilst still be flexible enough to change course if needed.

Interestingly, I’ve found that working in 3-month blocks removes any mental obligation to sticking to a goal as you’re working in much shorter periods than the typical year.

Because you have the freedom to evaluate and change your goal at regular intervals it stops you from feeling that by changing or altering your goal before the full year has ended, is a failure on your part.

The fact, that you routinely track, monitor and assess your progress against your goal gives you complete control to make the decisions you need to build the body you want.

A question normally asked at this point is;

“Well can’t I just set 3-month goals for the period of a year…isn’t this basically the same thing?”

My answer is this;

Although at first glance it may seem like the same thing, it’s not.

The benefit of only planning for 3 months at a time gives you the ability to track in real-time how your progress is going with no promise made in regard to what the following 3 months will consist of.

This removes any guilt from ‘not following the plan’ if things don’t go as planned.

This is not to say that you won’t spend 9 – 12 months losing fat or building muscle, but it does mean you can base these choices on the information you have at hand when the time comes instead of a prediction made at the initial start point.

This is particularly important as predictions are generally grossly inaccurate with most people hugely underestimating how quickly they can get down to 8-10% body fat or build an appreciable amount of muscle.

 

How to Set Your Goal Using the SMART System

Ok, so now were on the same page let’s look in more detail at how you set your goal. This is where we go into more detail about how to fulfil the criteria mentioned previously.

We do this using SMART goal setting.

This stands for;

  • Specific

  • Measurable

  • Achievable

  • Relevant

  • Timed

Using muscle building as an example here’s how you would set a SMART goal.

Specific

Your goal must be both detailed and clear, you need to know exactly what you want to achieve. For example, “I want to build muscle” isn’t specific enough, but “I want to build 5 lbs of muscle in 3 months” is much better.

Measurable

The first question you need to ask after you’ve decided on the specifics of your goal is, can I measure it?

In this instance you can. You can weigh yourself daily, take a weekly average and aim to gain 0.5 – 1lb per week.

By tracking your weight, you make your goal measurable.

Achievable

Once you know your goal is measurable you need to ask, is it achievable?

When it comes to building muscle, you should aim to gain 0.5 – 1lb per week, for a total of 2 – 4lbs per month. This means over a 3-month period you would gain 6 – 12lbs with anywhere from a ¼ to ¾ of it being muscle.

This means a goal of 5lbs of muscle in 3 months is in the realm of being achievable.*

*For women it’s recommended you gain weight at a rate of 0.25 – 0.75lbs per week when trying to lean bulk.

Relevant

Once you know that your goal is measurable and achievable you need to ask, is it relevant?

What this means is, is this goal relevant to your circumstances and what you want to achieve.

For example, if you have a lot of weight to lose, then starting with a goal of building muscle and gain more weight is probably not a relevant goal based on your current circumstances.

Part of assessing whether your goal is relevant is also making sure that this is a goal that you want, not something put on you by friends, family or society.

Having a goal that you really want to achieve will always make it 100% easier to follow through.

Timed

Finally, you must set a time frame for your goal to be achieved in, in the case of this article that time is 3 months.

Doing this gives you a deadline and something to aim, it provides motivation through having a clear end point.

 

Summing Up

Without proper goal setting you’ll continually struggle to reach your goals.

However, with 3-month short cycle goal setting you can adjust your targets as you go allowing you to flexible in your approach.

Whilst also remove the common mental barrier of seeing a change from a yearlong goal as an individual failure to ‘stick to the plan’.

All you need to do is set a goal using the S.M.A.R.T template;

  • Specific – what exactly do you want to achieve?

  • Measurable – can you measure your progress towards your goal?

  • Achievable – is this something that you can realistically do?

  • Relevant – is this goal relevant to your circumstances and something you want?

  • Timed – does your goal have a set start and end point?

When setting your SMART goals, keep the following criteria in mind.

  1. Really identify what you want to accomplish – you don’t have all year so must really get to the meat of what you want to achieve

  2. Focus your attention on the things that matter – cutting away everything else that doesn’t help you reach your goal

  3. Stick to a concrete timeframe – 3 months is long enough for you to make a difference but not so long that it feels abstract and out of reach

  4. Be adaptable - if after 3 months things aren’t going to plan you can make a change

Then as you begin to reach the end of your first 3-month period you can use the data collected in the last 3 months along with how you look and feel, to decide on your course of action for the next 3 months.

Rinse and repeat.