To assist you with the “Planning Ahead” strategy in this month’s Small Steps series, here is a primer on setting fitness goals.
SMART – The Gold Standard of Goal Setting
The SMART principle states that goals must be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound.
- Specific: Clearly state what will be accomplished.
- Measurable: There must be a way to know if you are on target as you progress.
- Attainable: Goals have to be psychologically realistic and physically safe for you.
- Relevant: Goals have to match your needs, abilities and interests.
- Time-Bound: By definition, goal-setting can’t remain open-ended.
To the SMART principle I also add the necessity for planning and accountability. Planning is the strategy that you will use to implement your SMART goals. Accountability is important because it’s much more difficult to quit if you’ve recruited others to be invested in your fitness goals.
Let’s practice setting SMART goals by helping my hypothetical client, Jane. Here’s Jane’s story:
Jane is a 50 year old mom of three school-aged children. She works part-time while her children are in school. At the end of 2015, she went to her doctor for a check-up and learned she’s pre-diabetic. The appointment also revealed she’s 20 pounds overweight. Her doctor said she can avoid full-blown diabetes through diet and exercise if she takes steps soon.
Jane has dieted and exercised on-and-off several times before but wasn’t able to stick to either. But the sobering news at her appointment has convinced her she needs to take control of her health. She made a 2016 New Years Resolution to start exercising and eat more healthfully to lose weight. She purchased a membership for the month of January to a local gym and decided to give up all sweets and eat more fruits and vegetables.
Jane took a few classes at the gym the first week. The only ones offered when she had availability were very crowded and felt too advanced for her. Mid-way through the month, she decided to workout on machines instead and was able to do that a few times but hasn’t been back to the gym since.
She has done a good job of eating more produce and trying to control her portions. She did lose a few pounds in the first few weeks. Her son celebrated a birthday in late January and she overindulged. Since then, her cravings for desserts have increased. She gained back a pound within the last week and is discouraged. She’s come to me for help.
Jane is struggling because her goals are too vague, she has no specific plan and she hasn’t set up a system of accountability. In my first meeting with her we’d set up SMART goals together and develope a strategy and accountability to support them. Here’s what Jane’s SMART goals might look like:
Specific: Jane will lose 20 pounds and lower her blood glucose level by making her diet more healthy through better food choices and portion control and exercising for one hour at least 3 days each week.
Measurable: Jane will average one pound of weight-loss per week. She will weigh herself twice a week to keep tabs on her progress. Her fasting blood glucose level needs to drop 5 mg/Dl or more to fall within the normal range. She has a follow-up appointment with her doctor in six months when she’ll have another blood test done and her weight checked.
Attainable: Jane’s average of one pound of weigh-loss per week is safe and reasonable. At that rate, it’s possible for her to reach her weight-loss goal of 20 pounds when she sees her physician in six months. Her fasting blood glucose goal of a drop of 5 mg/Dl is a modest reduction and can be achieved in six months for most otherwise healthy individuals through weight-loss and exercise. Jane has an hour of time that she can devote to exercise on most weekdays and more time on weekends.
- Diet: Jane likes fruits and vegetables, so the goal of substituting less healthy choices with her favorite produce is relevant. She has done research on proper portions to keep from over-indulging at meal and snack times. But, Jane’s original mistake with her New Years Resolution was depriving herself of treats which she often craves. So her new plan will include very small portions of high quality sweets when she craves them.
- Exercise: A membership to the local large gym isn’t a good fit for Jane. She doesn’t enjoy using cardio machines and the classes they offer when she is available to exercise aren’t at the right level or the kinds of classes she likes. She has enjoyed dance all her life. A smaller studio in her area that offers dance-based fitness classes in the mornings before work is a much better fit. In addition, Jane has a friend who is also looking to get into an exercise routine. Jane will schedule walks with her one or two days a week. She’ll meet with me once per week. Together we’ll develop a strength training routine that she can also do on her own at home. Building muscle will help boost her metabolism to assist in weight loss.
Time-Bound: Her follow-up with her physician in 6 months is her goal date. Because she is keeping tabs on her weight along the way, she can use those data points to make adjustments to her plan to ensure she stays on track to reach her goal when the date arrives.
Plan: She’ll plan out meals and snacks for the up-coming week on the weekends. She’ll also schedule all her workouts on her calendar. Each week, we’ll evaluate together how she’s progressing, assess what is and isn’t working and make adjustments accordingly.
Accountability: Ultimately, Jane is accountable to herself for her health. But, knowing she’s also accountable to her doctor, trainer, exercise studio and walking friend is external motivation at times when her internal motivation is challenged.
In all your fitness endeavors, remember the SMART principle to strategize yourself to success.